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265 million playing football

265 million playing football

A large-scale FIFA survey involving its then 207 member associations shows that football has strengthened its position as the world’s number one sport since the Big count in the year 2000. Among the most pleasing signs is the continuing growth of the women’s game.

The success of FIFA’s diverse investments in the worldwide development of football seems to be leaving its mark not only with increasing match attendances and TV audiences but, according to the latest statistics, also in the number of people around the globe actually playing the game. 265 million male and female players in addition to 5 million referees and officials make a grand total of 270 million people – or 4% of the world’s population – who are actively involved in the game of football. These are the impressive findings of the 2006 Big Count, a FIFA survey of its then 207 member associations which, after being conducted for the first time in 2000, was repeated last year under the same conditions and offers an interesting insight into the development of football worldwide.
The associations were asked to provide FIFA with as many accurate figures as possible in terms of professional footballers, registered players over the age of 18, futsal players, beach soccer players and unregistered occasional players as well as referees and officials. All of these groups were then broken down by gender. In addition, FIFA requested details on the number of clubs and teams that came under each association’s jurisdiction. Three-quarters of FIFA member associations participated in the survey, a similar response to that for the 2000 Big Count, thus making meaningful evaluation a realistic proposition. Although the quality of information submitted by the associations has increased significantly in comparison with the study in 2000, close analysis places a question mark over the accuracy of some of the details.
For example, it was hard for the associations to estimate the number of unregistered occasional players because, by definition, no reliable details were available in this regard. FIFA used Big Count 2000, a UEFA survey from 2005 and other internal statistics to supplement missing or implausible data from associations. The study was also scientifically monitored by a leading social organization.

Women on the up
Football’s development in terms of numbers is demonstrated strikingly with the figures for registered players, because the associations are able to provide very precise data in this respect. It is pleasing to note that today, with 38 million players, 24% more people play under the umbrella of an association than did in 2000. Breaking the results down, the increase in number of registered female players is especially notable: 4.1 million women are now playing football within organized structures, constituting a 54% increase on the 2000 results. This merely goes to substantiate the FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter’s prediction that: “The future of football is feminine.”
Continuing to look to the future, one especially important statistic that can be drawn from the number of registered players is the proportion made up by youngsters, who constitute 54.7% of all registered male players and as many as 69.6% of the women. The greater number of young players in the women’s game is a reflection of the impressive growth in women’s football, which has also resulted in a significant increase in the number of registered amateur players (up 138% compared to 16% in the men’s game). These figures clearly indicate that FIFA and its member associations are on the right track to increasing the popularity of football even further in the future.
Interesting conclusions about the development of football in the linger term can be drawn by comparing the latest findings with statistics from 1974, when Dr Joao Havelange was first elected FIFA President and only 140 associations were affiliated to FIFA. In the 33 years since, the number of male and female footballers registered worldwide has more than doubled from 17 million to around 38 million.
In addition to the registered players, who are relatively easy to quantify, the Big Count also includes the many footballers who are not registered with a club but still take enjoyment from playing the game, in other words, the unregistered occasional players. Assembling some 226 million people, this is the largest category and here too, male footballers make up the lion’s share (204 million or 90%), but the growth in the number of unregistered female players since 2000 is far greater than that of their male counterparts (up 14% compared to a 6% increase among the men).

More teams per club
Another notable trend is evident in terms of club and team numbers. While the number of clubs – over 300,000 – is much the same as it was in 2000, the number of teams – 1.7 million has grown by around 12%. Whereas the average club had five teams seven years ago, it now boasts seven. Organized football is therefore growing primarily within existing clubs. Moreover, around 26,000 or 9% of all clubs field at least one women’s team.

Further development
As the information for big Count was gathered by the associations, it is possible for analysis to be conducted not only at national level but also according to confederation. In recent years, the development of football has progressed at very different speeds in the various continents. As regards actual numbers, Asia with 85 million footballers as well ahead of the other continents (Europe 62 million, Africa 46, North and Central America 43, South America 28, Oceania 0,5). However, if the number of players is calculated as a proportion of the total population, the CONCACAF and CONMEBOL regions lead the way, both with an active footballing population that makes up 7.4% of the entire population, closely followed by UEFA with 7.3%. These statistics reiterate the special importance of football in Europe and the Americas and show that, in Asia and Oceania in particular, there is definitely room for further development in terms of the number of people playing the game.
The confederations that show the highest growth rates are UEFA, CONMEBOL and CAF. In each of these three regions, the number of active players has grown by more than 10% since 2000, with women’s football (which, in Africa in particular, had been in very much a fledgling state back then) recording especially positive development.

What does the future hold?
The 2006 Big Count clearly underlines the ongoing growth in the popularity of football worldwide. The increasing interest in the game, particularly among women and youth level, bears witness to the hard work undertaken by FIFA and its 207 member associations of late. This development work already appears to have borne fruit but the potential is far from being exploited to the full. By staging the first FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand next year, FIFA is taking another step to take the game to the world. The game’s development in African continent hit new heights thanks to the 2010 FIFA World Cup TM in South Africa? All will be revealed in the next Big Count.