July 13 remain the golden letter day of world football. Rather for all sport. It was on this day nine decades ago when the sports world’s most-watched sport competition had seen the light of the day.
It has taken 10 years for Jules Rimet to realise the idea he had floated at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics. The dream was realised with the vision and effort of the Frenchman who became the FIFA president a year later and ensured the first FIFA World Cup to kick start in Uruguay on July 13, 1930.
FIFA on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the inaugural World Cup has narrated how the history was scripted on this day.
It took over two weeks for the Conte Verde, the Italian steamboat in this image, to reach Montevideo in 1930. On board were the Romanian, French, Belgian and Brazilian squads, three referees and the sparkling new FIFA World Cup Trophy, states a FIFA report.
The man carrying that prize was Jules Rimet, the FIFA President, and for him the journey to this point had taken far longer than a mere fortnight. It had been a decade before, at the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, that the Frenchman had first floated the idea of a World Cup. Following his election as president the following year, Rimet – inspired by the idea of unifying and reconciling nations through sport, and frustrated by the exclusion of professional players from the Olympic Football Tournament – pursued this proposal with renewed vigour.
But he was not without his opponents. Strange as it might seem now, the World Cup was not universally or even widely supported in its formative stages. It took until 1928 for Rimet to gather the necessary support to pass a motion at the FIFA Congress declaring that this new global tournament should begin in 1930, and be arranged every four years.
Even then, the choice of Uruguay as host – prompted by La Celeste’s pre-eminence in the previous two Olympics Football Tournaments, and by the country’s offer to cover teams’ travel expenses – led to many European nations boycotting the tournament.
Yet the enthusiasm with which Rimet and the teams were greeted, and the well-attended, high calibre matches that followed, led to the first World Cup being declared a great success. This much-debated tournament went on, of course, not only to survive, but to thrive – with Rimet’s vision fully vindicated.
Rimet oversaw the first five editions, handing over the Trophy for the final time to Germany’s Fritz Walter in 1954 – the same month in which he ended his long and celebrated reign as FIFA President. Recognition of his role in the tournament’s development had come eight years earlier, when that Trophy – which Rimet carried in his bag to Uruguay in 1930 – was renamed in his honour.
It was a fitting tribute to a man who had commissioned sculptor Abel Lafleur to create the prize, noting – again with remarkable foresight – that gold should be used to symbolise the World Cup “becoming the world’s greatest sports event”.
Few people would know that the Jules Rimet Trophy was stolen in Brazil in 1983 and never recovered, but its original base was miraculously located just five years ago.
It was found tucked away unnoticed on a shelf in the FIFA archive six decades after being lost, and is now proudly displayed at the FIFA World Football Museum in Zurich.
The 21st edition of the competition in 2018 has created the global record for the most-watched single sport competition with 3.572 billion audience worldwide.
Rimet had the vision to give the world the most sought after sport competition, but what even he won’t have realised that when his national side France would lift the Champions’ Trophy 88 years later, the event he was creating would be a $6 billion industry.