At the moment FIFA has 204 members - not even the United Nations can match that total. And it looks as if the football world governing body will grow even more; the number could reach 210.

In the last decade or so, FIFA has grown enormously, with about 40 new members joining the federation since 1993. The main causes of the increasing number of member countries were the political changes in ex-Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union. As a result new independent countries were created and they became FIFA members in their own right. Currently, Micronesia, New Caledonia and others are in the process of applying for membership. Vincent Monnier, who is responsible for national associations at FIFA together with Jacqueline Gibert, estimates that soon the multicultural family could reach 210 members.

So who can join the ranks of FIFA? A basic requirement is that applicants are countries recognised by the international community. Regions or nations that are dependent on a parent country need the approval of the Football Association of that parent country before they can become FIFA members. As an example, Chechnia wanted to join not very long ago, but was not recognised as an independent state, since it still belonged to Russia. Theoretically they could still have joined FIFA, but only with the approval of the Russian Association, but this was not granted.

If a country decides to apply for membership, then a written application must be submitted first. Then there must be a declaration to accept and respect the official Laws of the Game, as well as FIFA Statutes and those of the confederation concerned. Then this confederation will observe the candidate country for a period of two years, to see that the requirements are being fulfilled. Among other things, the structure of the country's association will be examined and also its ability to organise a championship of its own.

If the confederation's report is positive, then FIFA will send a team of inspectors to carry out on-the-spot investigations. The association's headquarters will be looked at and also the national stadium, and discussions will be held with government representatives, usually the minister for sports. If this stage is passed successfully, then a recommendation to accept the country will be made to the FIFA Executive Committee. The final decision, however, is taken at a FIFA Congress, at which every member nation has a vote.

Serious sanctions
Once a country has become part of the FIFA family, then the requirement to observe and respect the regulations will of course remain in force. But not all members have managed to comply. At almost every congress, there will be between five and ten members who have temporarily lost the right to vote, perhaps because they have not taken part in a minimum of FIFA competitions or for some other reason. Now and then FIFA has to impose more serious sanctions and provisionally suspend a member from participating in any international activities. Monnier explains: "Those affected are often associations who are dependent on government funding. And the government then wants to influence the way football is run in the country. But we will not accept such political interference. For this reason we had to suspend Guinea recently."

Nobody at FIFA is happy when an association has to be suspended. Such measures are therefore only taken in extreme cases. Monnier believes that such problems will be less frequent as the associations gain greater financial independence: "The problem must be approached from this angle."

But it is not only for financial and political reasons that sanctions are imposed. South Africa for example was banned from participating in international football from 1976 to 1992 because of its apartheid policy. Despite having to deal with such cases, Monnier, who has worked for FIFA since 1992, is satisfied with his job. "My work with national associations is exciting and rewarding," he says. "I learn a lot from the different associations and I get an insight into other cultures and mentalities."

He takes real pleasure in overcoming difficult challenges, such as the case of Bosnia Herzegovina: "After the civil war all the different national factions down there began to play football together. Over a long period we held discussions with the association and finally it was all resolved. That made me very happy."

He also came away from the congress in Zurich last year feeling very satisfied: "When Bhutan was accepted as the latest member of the family, their whole country celebrated," says Monnier.