Meet FIFA’s eight presidents
© AFP

Eight men have served as the President of FIFA since its foundation in May 1904. With world football’s governing body set to stage its latest presidential election on Wednesday, FIFA.com takes the opportunity to look back at the achievements of these eight men and the contribution they made to the game of football.

Frenchman Robert Guerin (1904-1906) was the driving force behind the formation of FIFA in 1904. A journalist by trade, he brought together the governing body’s seven founding members in Paris, and was named President at the inaugural FIFA Congress, held in the days following its creation. During his two-year term in office, eight new member associations joined FIFA.

Guerin was succeeded by Daniel Burley Woolfall (1906-1918), who was elected president at the 1906 Congress, held in Berne. Woolfall unified the Laws of the Game in line with the English model and oversaw their application around the world. It was during his presidency that the first non-European members joined FIFA (South Africa, Argentina, Chile and the United States) and he played an active role in the organisation of the first Men’s Olympic Football Tournament at the 1908 Games, a competition FIFA became responsible for organising. The Englishman, who also made FIFA a member of the International Football Association Board (IFAB), died in 1918, with the Dutchman Carl Anton Wilhelm Hirschmann stepping in to replace him. As the body’s Honorary Secretary, Hirschmann ensured its survival during the difficult years that followed the first world war.

The President of the French Football Association Jules Rimet (1921-1954) called an assembly in 1919 in Brussels, but the wounds opened by the war had yet to heal and the initiative failed. He organised another assembly the following year in Antwerp, at which a new board was elected, with Rimet as its president, albeit on a provisional basis. The results of the election were put to the member associations, who ratified them unanimously. FIFA’s statutes were later amended and postal votes and proxy voting prohibited.

The Frenchman took up his position as FIFA President on 1 March 1921, at the age of 48. He would hold it for the next 33 years. Inspired by the success of the Olympic Football Tournament, he proposed the creation of the FIFA World Cup™ and was in charge of organising the first five such tournaments. In recognition of his inspirational idea, the Trophy was named after him. It was presented for the last time to Brazil in 1970.

Following the longest presidency in the history of the organisation came the shortest. The Belgian Rodolphe William Seeldrayers (1954-55) was Vice-President to Rimet for over a quarter of a century but died only a year after being appointed his successor.

England’s Arthur Drewry (1955-1961) served as interim head for six months up to the elections of 1956, having worked tirelessly to bring the British football associations back into the FIFA fold in 1946. Following his death, the presidency was held by the Swiss Ernst B. Thommen up to the Extraordinary Congress held on 28 September 1961, which resulted in the election of another Englishman, Stanley Rous (1961-1974), as FIFA President. A top-class referee, Rous helped redraft the Laws of the Game in 1938 and it was during his period in office that the FIFA World Cup became a successful televised event and was broadcast for the first time in colour.

Joao Havelange (1974-1998) was FIFA President for 24 years. Elected at the 39th Congress in 1974, he presided over a period of profound change in world football’s governing body. The increase in the number of teams taking part in the FIFA World Cup from 16 to 24, the creation of new competitions (the FIFA U-17 and U-20 World Cups, the FIFA Confederations Cup and the FIFA Women’s World Cup) and the increase in commercial interests deriving from these tournaments resulted in the overhaul and expansion of the organisation’s structure and its headquarters in Zurich. The Brazilian oversaw the global expansion of the game through numerous development programmes and helped increase Asia, Africa and CONCACAF’s involvement on the global stage.

Joseph S. Blatter (1998 to the present) had already served FIFA for 23 years, firstly as its Director of Technical Programmes and then as its General Secretary, when he succeeded Havelange at the 51st FIFA Congress, held in Paris in 1998. During his time in the post, the Swiss has prioritised the social role of football and FIFA through humanitarian initiatives and development and cooperation projects. As well as increasing the number of competitions staged - with the FIFA Club World Cup, the FIFA Futsal and Beach Soccer World Cups and the FIFA U-17 and U-20 Women’s World Cups all being added to the international calendar - Blatter has also expanded the FIFA World Cup to 32 teams. During his presidency, the event has also been held for the first time in Asia and Africa.

Today, the 61st FIFA Congress will stage a vote to decide who will hold this post for the next four years and carry on the work of eight men who have helped establish football as the greatest of all sports.