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June 2014

“Football” or “Soccer”?

When it comes to international organizations, many languages come into play. This is particularly true when it comes to the FIFA World Cup. As you enjoy the matches and cheer for your team(s), know that, despite the rivalries, the World Cup is an amalgamation of many cultures, the collaboration of many communities.

1) Despite being based in Zurich, FIFA is an acronym for a French name.

FIFA stands for the Fédération Internationale de Football Association. It is the Zurich-based international governing body of major football matches around the world. Established on May 21, 1904, the organization includes 209 national associations. FIFA organizes the largest football tournaments, including the World Cup.

Founding members included Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland. While FIFA resides now in Zurich, it was originally founded in Paris, and thus given the French name and acronym.

2) The South American Football Confederation is the only FIFA confederation with a non-English name.

There are six FIFA confederations in the world which oversea games within their respective continental regions. These include the AFC (Asian Football Confederation), CAF (Confederation of African Football), CONMEBOL (Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol), OFC (Oceania Football Confederation) and the UEFA (Union of European Football Associations).

Of the six confederations, only CONMEBOL derives from a non-English name (in this case, Portuguese): Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol. Another interesting fact is that while affiliation with a confederation is a prerequisite for FIFA membership, simply being in a confederation does not grant a team FIFA membership (as is the case with the French Guiana team, a member of CONCACAF but not of FIFA).

3) “Football” can mean different things depending on where you are in the world.

"Football" can mean many things around the world. The most obvious difference is in the United States, which, like Canada, reserves the term "soccer" to what is commonly known as football internationally.

In Australia, "football" is an ambiguous term that can mean rugby, association football (as in the FIFA variety) or even Australian rules football (a sport that deserves it's own article for explanation). Similarly, in Ireland, "football" can also refer to rugby, but also to Gaelic football. In the rest of the United Kingdom, "football" predominantly refers to association football, however the term "soccer" was also widely used until the 1970s, at which point it was deemed an incorrect Americanism.

Popular spellings of the sport in other languages include: futbol (Spanish, Catalan, Tagalog, Turkish), fußball (German), fotbal (Czech, Romanian), futbalo (Esperanto), futebol (Portugeuese), voetbal (Dutch) and calcio (Italian).

4) The earliest reference to a football-type game dates back to 1280 England.

"Henry... while playing at ball.. ran against David”, it was said in 1280 in a manner not unlike what sport commentators might say today. Additionally, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first written use of the term "football" dates back to 1424, written in an Act forbidding the sport. The term "football" referred to games played on foot, and may or may not have been a reference to the actual action of kicking a ball, as many believe. Also unclear is the etymology of the term "soccer”, which is believed to have come from England, courtesy of Charles Wreford-Brown, captain of the England national football team in the late 1800s, as he used Oxford slang to abbreviate the word "association".

What are your favorite football terms? How do you cheer for your national team in your native language? Let us know on our Facebook page and be sure to “like” TELC English for more articles about fun cultural facts!