Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Sun 23 September 2007

All the Presidential Men (Part 3)

The man behind the trophy
March 1st 1921 was a momentous day for FIFA, although few would have known it at the time. This was the day that Jules Rimet officially succeeded the late Daniel Burley Woolfall to become the world governing body's third president since its creation in 1904. Under his guidance, FIFA entered its first great period of real change, but achieving success wouldn't be easy. Rimet would have to work hard and enthuse a sense of belief in all its member nations throughout his 33-year tenure.

Jules Rimet was a familiar face in football administration circles. He was president of France's Ligue de Football Association and had attended FIFA's Congress prior to his appointment at the age of 48. When Woolfall died, Carl Hirschman took temporary charge to see the governing body through the closing years of World War I, but a meeting of the FIFA board in Antwerp in 1920 confirmed Rimet as the man who would take over on a permanent basis.

Rimet's first main concern was to oversee the 1924 Olympic football tournament in Paris. Twenty-four teams entered and though the British nations were absent, many others from far and wide did take part. The undoubted focus of everyone's attention was Uruguay who, fresh from a successful tour of Spain, entered the contest as sole representatives of South America, brimming with confidence and talent.

Their short-passing play and superior positional awareness saw them cruise through to the Final where they beat Switzerland 3-0. They won the gold medal, and four years later in Amsterdam they did it again, beating near neighbours Argentina in the Final.

By this time, FIFA were not entirely happy about the nature of the Olympic tournament which was considered by many to be an unofficial world championship. The IOC insisted that all competing countries should respect its amateur ideals, but FIFA knew that more and more players were now turning professional and receiving payments accordingly. There was only one way to truly reflect the current state of the world game in a major tournament, and that was to allow both amateurs and professionals to take part.

It was therefore decided that 1930 would see the first FIFA World Championship take place, and having gained such dominance at the Olympic Games and in the South American championships, it seemed only fair to make Uruguay the host country. At a stroke, FIFA immediately, if a little indirectly, encouraged more teams from outside Europe to take a greater involvement in the game.

It worked. Teams such as Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, the United States and Mexico were quick to sign up to the tournament, yet FIFA's incentive had the opposite effect on the growing number of European nations that wanted to take part. Air travel was still primitive and expensive and after the damaging effect of World War I, few countries could afford to send their teams on long journeys anyway.

The Uruguayan FA waited patiently for a response to its invitations, but nothing was heard from across the Atlantic. Even the English Football Association were asked to take part and they weren’t even members of FIFA at the time. Things were getting desperate, so Jules Rimet decided to take matters into his own hands.

He wasted no time in approaching numerous football associations around Europe, persuading them as best he could that they should compete in the inaugural world championship. With the added incentive of having all their travel fares paid for by the Uruguayan FA, he achieved some success. Four countries were eventually won over - France, Yugoslavia, Romania and Belgium, ensuring a total of thirteen teams would take part at the start of the contest.

And so it was that the first World Cup finally got underway on July 13th 1930. Financially it was a great success and the South American fans were rewarded with many great games and admirable results.

When the tournament ended just over two weeks later, Uruguay found themselves once again facing their recent rivals from the 1928 Olympics, Argentina. Though the margin of victory was smaller, the result remained the same - Uruguay were the winners, beating the Argentineans 4-2.

For FIFA and Rimet in particular, a great sense of achievement was felt. The momentum to organise the next tournament four years later in Italy was there, but the Uruguayans were not happy. The fact that only four teams from Europe had made the effort to travel to their country was not one they were satisfied with. Their response was to withdraw from the 1934 World Cup leaving Rimet in no doubt that the job of FIFA President was not going to be an easy one to undertake...

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