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FACTBOX-Soccer-What is FIFA and why is it such an important organisation?

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LONDON, May 21 (Reuters) - Factbox explaining what FIFA is and why it is so important ahead of the presidential election on May 29 at the FIFA Congress in Zurich

What is FIFA ?

FIFA, which in French is the abbreviation for the Federation Internationale de Football Association, is the governing body of world soccer. It was founded in Paris on May 21 1904 by representatives from Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

England, which formulated the laws of the game in 1863, joined the following year.

How many countries are members ?

FIFA now has 209 member associations, and is a larger organisation than the United Nations which has 193 members.

What does FIFA do ?

FIFA regulates the game across the world. Through the International Football Association Board, which was established in 1886 before coming under FIFA's umbrella, it ensures the laws of the game remain universal.

It runs the World Cup which is held every four years and generates its principal source of income running into hundreds of millions of dollars, and a number of other women's and age group world tournaments.

Why is FIFA important ?

Organised football is played everywhere and most of its 209 members run their own domestic competitions. Most of those competitions are professional, and globally the sport generates hundreds of billions of dollars every year.

FIFA estimates that around 500 million people in the world are connected to football in some capacity either through playing the game, officiating, running clubs or merely going to watch a match.

By remaining strong and unifying the vastly different elements in its membership FIFA ensures the game remains universal without rival organisations trying to form breakaway leagues and championships as they have done in other sports.

Where does the money come from ?

FIFA's accounts show it has around $US1.5 billion in the bank. Most of its wealth is accrued by selling the rights to screen World Cup matches to television stations around the world and from the sponsorship it receives from blue-chip global corporations.

FIFA though, is essentially, a non-profit making organisation with most of the money it receives directed towards development programmes around the world and by subsidising its members with annual grants and regular bonus payments from its World Cup income.

It also uses money so it can run itself from its modern headquarters in Zurich by paying its staff, its president and the men who are on the executive and other committees that keep it functioning.

Why does FIFA get such a bad press ? Why is its reputation so sullied ?

FIFA likes to keep its secrets very close to its chest and many books have been written in the last 20 years claiming to expose those secrets and level allegations of corruption at the men who run FIFA.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who has been in position for 17 years and is facing an election at the end of this month, has been the target for much of that criticism.

A culture of bribery and corruption is said to exist in its upper echelons and FIFA did not help itself when it awarded the 2018 World Cup finals to Russia and the 2022 World Cup to Qatar on the same day after a joint bidding process that was open to abuse with traded votes.

Even Blatter later admitted that was a mistake.

What is the future for FIFA ?

FIFA has the ability to, as Blatter likes to say, and often does, "steer itself out of the choppy waters into the safe harbour."

FIFA, which is 111 years old, is seen by many around the world as a benevolent organisation that supports the game from the grass roots level to the top of the professional pyramid and while it continues to support its members, its members will never leave.

(Reporting by Mike Collett)

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