From Uruguay to Russia, FIFA has come full circle

From Uruguay to Russia, FIFA has come full circle
Saint Petersburg Stadium, Russia

The biggest and most prestigious sporting event on Earth brings together more than 200 nations and five billion people from six continents



by

Ishtiaq Ali Mehkri

Published: Thu 14 Jun 2018, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Sun 17 Jun 2018, 12:22 PM

The Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) has come a long way as 2018 World Cup Football kicks off in Moscow. It is a tale of trial and tribulations, and of course, resilience of men who really wanted to see the game grow big and get noticed on a global scale. Though football has been played - and was in the limelight since late last century - it is only by virtue of design and dedication that it acquired a prominent place in the world of sport.
The country that should be credited for making it big is Uruguay. It went out of its way to not only meet the expenses of travel and accommodation of teams travelling from Europe to South America, as Uruguay hosted the first FIFA World Cup in 1930, but also announced to share profits with others and take the loss, if any, on its own. This is master sportsmanship of Uruguay. Nonetheless, the third FIFA President Jules Rimet is no less than a legend, as he played a pivotal role in taking football to new heights, and getting it acknowledged as an institution in itself.
The first FIFA World Cup was played in Montevideo, Uruguay, with 13 teams. In the last eight decades, football has grown from strength to strength, and today more than 32 teams participate in the mega-event, preceded by a two-year qualifying process involving more than 200 teams. Though the sport originated from England, the first official international match outside the British Isles was played between Uruguay and Argentina in Montevideo in July 1902. However, FIFA as an institution was founded in Paris in 1904 - comprising of football associations from France, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Germany pledged to join it shortly.
The enigma of football was that it was not taken as a mature sport by the Olympic associations, and repeated efforts by FIFA and Jules Rimet to join the international league of sports were ruthlessly overturned. But the tide turned gradually as football became more popular and was contested as an International Olympic Committee-recognised sport at the 1900 and 1904 Summer Olympics. Yet many regarded it suspiciously as a show rather than a competition.
In 1914, FIFA agreed to recognise the Olympic tournament as a world football championship for amateurs. This led the way for the world's first intercontinental football competition at the 1920 Summer Olympics, and was won by Belgium.
FIFA President Jules Rimet took charge and led from the front to reorganise the game. With Uruguay now two-time official world champions and due to celebrate their centenary of independence in 1930, FIFA named Montevideo, Uruguay, as the host. In total, 13 nations took part - seven from South America, four from Europe and two from North America.
The stage was successfully set for international football, and the Uruguay debut was succeeded by Italy in 1934 and France in 1938. Then came the downslide and rupture, as the world was plunged in World War II, before recommencing in 1950 in Brazil.
The game slowly and gradually won hearts and became quite popular in almost all of the six continents. Up until 1978, the tournament was between 16 teams. It was later increased to 24 from 1982, then to the current level of 32 teams from 1998. From 2026 onwards, 48 teams will participate in FIFA World Cup, and the format will consist of 16 groups of three teams.
With FIFA President Rimet as the driving force, aided by the Secretary of the French Football Federation, Henri Delaunay, football became an indispensable sport on a global level. Rimet also saw his wish fulfilled when the third FIFA World Cup took place in France, his home country. Then came a sustained period of revulsion in football as states were estranged, and petty politics had an adverse impact on the game.
Austria, Sweden, Uruguay, and Argentina had nursed their own grievances, and this is the time when Cuba and the Dutch East Indies came to join in. But ice started melting as rapprochement set in, and the World Cup trophy was named after Rimet, who had led FIFA for a quarter of a century.
From 1950 onwards, there was no looking back for FIFA World Cup. Brazil, which hosted the first post-World War II tournament, also became the only country to lift the trophy five times.
The biggest and most prestigious sporting event on Earth under FIFA's banner brings sports enthusiasts, stakeholders, commercial enterprises and media houses on a standstill, and is watched and admired by more than five billion people.
Russia will be hosting the 21st tournament of FIFA World Cup this year. A number of conventional teams have missed the tournament as they couldn't qualify for it. They are Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (surprising from a continent where the game originated). The U.S., the Netherlands, South American champions Chile, Africa Cup of Nations winners Cameroon, and the four-time World Cup winners Italy, are among the most high-profile nations to miss out on qualification for Russia 2018. Iceland, however, has made it to the tournament for the first time.
- mehkri@khaleejtimes.com


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