World Football

From Paris to Zurich, 30 years of trials and tribulations (II)

Robert Guérin was the driving force behind the foundation of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association in 1904. The Frenchman was certainly a visionary, but it is doubtful that even he realised how big his creation would become. In this, the second of a series retrospectives, invites you on a fascinating trip back in time to the world governing body's early years, including the signing of the foundation treaty in a small Paris office, some British reticence, and FIFA's move to its Zurich headquarters.

1919: Anger amid calls for the expulsion of "WWI losers"When the Great War ended, football showed that it was not immune to the trauma of the conflict, as some FIFA members from the victorious countries called for the expulsion of those from the beaten nations. The British were especially aghast at the prospect of allowing Germany to remain a member, but they found themselves in the minority as the neutral nations opposed German expulsion. As a result, the British associations left FIFA in 1920.

Things calmed down over the following months as the beaten countries joined the League of Nations. There were still tensions, of course, but at least everyone was now allowed play against each other if they so wished.

1923: Return of the British, a full house for Europe
Frenchman Jules Rimet assumed the role of FIFA President in 1921 and was responsible for two major achievements. Firstly, it was under his stewardship that the last outstanding European countries joined FIFA, meaning the whole continent was now represented and total membership climbed to 40. His second big success was in convincing the British associations to rejoin.

The major issue of this time was the definition of amateurism. This was crucial for determining who could and could not play in the Olympic Football Tournament. The burning question was: can someone who was paid to play for his country be considered an amateur?  Opinions differed drastically, and there were plenty of impassioned debates before a temporary compromise was reluctantly agreed: henceforth, a player could be compensated for loss of earnings as a result of being on international duty and still be considered an amateur.  But this half-way measure did not keep the peace for long.

1926: Professionalism prompts search for a solutionThe issues of amateurism and professionalism continued to cause debate. The IOC was devoted to its ideal of "pure" amateurism and was not overly enamoured with FIFA's compromise. Britain, where professionalism had effectively existed since the 1880s, also disliked the hybrid definition; for them a player was either amateur or professional. The argument became so embittered that Britain again turned its back on FIFA. Realising it had to try to find a lasting solution to the issue, FIFA set up a commission to look into arranging a World Championship.

Financial concerns were also to the fore at this time. The members demanded that a detailed budget be implemented along with a comprehensive audit. The need for such measures was clear; money was starting to roll in, but FIFA still did not have an office nor any salaried staff, and its only address was in Amsterdam, at the home of General Secretary Hirschman.

1930: The first FIFA World Cup is hosted in Uruguay
The argument over amateurism certainly contributed to the creation of the World Cup, but the biggest factor was the tremendous campaigning of Frenchmen Jules Rimet and Henri Delaunay, the Swiss vice-President of FIFA Georges Bonnet, and Austria's Hugo Meisl. All four were members of the commission that managed to stage the tournament despite the remarkably tight time-frame within which they had to operate. In 1929, after much debate over the venue for the tournament and how income from it should be shared, two-time Olympic champions Uruguay were chosen as hosts, thanks in part to the persuasive powers of FIFA Vice-President E.E. Buero, Uruguay's ambassador to Belgium.

The hosts were celebrating 100 years of independence and pulled out all the stops to see to it that the Estadio Centenario de Montevideo was built on time, albeit only just - the stadium was inaugurated five days into the tournament!  The first ever World Cup featured 13 countries, with the four European participants - France, Yugoslavia, Romania, and Belgium -enduring 15-day boat trips to get there. Because work commitments prevented many top players from travelling and refereeing mistakes marred some of the matches, the tournament could not be classed as an unqualified success, but the fact that 90,000 people, including 20,00 Argentines, turned up to watch the Final proved it was at least a big hit with the public. The home crowd were particularly enthusiastic, especially after their heroes were crowned the first-ever football world champions.

1931: Financial problems pave the way for the first paid employeeAfter 25 years of activity, FIFA was still an amateur organisation. It was time to evolve, though not everyone had the same opinion as to how that should be done. The Italian Mauro, for example, wanted the body to behave "like a dictator" (sic), while others such as Germany's Linnemann believed it should limit itself to being an independent arbiter presiding over international fixtures, transfers, and player status. This was the vision enshrined at the Berlin Congress in 1931.

Things were about to change in the organisation, however, as it came to terms with financial ruin. Hirschman, the General Secretary and Treasurer, had invested all FIFA's money in publicly-quoted companies, and their value was wiped out by the 1929 stock market crash. The Dutchman duly resigned, and a penniless FIFA resolved that it was time to form a real managerial structure. Following a suggestion by Mauro, a permanent secretary was appointed, and on 1 November 1931, former German international Ivo Schricker became FIFA's first ever paid employee.

1932: FIFA settles in Zurich
The financial woes triggered a huge overhaul in the way FIFA was run, and 1932 saw the Statutes amended to provide for the creation of an Executive Committee made up of a president, two vice-presidents, and six other members, one of whom would be in charge of finance.

FIFA also decided to move into proper offices for the first time in its history. Switzerland was chosen as the home of FIFA's head-quarters for three reasons: it was in the centre of Europe, its neutrality meant it was perfectly compatible with FIFA philosophy, and it was easily accessible by train. Schricker and his deputy thus set up operations in an office measuring 30 square metres, located on the prestigious Bahnhofstrasse. For the next 22 years, that office served as FIFA headquarters and Schricker and Rimet - a pragmatist and a visionary - successfully steered FIFA through calm and choppy waters.

This article is based on the book "FIFA 1904-2004, the Football Century". Three years ago, four widely-respected historians (Pierre Lanfranchi, Christiane Eisenberg, Tony Mason, and Alfred Wahl) were entrusted with task of compiling a book that would cover FIFA's foundation, the creation of the Laws of the Game, the FIFA World Cup, the emergence of the FIFA Women's World Cup, and an array of other topics from the past 100 years of football. The fruit of their research is now available in most bookshops. Produced in all four of FIFA's official languages (English, French, German, and Spanish), it may also be ordered from the following addresses :
· by e-mail: for the English edition
· for the French edition
· for the Spanish edition

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