Fédération Internationale de Football Association
Fédération Internationale de Football Association
Incorporated: 1904 as Fédération Internationals de Football Association
Sales: $310 million (1997)
SICs: 7941 Sports Clubs, Managers & Promoters
The world’s governing body for football, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) is the not-for-profit association responsible for regulating the rules of play, superintending international transfers of players, establishing uniform standards of refereeing, and organizing international competitions. FIFA-sponsored competitions included the World Cup, the Olympic Football Tournament, the World Youth (under-20) Championship for the FIFA/Coca-Cola Cup, the under-17 World Championship for the FIFA/JVC Cup, the FIFA World Championship for Women’s Football, the FIFA Futsal (Indoor Football) World Championship, and the FIFA/Confederations Cup. In the late 1990s FIFA had 203 member associations—the national football associations that competed internationally under FIFA auspices. The legislative body of FIFA, the Congress, wielded the greatest power within the association, convening every two years to determine and implement FIFA statutes and to elect a president every four years. The majority of the profits realized by FIFA from ticket sales, television rights, corporate sponsorship, and merchandising were awarded to the finalist teams in each competition, with the balance retained by FIFA to finance its administrative costs and its efforts to promote and develop the sport of football.
The impetus for FIFA’s formation arose from the spontaneous act of a 19th century football player in central England. In the town of Rugby in 1823 a player for the home team scored a goal by picking up the ball and running with it. The loosely organized, largely uncodified, sport of football was changed forever. The player’s inspired use of his hands divided the sport of football into two groups: “association football,” which forbade the use of hands and was distinguished by the use of a round ball, and “Union football,” whose derivatives included rugby and American football, which used an oval-shaped ball. FIFA was formed to distinguish unequivocally association football from Union football and to serve as a governing organization that could provide international standards and unity to the numerous national association football organizations. The driving force behind FIFA’s formation was a journalist named Robert Guérin, the president of France’s national association football organization, who reportedly began spearheading an effort to create a governing body for international association football after a match between Belgium and France. On May 21, 1904, Guérin achieved his goal when delegates from Belgium, Denmark, France, The Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden gathered in Paris to found FIFA and formally adopt the term “association football” as their own.
At the organization’s inaugural meeting, Guérin was elected president of FIFA, a post he would hold for two years. The possibility of a tournament among FIFA members—a “World Cup”—was first discussed at the meeting in Paris, but it would be years before the organization’s signature event was staged. At FIFA’s Annual Congress in 1920, however, momentum began to build toward staging a tournament. The Antwerp meeting resulted in the election of France’s M. Jules Rimet as president and the unanimous agreement that a FIFA championship should be staged. It was debatable which decision was more important to the long-term success of FIFA. Rimet was the organization’s first genuinely influential leader and its longest serving president in the 20th century, occupying the post of president until 1954. Under Rimet’s direction, FIFA moved laboriously toward organizing the first World Cup, its progress slowed by the numerous political difficulties inherent in reaching accord among disparate nations. It was not until the Annual Congress of 1928, held in Amsterdam during the Ninth Olympic Games, that Rimet prevailed and the final decision was made to “organize a competition open to representative teams of all affiliated national associations.” The divisive issue as to where the tournament was to be held was not resolved until the Annual Congress in Barcelona in 1929, when FIFA officials agreed to stage the event in Uruguay, the reigning football champion for the previous two Olympic Games. For FIFA, with its European roots, the decision to hold the first World Cup in South America nearly led to an embarrassing failure.
Following the 1929 Annual Congress, construction began on a 100,000-seat stadium in Montevideo, where the tournament was scheduled to take place in the summer of 1930. As preparations continued and the date of the first match neared, organizers grew anxious when it became apparent that no European teams were interested in participating. To travel to Uruguay by sea and compete required three months, a sacrifice European teams were unwilling to make. Disaster loomed; as late as two months before the I FIFA Championship was scheduled to begin, organizers still had not received a formal entry from a European country, but then Rimet exerted his formidable influence. Using his persuasive powers, Rimet convinced four European nations to make the southward voyage, bringing France, Belgium, Yugoslavia, and Romania to Montevideo to compete against Argentina, Mexico, the United States, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay, and the host country, Uruguay. By the time the FIFA World Cup trophy was awarded to victorious Uruguay, the 13 nations had played 18 matches witnessed by more than a half million spectators. FIFA, with 46 member associations at the time, had successfully staged its first international event, the popularity of which supported the organization’s mission to promote and govern what would become known as the “beautiful game.”
Preparations for the second World Cup began soon after closing ceremonies in Montevideo. For the next World Cup, FIFA’s Congress decided Europe should be the stage, but it required eight lengthy conferences to select Italy as the host nation. Interest in the tournament had grown measurably, prompting FIFA officials to implement two changes for the 1934 World Cup that became hallmarks of the unique competition in the decades to come. Instead of playing all the matches in one city, the 17 matches scheduled to be played were spread throughout the country, divided among eight cities, with Rome as the site for the final match. In addition, greater interest in the tournament—29 nations entered the 1934 World Cup—required qualification games to be played throughout the world to reach the 16 finalists scheduled to compete in Italy.
Italy won the 1934 World Cup and repeated the feat at the 1938 World Cup, which was held in France. The selection of France as the host country aggravated the tensions between Europe and South America, exacerbating the jealousies that had been building since the 1930 World Cup. In 1934, the reigning champion Uruguay had refused to travel to Italy as retribution for the lack of interest by European teams in the 1930 World Cup. Argentina, believing that location of the World Cup would alternate between Europe and South America, had lobbied vigorously for the rights to the 1938 World Cup, but its efforts were in vain. The selection of a European nation for a second consecutive tournament led Argentina to boycott the event entirely, a decision aped by Uruguay, still miffed by the lack of European support. Other South American teams bowed out as well, leaving Brazil as the lone South American representative to enter the 1938 tournament. The tensions between Europe and South America, and later between Europe and the rest of the world, would dominate FIFA’s activities as the popularity of the FIFA World Championships increased, making the president’s job in large part a political exercise in diplomacy. After the conclusion of the 1938 World Cup, however, political events of a far more nefarious nature called a halt to the quadrennial celebration of football. The outbreak of the Second World War canceled the tournaments scheduled for 1942 and 1946, invoking a 16-year respite from the heated battle for football supremacy.
Post-World War II Maturation
During the interim war years FIFA’s membership increased from the 57 associations composing the organization in 1938 to 70 members by the time the 1950 World Cup was under way. Rimet, whose influence on FIFA and the sport of football was acknowledged by renaming the World Cup trophy the “Jules Rimet Cup” in 1950, ushered FIFA and the sport into the postwar era, the last years of his presidency. Perhaps mindful of the gulf separating European and South American nations at the III FIFA Championship, Rimet issued a mission statement in 1948, stating that it was FIFA’s goal to establish “world unity of football, unity both moral and material.” It was a sweeping statement, broad and overarching, befitting the expansive reach of FIFA during the second half of the 20th century, but at the time Rimet penned the words, FIFA and the football nations it governed were struggling to recover from the devastation wrought by the war. Of the 31 countries that originally entered the 1950 World Cup to compete for the 16 final positions, only 13 made the trip to Brazil, to whom FIFA, in an effort to achieve Rimet’s “unity,” had awarded the rights to the IV FIFA Championship.
FIFA is committed by its statutes not only to the positive promotion of football through development programmes, but also to supervising international competition and to safeguarding the sport and its good image against abuse of its rules and regulations. And FIFA sees to it that the game is played to one unified set of rules, the Laws of the Game, all over the world. Football’s ever growing popularity, its enormous appeal especially to young people, its expanding economic, social and even political significance and, not least, its importance for the media have all combined to make the sport a vital common denominator for varied interest groups. This trend also means that FIFA is obliged to deal also with matters outside its immediate sporting sphere of activity.
Following the 1950 World Cup, won by Uruguay after a 20-year absence from the tournament, Rimet implemented an organizational change that created FIFA’s structure for the remainder of the century. From its outset FIFA had worked with regional federations, but beginning in 1953 FIFA authorized the formation of continental confederations. South America had been represented by its confederation, Confederacion Sudamericana de Futbol (CONMEBOL), the oldest unit affiliated with FIFA, since 1916, and was joined by other continental confederations in the wake of the 1953 ruling. The Union of European Football Association (UEFA) and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) were formed in 1954, followed by the Confederation Africaine de Football (CAF) in 1956. North American, Central American, and Caribbean nations joined together in 1961 to form the Confederación Norte-Centromericana y del Caribe de Fútbol (CONCACAF) and five years later Australia, New Zealand, and South Pacific island-nations organized the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC).
By the 1954 World Cup, Rimet’s last as president, footballing nations had recovered fully from the Second World War and their level of participation reflected a rejuvenated passion for competing internationally. Held in Switzerland, where FIFA had moved its headquarters in 1932, the 1954 World Cup marked the 50th anniversary of FIFA and attracted formal applications from 38 countries who played 57 qualifying matches and 26 final matches. Rimet’s 24-year term as president was followed by two comparatively brief stints by Belgian Rodolphe William Seeldrayers (1954-55) and Englishman Arthur Drewry (1955-61), who oversaw the first worldwide television transmission of a World Cup at the 1958 tournament held in Sweden. Drewry was succeeded by fellow countryman Sir Stanley Rous, whose 13-year reign marked the last time a European would control FIFA for nearly a quarter of a century. Rous’s ouster marked a turning point in FIFA’s existence, not only because of the historic shift away from the European power base but also because the organization was suffering from years of institutional neglect and needed a new, dynamic leader. At the last two World Cups during Rous’s presidency (1966 in England and 1970 in Mexico), attendance had eclipsed 1.6 million, each a record high. Further, the 1970 tournament reached worldwide television audiences greater than any other event in history, which, coupled with the legions of spectators flocking to the event, suggested the existence of a commensurately strong FIFA. FIFA, however, was nearly bankrupt, struggling lethargically to stay afloat financially while the sport it governed and the worldwide tournament it sponsored stood ready for commercial exploitation.
1974 Election of Havelange
The individual who tapped into the marketability of football was Rous’s successor, Joao Havelange, FIFA’s president from 1974 until 1998. He was, in the words of one of his FIFA colleagues, “the right man at the right time in the right place.” Havelange was Brazilian, the first non-European to preside over FIFA, and keenly aware that FIFA’s survival depended on securing lucrative deals with the corporate sector. One year after his election, which he won in large part through African votes, Havelange completed a sponsorship deal brokered by Horst Dassler, the head of sporting goods manufacturer Adidas, with The Coca-Cola Company. With the money received from the sponsorship agreement with Coca-Cola, FIFA’s coffers were replenished, giving Havelange the resources to focus on developing football in the Third World, where his constituency was based and where he sought to usher in, as one pundit described it, “football’s economic golden age.” The general sponsorship agreement with Coca-Cola proved to be instrumental to FIFA’s growth during the 1970s, leading to the creation of the FIFA World Youth Tournament for the FIFA/Coca-Cola Cup in 1977, an international competition for players younger than 20 years old. Renamed the World Youth Championship in 1981, the tournament served as Havelange’s “ambassador” in developing countries and was just one of several new FIFA-sponsored tournaments created during Havelange’s tenure. For the 1982 World Cup, hosted by Spain, Havelange made good on the promise implicit in his election to help non-European countries play a larger role in international football. He expanded the tournament from the traditional 16 finalists to 24 finalists, thereby creating more room for African and Asian teams. For the first time at a World Cup, attendance eclipsed two million in Spain, and television viewership soared into the hundreds of millions. Havelange’s recipe of combining big business with multimillion-dollar television agreements and incorporating a greater geographic diversity into FIFA-sponsored events had revolutionized the world of football.
Along with the praise for Havelange’s success in increasing the might and scope of FIFA came an equal amount of criticism, with the harshest critics claiming that Havelange’s efforts had sullied the sport. His style of management was described as autocratic, his behavior striking some as more in accordance with a head of state than with the president of a nonprofit organization. Havelange, referred to as “Have-a-Lunch” by his detractors because of a growing FIFA expense account, created a vast bureaucracy of FIFA committees, over which he presided with resolute control, prompting one executive committee member, Michel D’Hooge, to remark, “He [Havelange] is everywhere … heaven and hell... like the Pope.” For nearly a quarter century Havelange held onto the reins of power like no other FIFA president before him and, criticism aside, the financial and political power of FIFA increased exponentially. In 1985 the FIFA Under-16 World Tournament (renamed the Under-17 World Championship in 1991) was added to FIFA’s ever-growing calendar of events, and in 1989 Havelange directed the development of the first indoor football international competition, the Futsal World Championship. In 1991 the FIFA World Championship for Women’s Football—the Women’s World Cup—debuted in China, further broadening the scope of FIFA’s involvement in football. With the addition of these international tournaments and a flourishing World Cup that included the participation of 112 countries in preliminary rounds for the 1990 finals, FIFA boasted a global reach unrivaled by any other sports organization. Havelange, for better or worse, had built an organization whose lucrative sponsorship deals had transformed the sport of football into big business.
The 1994 World Cup, hosted by the United States, was an unqualified success, drawing a record 3.5 million spectators and reaching a cumulative television audience of a staggering 37 billion viewers. Havelange’s tight control over FIFA, however, was already beginning to slip. Prior to the 1994 World Cup, Pele, a Brazilian player widely regarded as the greatest footballer of all time, had alleged that Havelange’s son-in-law was involved in corruption within Brazilian domestic football, an accusation to which Havelange responded by banning Pele from the ceremonies of the 1994 World Cup draw. Havelange’s reaction was regarded as a political mistake, one from which he never fully recovered, but before he made his exit Havelange completed one more FIFA deal of epic proportions. In 1996 FIFA sold the worldwide television rights for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups to a partnership comprising Bavarian media mogul Leo Kirch and a Swiss company named Sporis for $2.2 billion, exponentially more than the $92 million paid for the television rights to the 1990, 1994, and 1998 World Cups.
Havelange announced his retirement in early 1998, touching off a power struggle between FIFA’s general secretary, Joseph S. (Sepp) Blatter, to whom Havelange referred as his “foreign minister,” and Lennart Johansson, the head of Europe’s football confederation, UEFA. Havelange, who supported Blatter’s candidacy, accused Johansson of conspiring to create a new European football empire and exhorted “Latin countries to rebel.” Johansson countered by explaining that Europe was the historical power base of football, where UEFA countries generated “80 to 90 percent of football’s income.” A bitter, twomonth-long campaign for FIFA’s presidency ensued, ending two days before the opening ceremonies of the 1998 World Cup in France. Blatter emerged as the winner, with his victory promising the continued development of football as a worldwide sport. The selection of Japan and Korea as co-hosts of the 2002 World Cup underscored FIFA’s commitment to expanding the geographic horizons of football. As FIFA’s second century of operation was under way, it was Blatter’s duty to ensure that expansion into every corner of the globe was achieved.
Boehm, Eric, “Jocks Itchy Over Costly Cup,” Variety, June 8, 1998, p. 1.
Coman, Julian, “Fight To Control the Game That Turned to Gold,” The European, June 8, 1998, p. 8.
Hogan, Kevin, “World Cup Wired,” Forbes, April 11, 1994, p. SI124. Islam, Shada, “Playing by New Rules,” Far Eastern Economic Review, September 19, 1996, p. 64.
“Old Man’s Game: Soccer,” The Economist, January 6, 1996, p. 35.
“Why Switzerland Won After All,” The Economist, July 9,1994, p. 66.
—Jeffrey L. Covell