Tuesday, June 30, 2009
During this summer lull (Fizzy Pop league in just over a month!), we have decided to dust off some features that have slipped away. Today, I renew the "Obscure Football Legends" series with a man who never played football in his life. Huh?
Jules Rimet was born in Theuley-les-Lavoncourt (France) in 1873 the son of a grocer, and would grow up to become a lawyer. His impact on the world, however, would come as president of the Fédération Française de Football (FFF; 1919-1945) and of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA; 1921-1945). It was Rimet who gave us the World Cup.
Convinced that sports could unite the world, Rimet founded the Red Star sports club in Paris (1897) and, crucially, opened membership to anyone. Sensing that football was growing on the world stage, he and others spurred the beginnings of FIFA (1904) in order to promote chivalry and fair play within international football. Becoming the head of the FFF and FIFA within two years of each other, after having seen football play a part in WWI, Rimet began to push the idea of an international competition solely for football professionals, in opposition to the amateur football staged as part of the Olympics.
Rimet was finally successful in 1928 when FIFA decided to stage the first World Cup. Uruguay had offered to pay all expenses, and so the affair was held there. Many European countries (particularly England, as the FA was opposed to the idea) declined to participate, as travel abroad was only possible by boat across the Atlantic. Only France, Romania, Yugoslavia (look it up, kids!) and Belgium made the trip. The host country won the tournament, beating Argentina in the finals, and Rimet was there to present the trophy (as seen above).
Rimet continued to push the World Cup as a vehicle for peace, but his efforts were marred by the next two World Cups, with 1934 in Italy having fascist overtones and 1938 in France having to deal with 1 qualifying country (Germany) conquering another (Austria). Despite this, Rimet was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1956 but his nomination was rejected by the panel. Strangely enough, no Nobel Prize was awarded that year and Rimet had passed away by the end of the year.
In the interim, Rimet had been rewarded by FIFA, as the World Cup trophy was renamed in his honor in 1946. Unfortunately, after having been awarded permanently to Brazil in 1970 after their 3rd WC championship, the Jules Rimet Trophy was stolen in 1983 and was never recovered.
While it is difficult to say that football has achieved his ideals of chivalry (Ronaldo, anyone) or unity (racism and fascism still play a role among supporters and players alike), it is clear that is has become the world's game. And it is the efforts of Jules Rimet that made football's largest stage a reality.