Pioneers Of Sport: Jules Rimet

In Theuley, Eastern France, stands a quiet tribute to a true pioneer of sport. The monument, seldom seen by the general public due to its remote location, features a goal and penalty box - a homage to the birthplace of the founding father of the World Cup, Jules Rimet.

Jules Rimet is remembered as a sporting visionary who believed that football could unite the world. Although born in the small village of Theuley in 1873, one of the most defining moments of Rimet’s story is actually his move away from rural France. Rimet’s parents had moved to Paris early in his life and joined them in the French capital aged 11, which allowed him to focus on academia and go on to graduate in Law. However, sport was always Rimet’s passion and, possibly not knowing how far sport could (and would) take him, he founded a football club in Paris, Red Star Saint-Ouen, known these days as the cult club Red Star Paris. One noticeable difference from other clubs was that Rimet didn’t discriminate against its members on the basis of class. The working man’s sport was alive in Paris!

Rimet was involved in the founding of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (commonly abbreviated to FIFA) in 1904, and, while the fledgling organisation always had plans for a global professional tournament, initially it was involved in running an amateur tournament as part of the Summer Olympics. In 1920, Rimet was elected president of FIFA and focused on creating an international competition separate to the Olympics. The tournament was named the Coupe de Monde or World Cup to us English speakers!

In 1930, Uruguay won the bid to host the first ever World Cup. Their side were the best in the World, having triumphed at the Summer Olympics in 1924 and 1928, and were willing to pay for the tournament. FIFA agreed to this arrangement with Jules Rimet and 13 teams travelling to Montevideo for the inaugural World Cup tournament. There were no home nations present at this stage as they all withdrew from FIFA membership over the thorny question of ‘broken time’ payments to amateur players. The other European teams including France, Belgium, Romania and Yugoslavia all travelled across the Atlantic on the same ship, with Jules Rimet carrying the trophy in a bag.

This first World Cup trophy was designed by Abel Lafleur and made of gold-plated sterling silver and lapis lazuli on a white and yellow marble base. It was originally known as 'Victory' as it depicted the Greek goddess Nike, however, was renamed as the ‘Jules Rimet’ after the founder of the tournament. It went on to become the pinnacle trophy of a footballing nation and the zenith of any player to lift the cup.

In the early years, there were limited incidents surrounding the trophy, this all changed in 1966 when the trophy went missing whilst on display in London. Famously, Pickles the dog came to the rescue seven days after the theft, discovering the trophy wrapped in newspaper outside the front garden of a house in Upper Norwood, south London! To this day, no one knows how it got there. Following this incident, the Football Association secretly manufactured a replica of the trophy and continued to use it for exhibition despite the original being found. Since FIFA had explicitly denied the FA permission to create a replica, when the time came for the trophy to be passed to the next winner, the replica also had to disappear from public view and was for many years kept under its creator's bed! This replica was eventually sold at an auction in 1997 for £254,500, when it was purchased by FIFA.

At the inception of the tournament in 1930, FIFA agreed that should any team lift the trophy a total of three times they would keep the original and a new World Cup would be produced. Following victory over Italy at World Cup 1970 Pele’s Brazil achieved this feat and carried the trophy back from Mexico to be put on display by the Brazilian Football Confederation. 17 years after the incident in London, the trophy was stolen again, taken from a display case in Rio de Janiero and is believed to have been melted down and sold, though some dispute this claim as it was not solid gold but gold-plated sterling silver.

The original trophy remains lost to this day but the legacy of Jules Rimet lives on with the World Cup entering its 22nd edition in Winter 2022.

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