Foxtail millet (Setaria italica (L.) Beauv.) is one of the ten small millets and is cultivated in 23 countries. The foxtail millet is valued as a crop of short duration, which is good as food, feed and fodder. In general, grain yield levels of foxtail millet are low in comparison with other staple cereals. The greater use of diverse germplasm in breeding is suggested as a means to improve the productivity of this crop. The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics genebank is presently holding 1474 cultivated germplasm accessions from 23 countries. To utilize this diversity in research, a core collection (10% of the entire collection) was established using the taxonomic and qualitative traits data. The germplasm accessions were stratified into three taxonomic races (Indica, Maxima and Moharia). Principal coordinate analysis was performed on 12 qualitative traits for each of the biological races, separately that resulted in the formation of 29 clusters. From each cluster, 10% of the accessions were selected to constitute a core collection of 155 accessions. The composition and diversity of the core collection was validated by the χ2-tests of the frequencies of origin, races, subraces and data on qualitative traits. The analysis of the quantitative traits for mean, range, variance, Shannon–Weaver diversity index and phenotypic associations indicated that the diversity from the entire collection was optimally represented in the core collection. The core subset will be evaluated in replicated trials to make a more precise assessment of diversity and further efforts to identify the sources of agronomic and grain nutritional traits for utilization in breeding programmes.