The IWGA was founded during 1981 in Seoul, Korea, as World Games Council by 12 international sports federations with a world-wide dissemination, of that were not yet part of the olympic games. The intention was to increase the popularity of the sports represented by these federations. The IWGA was constituted under Swiss law as a non-governmental and non-profit-making organization. In 1996 the World Games Council was renamed into International World Games Association. Since its creation, the number of member federations has increased to 37 with the most recent admission being the International Federation of Muaythai Amateur in April 2014.
Federations that intend to become a member of the IWGA have to be part of SportAccord. The IWGA itself is also a member of SportAccord and is represented on its council. Sports that want to be recognised by the IWGA need to have a world-wide significance but actually must not be in the programme of the olympic games.
The highest body of the IWGA is the general meeting, that takes place each four years one year after the World Games event. The general meeting elects a seven-member executive committee that hosts four years and also decides about upcoming host cities for the World Games.