Why is there a World Cup? It has to do with the Olympic Football Tournament, Uruguay and paid football. The modern Olympic Games have existed since 1896, with a football tournament since 1908. Why another World Cup? Well, the Olympics were a primarily European tournament at the beginning of the 20th century. And not because there was no sport outside Europe – the opposite was the case!
A year after the founding of an international football association outside Great Britain, the then Fifa vice-president Carl Anton Wilhelm Hirschmann told of a special idea: a joint, international tournament with selection teams from the now twelve member associations. But he was quite alone in his enthusiasm. And the idea was not entirely new, because “Kicker” founder Walther Bensemann also wanted to establish a similar tournament as early as 1899, but the “Ur-Länderspiele” only took place once.
Uruguay – magnífico or money-grubbing?
The success was satisfactory to good, but a real storm of enthusiasm only came with the 1924 Olympic football tournament in Paris. It was organised by Fifa, which had its headquarters in Paris at the time. Among the 22 participating nations was Uruguay, a South American country for the first time.
But the journey from Uruguay to France took several weeks and cost a lot of money. A wealthy doctor financed the adventure.
The Uruguayan team was initially smiled at by the arrogant Europeans – but in the end they could smile themselves, because they won the gold medal with 20:2 goals in five games. Coincidence? No.
What was different in South America was that there used to be professional football here, complete with its own leagues. The Copa America took place for the first time in 1910, at that time under the name Campeonato Sudamericano. (By comparison, the first European Championship was held in 1960).
After the World Cup success, European opinion towards Uruguayan football changed. People no longer smiled at the players, but saw them as money-grubbing people: “How unfair! They play for money! It’s obvious that they’ll win.” Their behaviour was seen as a snub to the Olympic ideal. Henceforth, they were to be excluded from the Games.
But not all Europeans thought this way, including Jules Rimet, the then president of Fifa.
A football competition for amateur and professional footballers
Besides Rimet, the then Fifa Secretary General Ivo Schricker from Karlsruhe was one of the driving forces in favour of the World Cup and globalisation. Schricker was a lawyer and, like Rimet and Bensemann, a cosmopolitan. Sport, especially football, was for them an ideal means for international understanding and against nationalism (which was usually described as “political” at the time).
In the understanding of Fifa at the time, the World Cup was supposed to be a kaleidoscope of diversity. A melting pot of international understanding. No pretentious imposition of a restrictive culture and ideology that would lead the original World Cup spirit ad absurdum.
Plans are being made
As early as 1924, Rimet and the Uruguayan patron Enrique Buero forged plans for a pure football world tournament, which he presented to Fifa in 1928 and which then took place as the first World Cup in 1930. He donated the cup. However, the Coupe Jules Rimet has been missing since 1983.
In addition to President Rimet, the General Secretary of the French Football Federation, Henri Delaunay, now supported the tournament: “International football can no longer exist within the confines of the Olympic Games; many countries where professionalism is now recognised and organised can no longer be represented by their best players.”
The idea: “An independent world football tournament should now unite professionals and amateurs and provide a comparison between the actual strongest teams.” “The tournaments of 1924 and 1928 documented the possibility of an independent World Cup.”
Also in 1928, Fifa’s logo was adapted and from then on (until 1990) showed not only the European side, but both sides of the globe. Fifa was to be developed into a global organisation for football.
The first World Cup in Uruguay in 1930
Uruguay got the nod because it could support Fifa with more money than other nations. And money was what the world federation needed at that time, it was virtually broke because of speculations of the now Fifa General Secretary Hirschmann. Banker and football pioneer Ivo Schricker took over for him.
Only 13 countries were able to participate. The reason for this was not only the long, expensive journey by ship, which took several days. Most of the players – whether amateur players or apparent amateurs – could not stay away from their main job for several weeks.
Dietrich Schulze-Marmeling wrote in his article “The History of the Fifa World Cup”: “The idea of internationally organised competitions of strength had taken hold, albeit under somewhat different auspices than originally envisaged by the internationalist-minded Fifa pioneers”, because “[t]he tournament strengthened sporting nationalism, which increased the appeal of the competition.”
And so the history of the World Cup took its course.
This article first appeared in German as a column of “Frauen reden über Fussball” (Women talk about football) at WebDE.