Sunday, November 27, 2022

World Cup 2022: Which Countries Are (and Aren't) Members of FIFA?

This is an updated edition of our FIFA member countries article, revised for the Qatar 2022 World Cup. You can also view past versions of the article from 2014 and 2018.

2022 world map showing the six continental confederations of men's national association football (soccer) teams, including all FIFA national teams and World Cup countries. Colorblind accessible.
The six continental confederations of national football teams associated with FIFA. Most, but not all, confederation members are individually members of FIFA as well. Map by Evan Centanni, based on work by EOZyo (source).

Around the world, fans of association football - also known in many countries as "soccer" - are tuned in for the ongoing, month-long men's FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Not all the world's countries can advance to the cup, but did they all get a shot at it? Which countries were eligible to enter the tournament, and which are excluded? Read on for PolGeoNow's exclusive guide to the roster of FIFA national football teams...

How many FIFA national teams are there?

There are currently 211 national men's football teams with official FIFA membership, which is required to compete for qualification in the World Cup. FIFA members are divided into six continental confederations that preside over competitions within each region (see map above), though it's possible to be a member of one of these confederations but not of FIFA.

The confederations are loosely based on the geographical boundaries of the world's continents, but there are some exceptions: The Asian Football Confederation also includes Australia, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands (all usually considered part of Oceania), while some culturally Caribbean countries in South America, including South America's Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana, are grouped with North and Central America. As in the Olympics, Israel is a member of the European confederation despite its location on the Asian continent. Turkey, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia are also grouped with Europe even though each one is technically located mostly in Asia.

FIFA members that aren't independent countries

You might have noticed that 211 is more than the number of actual independent countries in the world. After all, the United Nations only recognizes 195. That's because, much like the Olympics, FIFA used to allow dependent territories to apply for membership. Now it mostly only admits recognized independent countries, but teams that became members in the past are allowed to stay whether they're independent countries or not. And exemptions to the rule are possible under certain circumstances. 

Today there are 19 dependent territories with FIFA-eligible national men's football teams:

World map showing recognized FIFA national teams that represent dependent territories, partially-recognized or unrecognized countries, and subnational entities. None are independent countries, but all are eligible to qualify for the FIFA World Cup of men's association football/soccer. Map updated to 2022. Colorblind accessible.
Click to enlarge: FIFA members that aren't UN member countries, including dependent territories, partially recognized states, and national subdivisions. By Evan Centanni, from public domain base map (source).
North America & the Caribbean
 Anguilla (UK)
 Aruba (Netherlands)
 Bermuda (UK)
 British Virgin Islands (UK)
 Cayman Islands (UK)
 Curaçao (Netherlands)
 Montserrat (UK)
 Puerto Rico (US)
 Turks & Caicos Islands (UK)
U.S. Virgin Islands (US)

 Hong Kong (China)
 Guam (US)
 Macau (China)

 Faroe Islands (Denmark)
 Gibraltar (UK)

 American Samoa (US)
 Cook Islands (New Zealand)
 New Caledonia (France)
 Tahiti (France)

By tradition, each of the four "countries" making up the UK also has its own separate team, despite not being independent:

 Northern Ireland

Also as in the Olympics, disputed countries Palestine, Kosovo, and Taiwan (known in international sports as "Chinese Taipei") are included as special cases without the requirement for fully-recognized independence. In fact, Palestine is now treated as an independent country by the UN, but that wasn't yet the case when it was first admitted to FIFA in 1998.

Changes to the list of FIFA countries

No national teams have joined or left FIFA in the four years since the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The most recent two changes to the roster happened two years before that:

Europe's disputed, self-declared Republic of Kosovo was accepted in June 2016, after the FIFA congress decided it had gathered enough recognition from the world's countries to be considered independent - despite opposition from Serbia, which claims Kosovo as a part of it. Kosovo was also accepted into the Olympics in 2014, but still isn't treated as an independent country by the United Nations (UN).

At the same time, FIFA also accepted Gibraltar, a British territory in southwestern Europe, as a national team. Since Gibraltar isn't independent, and its status as a British territory is disputed by Spain, it was rejected from FIFA at first. But in early 2016, a world sports court ruled that its application had to be reconsidered, and within a few months, it was approved.

Which countries aren't members of FIFA?

As we've seen, even some dependent territories are FIFA members - but there are actually a few independent countries that still aren't:

Map of countries and territories with FIFA-unrecognized national football teams, plus those with no national team. Includes recognized countries, breakaway states, and dependent territories. Updated to 2022. Colorblind accessible.
Click to enlarge: FIFA non-members - countries, claimed countries, dependent territories, and any national subdivisions that participate in continental confederations but are not recognized by FIFA. Map by Evan Centanni, from public domain base map (source).

 United Kingdom (UK)*
   Vatican City

*Because England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland each have their own memberships, there's no team representing the UK as a whole.

 Marshall Islands

Until recently, the Marshall Islands was the only UN-recognized independent country to undisputedly have no national team at all (FIFA member or not). But that might be changing soon - a national soccer federation, the type of organization that arranges for an official national team, was created in the Marshall Islands in 2020. Tiny neighboring country Nauru has slightly different circumstances: Though on paper it's had its own national soccer federation for over a decade, there's some debate over whether it's ever really had a national team.

Every other country listed above does have a team (yes, even Vatican City!), but just isn't a member of FIFA. That means they're not eligible even to enter into qualifying matches for the World Cup - though Kiribati and Tuvalu do participate in regional competitions as "associate members" of the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC), which is affiliated with FIFA.

What about disputed and unrecognized countries? Well, even though Palestine, Taiwan, and Kosovo have managed to secure membership in FIFA, other fully or partially unrecognized countries haven't. There are seven non-FIFA teams belonging to UN-unrecognized but at least partially independently-governed countries:

 Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh)
 Northern Cyprus
 South Ossetia
 Western Sahara

The Donetsk People's Republic and Lugansk People's Republic, which declared independence from Ukraine in 2014, also had their own teams the last we heard. However, they've both recently given up their claims to independence in favor of becoming part of Russia.

Non-independent territories that are left out of FIFA

Similarly to independent Kiribati and Tuvalu, nine dependent territories or country subdivisions also have full or associate membership in the FIFA-connected continental confederations, but haven't been accepted into FIFA itself:

 Réunion (France)
 Zanzibar (Tanzania)

North America and the Caribbean
 Bonaire (Netherlands)
 French Guiana (France)
 Guadeloupe (France)
 Martinique (France)
 Saint Martin (France)
 Sint Maarten (Netherlands)

 Northern Mariana Islands (US)

Niue, a nearly-independent country affiliated with New Zealand, was on this list last time we updated the article, but has since been expelled from the Oceania Football Confederation after being inactive for a full decade.

CONIFA, an organization for non-FIFA soccer, counts almost another 50 national-style teams among its members, most of them representing separatist movements, minority groups, indigenous peoples, or cultural regions within or straddling FIFA member countries. You can see the full list of those here.

Several other dependent territories and remote islands have their own national-style teams too, even if they're not members of any major confederation. A recent addition to that list is the British territory of Saint Helena, a remote South Atlantic island, whose official team first appeared in 2019.

What might change in the next four years? We'll see you back here when we update again for the Canada-Mexico-USA 2026 World Cup!

Related: Which Countries Are (and Aren't) in the Olympics?