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Jules Rimet and the Birth of the World Cup
The world’s passion for football can arguably be traced back to one single day: 28 May 1928. On this date members of FIFA met for the 17th Congress of the organisation and voted in favour of staging the first World Cup in 1930. It was a moment that propelled the beautiful game into the world’s imagination and one that changed the course of football history.
Now, every four years fans across the world get the chance to watch the very best players face off against one another, and perhaps even watch their own team go for glory. It’s estimated that 3.2 billion people worldwide watch the World Cup, an incredible 46.4% of the Earth’s population. But back in 1928 the idea was just a dream held by visionary FIFA President Jules Rimet.
Before the genius of Pele, before England’s triumph in 1966, before Maradona’s mazy runs, before Ronaldo’s comeback, before the Cryuff turn, before Archie Gemmill’s goal in 1978 came the first international game of football and it’s fair to say it got off to a slow start…
England and Scotland drew 0-0 on a cold day in Glasgow in November of 1872 and while the game wasn’t a classic it was the start of something special. Twelve years later came the first international tournament, the British Home Championships of 1884 between Scotland (winners), Wales, England and Ireland.
Football’s popularity also grew internationally during this period, leading to the founding of FIFA in 1904, established to help organise national teams and their fixtures.
The first international tournaments to include teams outside Britain began with the summer Olympics, the first to be recognised by FIFA being the 1908 games in London, where six teams competed.
By 1914, FIFA was managing the football Olympic tournament on behalf of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) but it still wasn’t quite right and certainly not the World Cup we know today.
The election of Jules Rimet to the post of FIFA President in 1921 provided the impetus the organisation needed to go independent from the IOC. The ambitious Rimet was driven by the idea of setting up a competition run solely by FIFA that would showcase football across the world and bring it together.
It was a big dream for a man from humble beginnings.
Born on 14 October 1873 in Theuley-les-Lavoncourt – a small village in eastern France – Rimet was the son of a grocer. He had a strict upbringing, and his ambition and talent for persuasion were clear from a young age. After winning a scholarship to pursue law in Paris, he started a career in business.
While law was his vocation it was evident that his true passion lay in sport. In 1897 Rimet co-founded the Red Star Club in Paris, a sports club built on values of inclusion regardless of class differences. It included a football team known simply as Red Star, now the second oldest team in France.
After the success of Red Star, Rimet became an important figure in the growth of football in France, becoming the first President of the French Football Federation in 1919. And, after helping to professionalise the game in France he became president of FIFA. This came at a difficult time – the destruction wreaked by World War One had left an indelible mark across a fractured Europe – but this didn’t stop Rimet.
Under his leadership the 1924 Olympic Football Tournament in Paris – in which 24 teams competed – was a great success. The tournament’s final saw 60,000 spectators watch a spectacular Uruguay team dominate Switzerland 3-0.
Uruguay won again in 1928 in a similar manner, this time beating Argentina in the final. The dominance of South American teams at international tournaments was established.
Many would have stuck with the Olympic Football Tournament model that had proved so successful, but for the forward-thinking Rimet it only intensified his desire to see an independent FIFA tournament.
And so, on 28 May 1928, at the 17th FIFA Congress in Amsterdam, Rimet tabled the extraordinary proposal for FIFA to stage its own world championship. The organisation agreed. After Uruguay offered to pay for all travel expenses, the Olympic champions were chosen as hosts for the inaugural 1930 tournament.
On 21 June 1930, Jules Rimet, his FIFA delegation, and the teams of Romania, France and Belgium set sail for Uruguay on board the SS Conte Verde, starting a journey that would take two weeks, arriving just in time for the first game on 13 July.
On the journey, Rimet was given the unenviable task of looking after the winner’s trophy, a beautiful golden figurine designed by French sculptor Abel Lafleur. But, just like the future of football, it was in safe hands.
Since that first World Cup, - which was won by Uruguay who beat Argentina 4-2 in the final - we’ve had 20 World Cups, 16 hosts, 8 winners, 2 trophies, 516 games, 2,377 goals, 169 red cards and countless moments of magic.