The start of World War One caused a major interruption. Who talked then about football and its mission to unite nations? And yet, the ties that had been developed were not fully broken, even if they were only maintained on a small scale. There were some international matches played, albeit organised on neutral territory. However, given the difficulties some members faced in crossing frontiers, there would be no Congress for seven years from 1914.
President Daniel Burley Woolfall died in 1918 and that FIFA did not fade out altogether was down to one man only, Carl Anton Wilhelm Hirschman. He carried out his tasks as honorary secretary from his offices in Amsterdam and carefully kept the organisation alive, maintaining correspondence with his foreign colleagues. This way, he looked after the FIFA Secretariat on his own, and at his own expense.
Hirschman had an incredible capacity for work and dedicated his life to sport in general and football in particular. A former general secretary of the Dutch Football Association, he also helped establish his national Olympic Committee. One of the founders of FIFA, he made contact with all the members at the end of the war, on the initiative of the President of the French Football Association, Jules Rimet. Hirschman actually convened an assembly in Brussels in 1919 but negotiations advanced slowly. After a long, bloody war, wounds had not yet healed. Many delegates, particularly the British, did not yet want to accept yesterday's foes.
A meeting was eventually held in Antwerp in 1920 and a new administrative Board of FIFA was elected on a provisional basis. It comprised the following: Rimet as chairman, Denmark's Louis Oestrup as deputy chairman and Hirschman as honorary secretary. The results of this election were then submitted to all affiliated associations which unanimously gave their approval by mail. This was the last time that such a procedure was employed, as the next Statutes excluded voting by mail or by mandate.
Rimet became FIFA's third President on 1 March 1921 and the game's governing body became the life task of the then 48 year-old Frenchman. He took over a federation that had been shaken by World War One and counted 20 members. The British had left in unison and neither Brazil nor Uruguay were present. Over the 33 years of his presidency, FIFA experienced an incredible upswing - and this in spite of the subsequent horrors of World War Two. One ought to talk about a 'Jules Rimet era' in view of his success in reorganising FIFA and realising the dream of a world championship. On passing on the reins of FIFA in 1954, as he opened the FIFA World Cup ™ in Switzerland, the federation counted 85 members.
Rimet was hardly an unknown. While president of France's Ligue de Football Association, he had participated in the 1914 Congress. The following proposal was ratified on that occasion: "Under the condition that the Olympic Tournament take place in accordance with the Regulations of FIFA, the latter shall recognise this as a world football championship for amateurs." FIFA had underlined its eagerness to assume responsibility for organising the Olympic Football Tournament and in the first years of Rimet's reign, it did just that.
The 1924 Olympic Football Tournament in Paris featured 24 teams and proved a great success. The British stayed away but the Americans were there and a team representing faraway Uruguay showed how football was played in South America, much to the delight of the public. Uruguay's results were astounding: 7-0 against Yugoslavia, 3-0 against the United States, 5-1 against France, 2-1 against the Netherlands. Sixty thousand spectators followed the final between Uruguay and Switzerland, which the South Americans won 3-0. Uruguay had the gold medal - and were celebrated as world champions in Montevideo.
South America's predominance was even more impressive at the Olympics in Amsterdam in 1928. Uruguay retained their gold medal at the expense of their neighbours and final opponents Argentina. It was not long before the teams were facing each in another final... for an even greater prize.