Uruguay and the first World Cup
Football fans flushed with excitement for this year’s World Cup in South Africa to kick-off should thank Jules Rimet and the International Olympic Committee.
The Olympic football tournament had been the pinnacle of the World game for a number of years until FIFA and the IOC fell out over whether professionals could take part.
When the IOC decided to cut the sport from its schedule for the 1932 Olymics in Los Angeles, FIFA president Jules Rimet decided that the governing body should organise its own global tournament.
And thus the World Cup was born.
However, the 1930 tournament in Uruguay, the South American’s picked as hosts as reigning Olympic champions, was fraught with organizational difficulties.
With South America some distance away (by 1930 standards) and just 13 teams entered, only four came in from Europe – Belgium, France, Romania and Yugoslavia after being coaxed into entering by Rimet and the Uruguayan promise to pay their boat fare.
Famously, not part of FIFA at the time, none of the home nations decided to enter the tournament, with the English FA turning down a personal request from Rimet to play.
The opening game of the tournament, the first World Cup match in history, is a yardstick for the progress football has made. Just 3,000 fans saw France beat Mexico 4-1 at the Estadio Pocitos in Motevideo. Just days later, a game in the same stadium between Romania and Peru drew a crowd of just 300.
Despite the lack of interest in some of the visiing nations, there was significant local support for eventual winners Uruguay.
Their victory over a strong Argentina side in the final was watched by almost 100,000 fans and helped cement football as the region’s number one sport.
And despite its kinks and a general reluctance by Europe to embrace it, the tournament fuelled something bigger.
It was the very first tournamnet which turned a game watched by thousands into a religion worshipped by billions.