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.

Two hundred and 65 million male and female players in addition to five million referees and officials make a grand total of 270 million people - or four per cent 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 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, registered youth players under 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 studies organisation.