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Minnows standing tall

Following the general overview and interpretation of the Big Count 2006, this next analysis of individual, country-specific results provides another fascinating insight into how the game is developing.

It probably comes as no surprise to learn that in terms of the sheer number of male and female players, China PR lead the way with 26 million ahead of the USA (24 million) and India (21 million). If the proportion of footballers in relation to the country’s population is taken into account, however, more and more so-called “minnows” are increasingly finding their way to the top. In Costa Rica, for example, one in four people plays football. In Germany it is one in five, and in Faroe Islands, Guatemala, Chile and Paraguay, it is one in six.
Germany may have the most registered players (over six million) but more surprisingly, Sweden and Austria – two countries with fewer than ten million inhabitants – also find themselves in the top 20 alongside such densely populated nations as the USA, Brazil, China and some of the more traditional European powerhouses.
In youth football, it is the associations at the top of the overall statistics who come to the fore once again. That said, two Scandinavian countries with a rich footballing pedigree are also in the upper reaches in this category. Whereas Sweden are in the top 20 for youth football in both the men’s and the women’s game, Norway, a comparatively small nation with just five million inhabitants, have also made their mark in women’s youth football.
In the world of refereeing, one association in particular leads the way. The Japan Football Association has 190,000 registered match officials, 50,000 more than the USA and more than twice as many as Germany. England, meanwhile, the country widely regarded as the home of football, can hold its head high on two counts. The Football Association has the highest number of clubs (40,000), and with approximately 6,000 professional footballers, England are secondly only to Brazil.
“Football’s popularity remains undiminished and is actually increasing,” reflected FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter with satisfaction on the results of the survey. “If you count the relatives and close friends of the active participants in football, who share in their passion for the game and support them in other ways, the total is even more impressive: well over one billion people worldwide are involved in football – at all levels of society and across all borders.” For FIFA, these impressive results are undoubtedly a fillip as well as a reminder of its responsibility.