In 1904, a Frenchman named Jules Rimet was involved in the founding of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association – International Federation of Association Football, commonly abbreviated to FIFA and, while the fledgling organization had plans for a global professional tournament, it instead was involved in running an amateur tournament as part of the 1908 Summer Olympics.
The First World War put Rimet’s and FIFA’s plans on hold.
Rimet served in the French Army as an officer and was decorated with a Croix de Guerre.
Rimet was born in 1873 in eastern France.
His parents moved to Paris, where his father became a grocer, leaving Jules to receive a strict Catholic upbringing from his grandparents. On moving to the big city, to rejoin his parents as an 11-year-old, when his grandparents could no longer afford to support him, he devoted himself to his studies.
He earned a scholarship to study law, something that was beyond the abilities of his family.
He was deeply affected not only by the trials of his own family endured but also by the enduring misery and poverty suffered by the French working classes of the day and the failure of the powers that be to find a remedy.
As a devout Catholic, the Rerum Novarum issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 – an open letter to all Catholic leaders deploring the “misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class” – had a major impact on him.
That call had shaped the vision of Rimet and helped him to evolve.
According to his grandson, Yves Rimet, his grandfather was a “humanist and idealist, who believed that sport could unite the world.”
It was these ideals that would shape the young Rimet’s first moves into the world of football; a sport that he had little prior interest in but one that had become increasingly popular in France.
In the largely residential, diverse Parisian suburb of Saint-Ouen, a 24-year-old Rimet, along with a handful of like-minded souls, founded the Red Star Sporting Club in 1897.
Rimet and his co-founders envisaged a club that would just not remain a mere sporting club in the coming days, rather, it would be about reaching out and engaging with the local community, about offering a number of activities other than football and being inclusive.
Red Star would not refuse members on the grounds of class; a precedent that was against the norm of the time. Perhaps understandably, the club would form a deep connection with the left-wing, working-class people of the local district.
The former Sunderland striker said in an interview with the Guardian, “Red Star is an underground, romantic, popular football club where there is absolutely no social status.”
That connection with red Star would take Rimet a long way and would become the most influential and respected figure in the history of football!
Following the war in 1919, he became President of the French Football Federation, and then President of FIFA on 1 March 1921.
He would hold the post until 1954 becoming the longest reigning President to date, taking the membership of the organization from twelve up to 85 nations, despite losing the membership of the English, Welsh, and Scottish Football Associations during the early years.
After taking up the post he moved once again to start a global tournament.
Rimet insisted that FIFA were capable of staging a tournament of its own and would have wanted to include professionals from the lower social classes. If the IOC wouldn’t countenance this, Rimet threatened to form his own global tournament.
But he was strongly opposed by the amateur football associations and Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
In 1928 FIFA, under Rimet’s leadership, went forward with plans for a World Cup!
At the 1928 FIFA congress in Amsterdam, the 30 members voted in favour of establishing a quadrennial World Cup which would be in Uruguay due to the nature of the professional game in South America, and in part because the Uruguayan Football Association offered to pay all travel costs.
However Rimet’s decisions on where to host the first few World Cups led to criticism: European nations complained about the 1930 World Cup because players would be out of domestic tournaments for three months, which was why only France, Belgium, Romania and Yugoslavia sent teams to compete, and those only competed because of Rimet’s influence.
It took over two weeks for the SS Conte Verde, the Italian steamboat, to reach Montevideo in 1930.
Onboard were the Romanian, French, Belgian and Brazilian squads, three referees, and the sparkling new FIFA World Cup Trophy, which traveled in the luggage of Rimet.
On July 13, in Montevideo, the tournament kicked off in 1930.
France and Mexico were the contenders in the opening match and since then every for years, the greatest show on earth visits us.
The legacy of Rimet still continues.
The dream of Jules Rimet came true and the football world owes a lot to this Frenchman.