The success of the Olympic Football Tournament intensified FlFA’s wish for its own world championship. Questionnaires were sent to the affiliated associations, asking whether they agreed to the organisation of a tournament and under what conditions. A special committee examined the question, with President Jules Rimet the driving force. He was aided by the untiring Secretary of the French Football Federation, Henri Delaunay.
Following a remarkable proposal by the Executive Committee, the FIFA Congress in Amsterdam on 28 May 1928 decided to stage a world championship organised by FIFA. Now, the organising country had to be chosen. Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden submitted their candidatures. Right from the start, Uruguay was the favourite and not simply for its Olympic gold medal wins in 1924 and 1928 – the country was celebrating its 100th anniversary of independence in 1930 at great expense.
Moreover, its national association was willing to cover all the costs, including the travel and accommodation of the participating teams. Any possible profit would be shared, while Uruguay would take on the deficit. These arguments were decisive. The FIFA Congress in Barcelona in 1929 assigned Uruguay as first host country of the FIFA World Cup ™. The other candidates had withdrawn.
With Europe in the midst of an economic crisis, not everything went to plan during the countdown to these first finals. Participation did not only involve a long sea journey for the Europeans; the clubs would have to renounce their best players for two months. Consequently, more and more associations broke their promise to participate and it took much manoeuvring by Rimet to ensure at least four European teams – France, Belgium, Romania and Yugoslavia – joined him on the Conte Verde liner bound for Buenos Aires.
The first FIFA World Cup opened at the brand-new Estadio Centenario in Montevideo on 18 July 1930. It was the beginning of a new era in world football and the inaugural event proved a remarkable success, both in a sporting and a financial sense. Of course, the organisers were disappointed that only four European sides had participated. The anger in Montevideo was so intense in fact that four years later, world champions Uruguay became the first and only team to refuse to defend their title.
When the Congress convened in Budapest in 1930, it thanked Uruguay for staging the world championship for the first time in difficult conditions. It also noted its regret at seeing only a minimum number of teams participating from Europe.
The significance of the new tournament only increased following the setback FIFA suffered in the lead-up to the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. After failing to settle differences of opinion over the amateur status of footballers with the International Olympic Committee regarding the amateur status of football players, plans to organise the Olympic Football Tournament were abandoned.
FIFA chose Italy ahead of rival candidates Sweden to host the second FIFA World Cup and this time it took qualifying matches to arrive at the 16 finalists. Unlike in 1930 there were no groups and only knockout rounds, meaning Brazil and Argentina went home after playing just one match each. Once again, the home team prevailed, Italy winning the Final against Czechoslovakia in extra time. For the first time, the Final was transmitted on the radio.
Four years later, Rimet saw his wish fulfilled when the third FIFA World Cup took place in France, his home country. Again not everything ran according to plan: Austria had disappeared from the scene and so Sweden did not have an opponent in the first round. Uruguay still did not wish to participate and Argentina withdrew. This is why the national teams from Cuba and the Dutch East Indies came to France. This time, there was no home victory and Italy successfully defended their title.
The FIFA World Cup should have taken place for the fourth time in 1942 but the outbreak of World War Two meant otherwise. Although FIFA maintained its Zurich offices throughout the conflict, it was not until 1 July 1946 in Luxembourg that the Congress met again. Thirty-four associations were represented and they gave Rimet, who had been President for a quarter of a century already, a special Jubilee gift. From now on, the FIFA World Cup trophy would be called the Jules Rimet Cup.
As the only candidate, Brazil was chosen unanimously to host the next FIFA World Cup, to be staged in 1949 (and postponed to 1950 for time reasons). At the same time, Switzerland was given the option for 1954.
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