Sunday 01 March 2020, 10:20

Rimet’s World Cup vision realised

  • The first FIFA World Cup kicked off in Uruguay 90 years ago today

  • Then FIFA President Jules Rimet battled stiff opposition to the tournament

  • The first Trophy was ultimately renamed in his honour

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.

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.

He 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”.

Did you know? 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.