Jules Rimet : The Father of the World Cup

Continuing our series on the Presidents of FIFA, and following the presentation of the first President, Robert Guérin, in the February edition and that of João Havelange in the April edition, we now look back to the man who created the World Cup: Jules Rimet.

After almost a quarter of a century, there will be a change at the top of FIFA in 1998. Reason enough to look back at the seven men who have presided over the organisation since its foundation: Guérin, Burley Woolfall, Rimet, Seeldrayers, Drewry, Rous, Havelange.

Like any great competition, the FIFA World Cup was not created overnight. And, also in keeping with many of the world's most durable institutions, it was the brainchild of one man in particular.

Jules Rimet was born on 14 October 1873 in a modest grocer's store run by his father in Theuley-les-Lavoncourt, in the department of the Haute Saône in the Franche-Comté of eastern France. The product of a strict upbringing, he proved a model student and won a scholarship to pursue his studies in Paris, going on to obtain his law degree.

His studies completed, the young Rimet went to work for an avoué in the stock market district of the French capital, and later joining the Paris city Fiduciary Comptoir to deal with disputes and appeals.

*Red Star is born
This somewhat dry professional background was relieved by Jules Rimet's passion for sport. Although he had never played any particular sport to a very high level, he was fascinated by its organisation and dedicated himself to creating opportunities for others, more physically gifted then himself, to play.

In March 1897, at the comparatively young age of 24 and together with a group of like-minded friends, he founded the Red Star club, which still exists today. It was Jules Rimet's first taste of pioneering a football organisation, and its success encouraged him to do more.

When FIFA was founded in Paris on 21 May 1904, the relatively low-key event certainly did not escape Rimet's attention. Although not directly involved with the creation of the world body, his fascination was sharpened by the appearance of such an organisation in his adopted home city. Within a few years, Rimet was instrumental in the creation, in 1910, of the Football Asssociation League, France's first national league, and was named its first president. The league was regarded as very much Rimet's own project, and it eventually led to the foundation in 1919 of the French Football Federation in the form in which the FFF exists today. Even the arrival of the First World War from 1914 to 1918 could not stifle Rimet's urge to formalise football activity in France, and his dynamic genius made him the obvious person to be elected as President of the FFF on 7 April 1919.

Coming to office in the national body was the opening that the Frenchman had been waiting for, the opportunity to realise his dream of launching an international tournament in response to the global dimensions which the new FIFA was beginning to adopt.

*The dream takes shape
He presented the idea at the Olympic Games in Antwerp in 1920, when he was also provisionally placed in control of FIFA , but it was to be a decade before the dream reached fruition. A year later, he was confirmed as President of FIFA, taking office on 1 March 1921 in succession to the late Daniel Burley Woolfall.

Rimet's powers of persuasion soon proved to be too much for the FIFA Executive Committee to withstand, and by 1926 he had succeeded in nominating a special committee to study the possibility of holding a World Championship.

The project was also born of a disagreement between FIFA, which Rimet was leading with increasing authority, and the International Olympic Committee over the Olympic Football Tournament. FIFA, and Rimet in particular, insisted that it was now sufficiently competent to be entirely responsible for the Tournament - or else they would run one of their own.

*Uruguay appointed hosts
At its Congress in Amsterdam in 1928, FIFA agreed by a 25:5 vote (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Estonia voted against) that a World Cup should be organised every four years. At the Congress the following year in Barcelona, the first such tournament was set for 1930, in Uruguay, selected in preference to Italy, Holland, Spain and Sweden. Uruguay were the Olympic football champions in 1924 and 1928, and promised to build a new stadium for the World Cup to mark the centenary of the country's constitution. Of decisive importance, however, was Uruguay's offer to pay all the travel and lodging costs of the competing teams (including 75 Dollars per person plus "half a Dollar a day for minor expenses").

The project was dealt a major blow in 1928 when the British federations, who had not been particularly enthusiastic from the start but had agreed to go along with the idea, walked out following a disagreement over a lack of clear definition between amateurs and professionals. This was particularly relevant within the context of the Olympic Games, which contained at that time the only competition where national football teams from all over the world could compete in the same tournament. But whereas Rimet wanted the World Cup to be global, he also wanted it open to professionals.

Rimet, ably and enthusiastically supported by his compatriot Henri Delaunay, the FFF secretary, did not allow himself to be deterred by the four British teams declining to participate, nor by the withdrawal of other European teams on the pretext not only of the general economic crisis in Europe at that time but also of the lengthy sea-crossing to Montevideo. Rimet spared no personal effort in travelling around Europe, cajoling national associations into agreeing to take part in the great adventure, and applying special pressure on his own French federation. Eventually four European teams made the trip.

*The dream fulfilled
The championship was seen very much as Rimet's own personal life's work. On 21 June 1930, accompanied by his daughter and the French team delegation, he excitedly boarded the Conte Verde luxury liner in Genoa; the Belgian and Romanian teams also took the same ship. In his baggage he had the trophy that the teams were to compete for in Uruguay, the creation of French sculptor Abel Lafleur, noting in his journal that "the gold of the trophy is symbolic for the World Cup becoming the world's greatest sports event."

Within two weeks the Conte Verde docked in Montevideo, five hours late but frenetically received. Rimet was delighted to be personally invited to meet the Uruguayan head of state, President Campistegui, upon his arrival. To Rimet's further delight, the Uruguayans had organised the tournament in detail, although the excessive enthusiasm did at times cause him concern. Finally, it was Rimet's honour as FIFA President to present the little golden trophy to the captain of the victorious home team, Nasazzi, after their 4-2 win over neighbours and rivals Argentina in the final. In his memoirs, Rimet later wrote that he had seldom witnessed such a storm of excitement and liberated passion as at the end of this match; maybe, he mused, the Uruguayans had taken their triumph too seriously, but they were so spontaneous in their jubilation that everyone seemed to join in.

*Diplomatic finesse
The effects of the new World Cup were less evident in Europe, however, where even the specialist press devoted only a few lines to the event - and indeed FIFA's own newsletter only devoted a few lines to it. But Rimet's dream had been realised. It was the basis upon which the World Cup as we know it today was to be built, and it was also the consecration of his career as a football administrator.

Rimet's subsequent years as President of FIFA were not without their highlights, of course. For the organisation of the 1934 World Cup in Italy he had to withstand the pressures of South American retaliation to the Europeans' cool reception to the inaugural edition in Uruguay, and even when FIFA selected France to host the 1938 edition in honour of his own personal contribution he had to deal with the complex situation facing pre-War Europe.

At no time was his diplomatic ingenuity and internationalism more evident than in 1939, when he travelled to South America to heal a growing rift between that continent and Europe, preserving the unity of the world body.

After the War years, FIFA emerged to hold its 1946 Congress in Luxembourg, when it was decided to play the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, the only candidate. Rimet realised that this was a wise choice, as Europe would still be recovering from the War years - and he also perceived the wisdom in attributing the 1954 edition to Switzerland, whose neutrality had ensured a measure of stability during the intervening period.

The same Luxembourg Congress also decided to name the trophy after Jules Rimet, thus ensuring his name in perpetuity - a name that lived on even after the original little trophy disappeared for ever in Rio de Janeiro in 1983.

*The first Honorary President
Rimet's 33-year term of office eventually came to an end at the 1954 Congress in Berne, his last ceremonial act being to officially open the World Cup in Lausanne, at the age of 81. On 21 June that year he was named the first Honorary President of FIFA, and was succeeded by Rodolphe Williams Seeldrayers of Belgium, who had been a great supporter of Rimet's for many years. But he stubbornly resisted efforts to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize.

By the time of Rimet's retirement, FIFA counted 85 members, there having been only 20 when he came to office in 1921. Although the world body was to double in size again in the ensuing years, there is no doubt that Jules Rimet had not only given FIFA its most familiar and prestigious feature in the World Cup, but he had also presided with great diplomatic skill at probably the most critical time in its history. KC