Daniel Burley Woolfall succeeded the founding father Robert Guérin as FIFA President, and Rodolphe William Seeldrayers was the man who came after the initiator of the World Cup, Jules Rimet. Little wonder that these two are a bit overshadowed by their more illustrious predecessors.
Overshadowed they may have been by the famous names before them, but that does not mean that the second and fourth presidents were of no importance. At the Congress in Berne in 1906, two years after the start of FIFA, the founding President, Robert Guérin (see February 1998 issue of FIFA Magazine) failed to appear. There had been a split within the French association and this created a huge problem for Guérin. The delegates present at the Congress elected Daniel Burley Woolfall as his successor. Woolfall was the Chairman of The FA in England and because of this position and his nationality he brought considerable influence to his new office.
It needs to be remembered that England was not one of the countries involved at the beginning of FIFA and only recognised the organisation on 14 April 1905, when they themselves became members.
Woolfall was president during a period when a dream of an international competition was in the air, but making it a reality was still a long way off. His twelve-year presidency was dominated by other priorities. The forging of closer links between English and continental football was largely thanks to his efforts, and was important for Europe since The FA had been founded back in 1863 and professional football had been in existence for a long time in England.
Woolfall's period in office can be characterised briefly by four main themes: efforts to simplify the Laws of the Game, running a tournament as part of the Olympic Games in London in 1908, enrolling the first non-European member countries into FIFA and dealing with the logistical problems posed by the First World War.
At the annual congresses chaired by Woolfall in various European capitals, the main drive was to obtain agreement on a uniform set of rules that would be used internationally. These efforts met with increasing success as the years went on, leading to the establishment of the basic rules of an organisation which still exist today to some extent, and which formed a solid foundation and a clear line for future development. The organisation of a tournament at the 1908 Olympics was the responsibility of The FA and was not without its problems, since football at that stage was far from being an internationally recognised competitive sport.
Things were little changed by 1912 when the Olympic Games were held in Stockholm, but this was a more important moment in the development of football. In conjunction with this tournament the problem of professionalism raised its head and it would be a point of debate for many years to come.
Until 1909, FIFA's membership consisted exclusively of European countries, and under Woolfall the first overseas members were accepted: 1910 South Africa, 1912 Argentina and Chile and in 1913 the USA. The entrance of these new members signalled the start of FIFA's world-wide involvement, an idea that had been part of the basic concept at the founding of the organisation. The idea was right but the timing was a problem, with World War 1 causing great difficulty. While it was still possible to schedule international matches on neutral territory, the logistics involved in carrying out the games proved to be very complicated. And the dream of an international competition seemed to have faded completely when Daniel Burley Woolfall died in 1918.
His successor (Jules Rimet, FIFA Magazine June 1998) was the man who revived the dream and made it a reality. Rimet's vice-president and right-hand man from 1927 onwards was a Belgian lawyer, Rodolphe William Seeldrayers, who had represented Belgium at congresses since 1914. He was elected to the presidency at the Congress in Berne on 21 June 1954. During his period of office the fifth World Cup was held in Switzerland and the 50th anniversary of the foundation of FIFA was celebrated. Unfortunately he died in 1955 and his main contribution is seen as occurring during his 27 years in the position of vice-president, during which, as a former referee himself, he devoted a lot of time to overseeing the Laws of the Game as well as being a major support to Jules Rimet.