National Abbreviations at the World Cup and Olympics

With the World Cup going on, some people have wondered about the 3-letter hashtags (#USA or #GER) used on twitter for the various competing nations. The first time that national identifying abbreviations formally appeared at the Olympics was in 1952 at Helsinki.  They were not used in the Official Report, but did appear in the Daily Programs from that year.  The abbreviations were not strictly of the 3-letter style.  A few had 4-letters (USSR, CHIN = China), while some had only 2-letters (Finland = SF, Saar = SR), and several had 2-letters separated by a dash (Czechoslovakia = T-S, Great Britain = G-B, Hong Kong = H-K, New Zealand = N-Z, Puerto Rico = P-R). They have varied greatly over the years – one can see the article on these in Journal of Olympic History (Mallon/Karlsson.  “IOC and OCOG Abbreviations for NOCs”. Journal of Olympic History 12 (2): 25–28, May 2004.)

But FIFA (the football federation) and the IAAF (the athletics federation) also have their own set of 3-letter abbreviations (3LA) – and they are not always the same.

The only time this has really come up at the World Cup is with Nigeria, which has a 3LA of NGR from the IOC and the IAAF, but is NGA per FIFA.

There are 269 “countries” recognized by the 3 organizations, although many are not technically nations, and some 30 of them are now defunct. The IOC has had 232 different recognized geo-political entities (GPEs), and currently recognizes 204 National Olympic Committees (NOCs). FIFA has recognized 239 abbreviations, and currently recognizes 209 GPEs, while the IAAF has had 216 abbreviations, with 212 GPEs currently recognized. In addition, over the years, some nations change their IOC 3LA – such as Saudi Arabia, which used to be SAU, but is now KSA (=Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), and Iran, which was originally IRN by the IOC, but later changed to IRI = Islamic Republic of Iran. There are several other such examples – all noted in the article referenced above. The former Czechoslovakia alone had 8 different abbreviations used by varying Olympic Organizing Committees – T-S, CZS, CSL, CZE, CSV, CS, CZS, and TCH; and this does not include CZE and SVK after the nation split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Currently, there are 198 GPEs recognized by the IOC, FIFA, and the IAAF. Of these 23 of them differ among the organizations. In 19 cases, the IOC and IAAF agree, but FIFA has a different 3LA, while in 4 cases, the IOC and FIFA agree but the IAAF has a different 3LA. There are also 5 cases of GPEs not recognized by all 3 organizations, but which have different 3LAs. The entire list is as follows:

NOC IOC FIFA IAAF Notes
Antigua & Barbuda ANT ATG ANT FIFA differs from IOC/IAAF
Bahrain BRN BHR BRN FIFA differs from IOC/IAAF
Barbados BAR BRB BAR FIFA differs from IOC/IAAF
Belize BIZ BLZ BIZ FIFA differs from IOC/IAAF
British Virgin Islands IVB VGB IVB FIFA differs from IOC/IAAF
Burkina Faso BUR BFA BUR FIFA differs from IOC/IAAF
Central African Republic CAF CTA CAF FIFA differs from IOC/IAAF
El Salvador ESA SLV ESA FIFA differs from IOC/IAAF
Equatorial Guinea GEQ EQG GEQ FIFA differs from IOC/IAAF
Guinea – Bissau GBS GNB GBS FIFA differs from IOC/IAAF
Indonesia INA IDN INA FIFA differs from IOC/IAAF
Iran IRI IRN IRI FIFA differs from IOC/IAAF
Latvia LAT LVA LAT FIFA differs from IOC/IAAF
Libya LBA LBY LBA FIFA differs from IOC/IAAF
Malawi MAW MWI MAW FIFA differs from IOC/IAAF
Nigeria NGR NGA NGR FIFA differs from IOC/IAAF
Palestine PLE PAL PLE FIFA differs from IOC/IAAF
Slovenia SLO SVN SLO FIFA differs from IOC/IAAF
United States Virgin Islands ISV VIR ISV FIFA differs from IOC/IAAF
Congo DR (Zaire) COD COD ZAI IAAF differs from IOC/FIFA
East Timor TLS TLS ETM IAAF differs from IOC/FIFA
Romania ROU ROU ROM IAAF differs from IOC/FIFA
Serbia SRB SRB SER IAAF differs from IOC/FIFA
Anguilla AIA ANG IOC does not recognize
Faeroe Islands FRO FAR IOC does not recognize
Marshall Islands MHL MSH FIFA does not recognize
Montserrat MSR MNT IOC does not recognize
Turks & Caicos Islands TCA TKS IOC does not recognize

3 thoughts on “National Abbreviations at the World Cup and Olympics”

  1. Despite the fact that there are clearly not 24 world class women’s soccer programs in the world, the tournament was expanded by eight teams, up from 16, for this edition of the tournament. It’s granted a ton of new opportunities for upstart sides, with seven teams making their World Cup debuts in 2015.

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