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What Is CONCACAF And What Does It Stand For?

What Is CONCACAF And What Does It Stand For?

Soccer is a global game. The sport has reached every corner of the planet, from Tokyo to Toronto, Copenhagen to Cape Town. There are professional leagues operating in hundreds of different nations, and according to estimates, there are around 250 million registered players all over the world. 

In order to manage all these footballers, strong, well-organised governing bodies are absolutely essential. The global game is controlled by FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association), an organisation that is responsible for putting together international competitions, overseeing international player transfers, setting up international refereeing and coaching standard and regulating the rules of play. And under FIFA's broad umbrella, there are a number of regional governing bodies tasked with managing the affairs of each continent.

In this article, we'll be exploring one of these continental governing bodies, CONCACAF. We'll be answering the question 'What is CONCACAF?', exploring what the name stands for, and detailing the duties and responsibilities held by CONCACAF. As part of this guide to the organisation, we'll also look into which tournaments and competitions the governing body oversees.


Comprised of 41 member associations, CONCACAF is one of FIFA's six continental confederations. It manages national associations in North America, Central America and the Caribbean, with a wide range of different regions, climates and footballing cultures coming under its banner.

Countries that are part of CONCACAF include Canada, the United States of America, Mexico, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, and even Caribbean nations on the tip of South America such as Guyana and Suriname.

First founded in 1961 after the merging of the NAFC (North American Football Association) and the CCCF (Confederation of Central America and the Caribbean), CONCACAF is a large organisation designed to organise competitions for national teams and clubs in this region. The federation stages World Cup and Women's World Cup qualifying tournaments, organises youth level games for U13, U15, U17, U20 players, and looks after Olympics games, beach soccer and futsal matches too. It's a broad remit.

According to CONCACAF, the organisation's role involves "provid[ing] leadership for a network of unified competitions and development activities that unites this diverse region in football, with the goals of actively promoting universal access to our sport, and raising the quality of football across the Confederation." The governing body claim that "We are here to raise our game at every level, making football better for every team, ever time. We want a future Confederation where all of our teams are in a better position to win."

What Does CONCACAF Stand For?

CONCACAF is an acronym that stands for the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football. The governing body has authority over each of these regions, making it one of the largest international confederations in terms of pure geography.

The football confederation for North America, Central America and the Caribbean has offices across the region in order to create balance between each part of the union. There's one in Miami (USA), one in Guatemala City (Guatemala), and one in Kingston (Jamaica), meaning that each of North America, Central America, and the Caribbean has a central office.

CONCACAF Teams: Which Countries Are Represented By The Federation?

The most successful team in the history of CONCACAF is the United States of America, the body's second-largest nation in terms of geographical size, with Canada being the largest.

The USA have qualified for more international tournaments than any other CONCACAF nation, and in the women's game they have been World Cup winners on four occasions. They are the only CONCACAF member to win all three major worldwide competitions in women's football: the World Cup, the Olympics, and the Algarve Cup. In the men's game, the US haven't been as successful on the global stage, but they have achieved plenty within continental competitions.

Alongside the United States and Canada, 11 other nations were founding members of the federation. These countries were Costa Rica, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Netherlands Antilles, Nicaragua, Panama, and Suriname. Since the foundation of the federation, other nations such as Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago and the Bahamas have joined CONCACAF.

The majority of countries in CONCACAF are based in the Caribbean, due to the fact that this region is made up of lots of small islands who are each represented by their own national associations. In total, there are 31 members from the Caribbean Football Union (CFU), seven members from the Union Centroamerica de Futbol (UNCAF) and three members from the North American Football Union (NAFU).

Over the years, this dynamic has created some issues. While the North American Football Union has strong commercial and marketing power and its three nations are CONCACAF's most populous, the Federation Congress' one-member, one-vote rule has consistently meant that the Caribbean nations in the union have been able to dominate and outvote the NAFU and UNCAF with ease.

This imbalance has created some controversy, which peaked when several representatives of the CFU became at the forefront of the World Cup voting rights scandal. In order to address the divides between regions, former CONCACAF Acting-President Alfredo Hawit lobbied for the federation presidency to be rotated between the three unions.

What Is The Main CONCACAF Tournament?

Numerous international and club competitions come under the CONCACAF banner, including the CONCACAF Nations League, the CONCACAF Champions Cup, and the CONCACAF Women's Championship. However, the biggest and best tournament overseen by the North and Central American and Caribbean Football Confederation is the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Held every two years, the Gold Cup is a men's national team knockout competition contested by the best nations from across North and Central America and the Caribbean. This international tournament dates back to 1991, when the confederation's old competition the CONCACAF Championship (1963-1989) was done away with. In the days of the CONCACAF Championship, there were several shock champions, including Guatemala in 1967 and Haiti in 1973. But since the establishment of the Gold Cup, the region's minnows have often struggled to compete with the largest, best-resourced nations.

The first-ever edition of the Gold Cup was hosted by the United States in 1991, and the US have either hosted or co-hosted every single tournament since. They won the first-ever edition; however, rivals Mexico then enjoyed plenty of success throughout the rest of the decade, winning the trophy in 1993, 1996, and 1998. Throughout the 2000s, the US were the more successful of the two, and overall the Gold Cup has been dominated by the US and Mexico, who between them have won all but three editions of the tournament.

In 2020, it was announced that the CONCACAF Gold Cup would be introduced into the women's game, branded as the CONCACAF W Gold Cup. The first edition of the tournament took place in February and March 2024, and the USA were champions.

When Is The Next CONCACAF Gold Cup?

According to The Athletic, the next edition of the CONCACAF Gold Cup is set to take place alongside the expanded Club World Cup in 2025. Both tournaments are taking place in the US, with a large portion of matches being staged on the east coast of the country. The biannual confederational tournament will take place from June 14th to July 6th in 2025, with sources claiming that CONCACAF and FIFA are collaborating to build "smart schedules" that will allow fans to get to matches in both tournaments.

Once again, the United States and Mexico will be the two favourites to win the competition. The continuing growth of the MLS and the success of USMNT stars such as Christian Pulisic, Timothy Weah, Sergino Dest and Brendan Aaronson at European clubs means the USA will fancy their chances on home soil.

However, other nations such as Canada — who recently competed in their only their second-ever FIFA World Cup — will also be in decent shape ahead of the tournament. With the MLS currently enjoying an unprecedented level of attention and press across the States and beyond, the next edition of the Gold Cup is likely to be a big one.

How is CONCACAF Overseen By FIFA?

Founded in 1904, FIFA are the most powerful organising body in football, in charge of the global governing of football competitions. They organise the FIFA World Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup, amongst other competitions, and they play a major role in the global development of the beautiful game.

In total, 211 national associations across the world are registered with FIFA, but each of those associations must be part of a continental confederation as well. The running of football competitions in each part of the world is delegated by FIFA to those regional bodies, one of which is CONCACAF. In total, there are six continental confederations:

  • CONCACAF (North and Central America and the Caribbean Federation) 

  • CAF (African Federation) 

  • AFC (Asian and Australian Federation)

  • UEFA (European Federation)

  • CONMEBOL (South American Federation)

  • OFC (Federation for Oceania)

Each regional federation has its own set of competitions for clubs and countries, from Copa America or the Copa Libertadores in South America, to the UEFA European Championship or the Champions League in Europe. If you'd like to find out more about exactly how FIFA manages these organisations and builds relationships between footballing nations across the world, check out our introduction to FIFA.