The 2024 FIFA Series: A Gateway for Global Football Inclusivity

In the grand tapestry of international football, opportunities for lower-ranked teams to play outside their usual confederations are few and far between. However, the 2024 FIFA Series is changing the narrative, by offering a platform for such teams. 
A moving example is Bhutan's scheduled match against the Central African Republic in Sri Lanka on March 22, 2024. This game marks a historic milestone for Bhutan to play beyond Asia, a significant leap from their usual Asian matchups.
The FIFA World Series stands as a pioneering initiative aimed at enhancing international football interaction and making a substantial impact on the global development of the sport. According to FIFA, the main objective of this FIFA series is to foster more opportunities for member associations to engage in international matches, thereby contributing significantly to the sport's growth worldwide.
 The pilot edition of the FIFA World Series is set to feature 20 member associations, showcasing their talents across four locations spread over three continents. This strategic format is designed to not only provide teams with valuable competitive exposure but also to bridge the gap between footballing nations of varying ranks and regions.
 By doing so, FIFA intends to create a more inclusive and diverse football ecosystem where experiences, strategies, and cultural football nuances can be shared and learned across borders. 
This initiative also marks a significant step towards realizing a more connected and developed football world, emphasizing FIFA's commitment to nurturing the sport's global footprint and ensuring equitable development opportunities for all member associations.
According to FIFA, the FIFA Series will be played across four centralized locations; Sri Lanka, Algeria, Azerbaijan, and Saudi Arabia. This is a FIFA's commitment to bringing the global football community closer. 
It is certainly the case that for many teams, including Bhutan for instance, had only played once beyond Asia in 2022. This series is a opportunity for low FIFA ranking countries to gain international exposure and experience against a wider array of playing styles and strategies.
According to the Bhutan Football Federation (BFF), for Bhutan, ranked 184th internationally as of February this year, the opportunity to play against higher-ranked teams like the Central African Republic (129th) and Papua New Guinea (165th) is invaluable. The Central African Republic and Papua New Guinea, recognized for their footballing tradition and physicality, are expected to be formidable opponents.
 However, Bhutan’s engagement with the Central African Republic is particularly noteworthy as it marks Bhutan’s first-ever match against an African nation, symbolizing a new horizon for Bhutanese football.
Elkhan Mammadov, FIFA’s Regional Member Associations Director for Europe, shed light on the challenges lower-ranked teams face in scheduling friendly matches. Unlike their higher-ranked counterparts, these teams struggle to find opponents and that the FIFA Series can be an essential initiative for their development. 
The selection of hosts based on infrastructure underscores FIFA's intention to offer participants not just a competitive platform but also a developmental one, with high-standard training pitches and facilities to enhance their preparation and team spirit.
“Currently we have 20 teams for the pilot edition. For the 2026 edition we hope to include more teams,” Elkhan Mammadov said.
As per the FIFA, Sri Lanka, the lowest-ranked team in this series, exemplifies the necessity of such an initiative. Having played only a handful of official games in 2023, opportunities like the FIFA Series are crucial for their growth and exposure. 
This need is further amplified by the structure of World Cup qualification in Asia, which sees some teams eliminated after just two games, limiting their competitive playtime
Besides, the significance of this match extends beyond the football field. It embodies a learning curve and a chance for Bhutanese footballers to gain exposure, understand different playing styles, and elevate their game. 
The Bhutan Football Federation (BFF) has emphasized the importance of such international exposure for player development and the overall growth of football in Bhutan.
Preparation for the tournament has been rigorous. The Bhutanese team has been training intensively, focusing on improving their tactical prowess and resilience. Despite acknowledging the strength and tradition of their African opponents, the Bhutanese team and officials are optimistic about showcasing their skills and delivering a competitive performance.
This optimism is not unfounded. Bhutan’s football journey, though still in its nascent stages compared to global giants, has shown promising signs of progress recently.
The FIFA Series also addresses the logistical challenges teams face, such as the significant travel distances.Recognizing this, FIFA is assisting with travel costs, ensuring that financial constraints do not hinder teams from gaining this invaluable experience. 
Moreover, by not overtaking sponsorship of the matches, FIFA opens doors for teams to attract more partners and sponsors, enhancing their financial viability and global visibility.
Mammadov’s enthusiasm about the member associations' response to the series and its potential for growth by 2026 hints at FIFA’s broader vision for this initiative. 
With plans to double the number of participating teams in the next iteration, the FIFA Series is poised to become a cornerstone event in the international football calendar, especially for those nations outside the spotlight.
The 2024 FIFA Series is more than just a set of football matches. It's a pioneering effort to democratize international football, providing lesser-known teams with the platform, exposure, and resources they need to grow. 
As FIFA looks to expand this initiative, the future of international football appears more inclusive, with the promise of showcasing and nurturing talent from every corner of the globe.