A look back at the beginning

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) was founded in the rear of the headquarters of the Union Française de Sports Athlétiques at the rue Saint Honoré 229 in Paris on 21 May 1904. The foundation act was signed by the authorized representatives of the following Associations:

  • France - Union des Sociétés Françaises de Sports Athlétiques USFSA
  • Belgium - Union Belge des Sociétés de Sports UBSSA
  • Denmark - Dansk Boldspil Union DBU
  • Netherlands - Nederlandsche Voetbal Bond NVB
  • Spain - Madrid Football Club
  • Sweden - Svenska Bollspells Förbundet SBF
  • Switzerland - Association Suisse de Football ASF

Representing France were: Robert Guérin and André Espir; Belgium: Louis Muhlinghaus and Max Kahn; Denmark: Ludvig Sylow; Netherlands: Carl Anton Wilhelm Hirschmann; Switzerland: Victor E. Schneider; the Madrid Football Club: André Espir; Sweden.

Where it all began
Where it all began: rue Saint Honoré 229 in Paris
The first official international matches took place on the continent at the beginning of the century. The idea of founding an international federation began taking form. In general, one intended recognizing the leading role of the English who had already founded their Football Association in 1863. Thus, Carl Anton Wilhelm Hirschmann, secretary of the Netherlands Football Association, turned to the Football Association. Its Secretary did accept the proposal but until the Executive Committee of the Football Association, the international F. A. Board and the Associations of Scotland, Wales and Ireland had given their opinion about the matter, a great deal of time went past. Robert Guérin, Secretary of the Football Department of the Union Française des Sociétés de Sports Athlétiques and journalist with the "Matin" did not want to wait any longer. He greeted the Football Associations on the continent in writing and asked to study the possibility of founding an umbrella organisation. After an intensive exchange of correspondence, the first thoughts were made on the subject. Belgium faced France at the first official international match in Brussels on 1 May 1904. On that occasion, both Association secretaries Muhlinghaus and Guérin had a discussion. It was now definite that the Football Association, England under its President Lord Kinnaird would not be participating in the foundation of an international Federation. So Robert Guérin took the opportunity and sent out invitations to the founding assembly. The services rendered by the founders were enormous. One began organising international football at a higher level.

First FIFA Statutes
First FIFA Statutes
The first FIFA Statutes were laid down. The following points were determined: the reciprocal and exclusive recognition of the National Associations represented and attending; clubs and players were forbidden to play simultaneously for different National Associations; recognition by the other Associations of a player's suspension announced by an Association and the playing of matches according to the Laws of the Game of the Football Association Ltd. Each National Association had to pay an annual fee of FF.50. Already in those days, one thought about staging a big competition and Article 9 stipulated that FIFA alone was entitled to take over the organisation of an international competition. It was decided that these regulations would only come into force as of 1 September 1904. Moreover, the first Statutes of FIFA were only of a provisional nature, in order to simplify the acceptance of additional members. The Deutscher Fussball-Bund (German F. A.) announced itself by cable on the foundation day still.

France, 1904-1906
The first FIFA Congress held two days later on 23 May 1904 elected Robert Guérin as President. Victor E. Schneider (Switzerland) and Carl Anton Wilhelm Hirschmann (Netherlands) were made vice-presidents. Louis Muhlinghaus (Belgium) was appointed Secretary and Treasurer, with the assistance of Ludvig Syiow (Denmark). These pioneers were faced with an immense task because FIFA only existed on paper so to speak. One had to give it shape, create Associations as true national representations and get hold of new members. In the first place, the English had to be convinced that their membership to this newly created organisation was indispensable.

On 14 April 1905, the Executive Committee of the Football Association Ltd. recognized the National Associations affiliated to FIFA and joined. This was FlFA's first big success, thanks to Baron Edouard de Laveleye. With great personal efforts, the President of the Union Belge des Sociétés de Sports Athlétiques dissipated the last misgivings and doubts of the English. The Baron became the first honorary member of FIFA.

The second FIFA Congress took place in Paris from 10 to 12 June 1905. In the meantime, the Associations from Germany, Austria, Italy and Hungary had joined FIFA; Scotland, Wales and Ireland would follow England's example. And one was already talking about an international competition to take place in 1906. It would consist of four groups and Switzerland would be in charge of Organising the semi-finals and the Final. According to its meaning, one first thought of staging it with the best club teams. Moreover, the Swiss VicePresident Victor Schneider had already donated a trophy.

The FIFA Executive Committee was elected for a further year in the same composition, but now the difficulties were accumulating. The first international competition was a failure. Various National Associations had other major worries. The French Football Association was split up internally. These difficulties were a heavy burden for the FIFA President who had set about his tasks with so much enthusiasm. Robert Guérin increasingly withdrew from the sports life and handed over the administration to his Vice-President Victor E. Schneider and André Espir, his personal assistant.


England, 1906-1918
All the same, FIFA could now give a sign of its strength. When the "English Ramblers", an improvised English football club, wanted to play games on the continent without the authorization of the Football Association, FIFA forbade its members from playing against this team. The English who now had a good relationship with FIFA together with the 3 other British Associations, were particularly impressed by this strict and uncompromising procedure.

This was clearly revealed at the next Congress in Bern in 1906. Victor E. Schneider conducted negotiations in the absence of the FIFA President, Robert Guérin. The Englishman, Daniel Burley Woolfall was elected new President. He was a pragmatist and had gathered a great deal of experience on the administrative board of the Football Association. Under his guidance, English and continental football became more united. Moreover, he also launched an inexorable battle for uniformity in the Laws of the Game.

England wins first Olympic Football Tournament in 1908
England won the first Olympic Football Tournament in London in 1908
The idea of having a major international competition was still up in the air and so the Football Association assumed the responsibility for the administration and organisation of a tournament which took place within the context of the Olympic Games in London in 1908. Some problems arose in the organisation, which were still unsolved four years later in 1912, when the tournament took place in Stockholm. The new, virtually unknown sport was regarded suspiciously at the Olympics and was considered as a show and not a competition. In connection with the Olympic Games, the problem of professional players also arose - a thorny problem which would be pursued in decades to follow. For order's sake, let us recall that England won both tournaments.

The Congress which, in accordance with the Statutes, was to be held in different cities on an annual basis, was always presided over by President Woolfall. The will to impose uniform football rules on an international level always figured at the top of the Agenda. This had a very positive effect, resulting in the basic rules of the organisation, which are still partly valid today and which allowed FIFA to create a solid base and develop clear guidelines in those days already.

1913 FIFA Congress in Copenhagen 1913 FIFA Congress in Copenhagen
Under the guidance of the English President, obvious progress had also been made in the administration. The first official FIFA bulletin was published. It was agreed to have French as the official language. The application of the Laws of the Game strictly established according to the English model became compulsory. A clear definition was made of international matches (selections and inter club) and outsiders were forbidden to organise matches for lucrative purposes.

FIFA only consisted of European Associations up until 1909. The first members from overseas joined in the following order: South Africa in 1909/1910, Argentina and Chile in 1912, USA in 1913. This was the start of FlFA's international activities. The long path towards full expansion had been sketched out.

The start of the first World War (1914) caused a major interruption. Who talked then about football and its mission to unite nations? And yet, all the international relations were not broken, even if they were only maintained on a small scale. International matches were still played, being organised on neutral territory. However, some members were faced with difficulties when having to cross frontiers and this prevented Congress being convened. The dream of having an international competition seemed to have evaporated forever. FIFA dozed on and President Daniel Burley Woolfall died in 1918.

If FIFA did not fade out completely, this was thanks to one man only: Carl Anton Wilhelm Hirschmann, who carried out his tasks as Honorary Secretary from his offices in Amsterdam and carefully kept the organisation alive. Within the scope of his limited possibilities, he maintained correspondence with his foreign colleagues. This way, he looked after the FIFA Secretariat on his own and at his expense. Hirschmann had an incredible capacity for work and was very unselfish. He dedicated his life to sports and particularly so to football. He served the Netherlands Football Association in various functions and also belonged to his national Olympic Committee. One of the founders himself, he took up contact with all the members at the end of the war, on the initiative of the President of the French Football Association, Jules Rimet. Hirschmann actually convened an assembly in Brussels in 1919. However, negotiations advanced tediously. After a long, bloody war, wounds had not yet healed. Many delegates, particularly the English, did not yet want to accept yesterday's foes.

So, a new meeting was held in Antwerp in 1920. A new administrative Board of FIFA was elected on a provisional basis. It was composed of the following: Jules Rimet as Chairman, the Dane, Louis Oestrup as Deputy Chairman and Carl Anton Wilhelm Hirschmann as honorary Secretary.

The results of this election were then submitted to all affiliated Associations which unanimously gave their approval by mail. This was the last time that such a procedure was employed, as the next Statutes excluded voting by mail or by mandate.

France, 1921-1954
Jules Rimet became 3rd President on 1 March 1921. FIFA became the life task of the then 48 year-old Frenchman. When he took over the world football federation, the latter which had been shaken by the I World War, counted 20 members. The British had left in unison and neither Brazil nor Uruguay were present. In the 33 years of his presidency, FIFA experienced an incredible upswing in spite of the II World War. One ought to talk about a "Jules Rimet Era" because he managed to reorganise FIFA and to materialize the dream of a World Cup. On passing on the reins of FIFA in 1954, when he opened his 5th World Cup in Switzerland, FIFA counted 85 members!

Right from the start, Jules Rimet was not unknown. He had already participated in the Congress in Christiania in 1914 as representative of the French Football Association. The following proposal was ratified on that occasion: " Under the condition that the Olympic Tournament take place in accordance with the Regulations of FIFA, the lager shall recognize this as a world football championship for amateurs." In order not to lose every possibility of organising its own world championship, FIFA was ready to assume the responsibility for the organisation of the football tournament for the first time.

It was a great success right away and the results were surprising. 24 national teams entered. The English continued staying away from this tournament but the Americans were there and a team representing faraway Uruguay showed how football was played in South America, much to the delight of the public. Uruguay's results were astounding: 7:0 against Yugoslavia, 3:0 against USA, 5:1 against France, 2:1 against the Netherlands. 60,000 spectators followed the Final between Uruguay and Switzerland, which was won by the South Americans 3:0. Uruguay became the Olympic winners and were celebrated as world champions in Montevideo. South America's predominance was even more impressive at the Olympic Tournament in Amsterdam in 1928. Uruguay did not want to relinquish their victory on that occasion either. The opponents in the Final were Argentina.

This resonance at the Olympic Games 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 world championship and under what conditions. A special Committee examined this problem. President Jules Rimet was the driving force in all sectors in the search for the means to materialize this dream. He was aided by the untiring Secretary of the French Football Association, Henri Delaunay.

Following a remarkable proposal of 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, Sweden and Hungary submitted their candidatures. Right from the start, Uruguay was the favourite for important reasons: The twofold Olympic winner (in 1924 and 1928) was celebrating its 100th Anniversary of independence in 1930 at great expense.

Moreover, the Football Association was ready to take over all the costs as for example, the passage and accommodation of the participants. Any possible profit would be shared, while Uruguay would take over the deficit. These arguments were decisive. The FIFA Congress in Barcelona in 1929 assigned Uruguay as first organising country for the World Cup. The other candidates had withdrawn.

This decision did not only meet acclaim. Europe was plunged in the midst of an economic crisis. Participation in a World Cup did not only involve a long sea journey for the Europeans; the clubs would have to renounce their best, permanent players for two months. More and more Associations broke their promise to participate, thereby seriously endangering the organisation of the World Cup.

1930 World Cup
Opening of the first World Cup in Uruguay in 1930
Having nearly achieved his aim, President Jules Rimet was no longer impressed. Thanks to his personal effort, at least four European teams set off on the long journey: France, Belgium, Yugoslavia and Romania. The first World Cup was opened at the Centenary Stadium in Montevideo on 18 July 1930. A new epoch had begun for world football.

The World Cup in Montevideo - all the matches were played in the same stadium - became a remarkable success, both in a sporting and a financial sense. Of course, the organisers were disappointed since only four national teams from Europe participated. The anger in Montevideo was so intense that four years later, the world champions - for the first and only time renounced defending their title.

The Congress convened in Budapest in 1930 and thanked Uruguay for staging the World Cup for the first time in difficult conditions. On the other hand, it regretted seeing only a minimum number of teams participating from Europe.

Another setback had been borne in 1932. Before the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, differences of opinion could not be clarified on the international Olympic Committee regarding the amateur status of football players. So, FIFA decided not to organise an Olympic Football Tournament.

Sweden and Italy applied as candidate countries for the 2nd series of the World Cup at the 1932 Congress in Stockholm. The Executive Committee decided on Italy. Qualifying matches had to be played in order to arrive at the 16 finalists. Right from the start, the Cup system applied and so, the national teams from Brazil and Argentina already had to return home after their first defeat. Once again, the home team prevailed: Italy won the Final against Czechoslovakia in extra-time. For the first time ever, the World Cup Final was being transmitted on the radio.

Draw for the 1938 World Cup
Draw for 1938 World Cup in Paris. Jules Rimet helping his grandson
Four years later, the "Father of the World-Cup" Jules Rimet saw his wish fulfilled, when the 3rd World Cup took place in France, his home country. Again, the tournament was plunged in shadows: Austria had disappeared from the scene and so Sweden did not have an opponent in the 1/8 final. Uruguay still did not want 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 World Cup should have taken place for the 4th time in 1942. However, the appointment of an organiser was renounced at the Congress in Paris in 1938. The 1942 World Cup never took place. One had to wait until 1 July 1946 for the next Congress. It took place in Luxembourg. 34 Associations were represented at the Congress there. They presented President Jules Rimet who had been heading FIFA for a quarter of a century already, with a very beautiful Jubilee gift. From now on, the World Cup would equally be called the "Jules Rimet Cup". There was only one candidate for the next World Cup, which was to be stage in 1949 (and was then postponed to 1950 for time reasons). Brazil was chosen unanimously. At the same time, Switzerland was given the option for 1954.

1946 saw the return of the four British Associations to FIFA. This was again thanks to the diplomatic talent of Jules Rimet who found in Arthur Drewry and Sir Stanley Rous farsighted partners in the other party. Both would head FIFA in later years. Moreover, the event was celebrated later with a match between Great Britain and a selection from Fl FA played at Hampden Park, Glasgow on 20 May 1947. Titled " Match of the Century" by the press, it was attended by a total of 135,000 spectators and receipts amounted to £35,000. As a sign of goodwill, this sum was placed at FlFA's disposal in order to help the latter get over financial difficulties brought on by the war years. The British won 6:1.

Brazil lost their 1st World Cup title in the Final against Uruguay. For the second time, the "Jules Rimet Cup" remained in Montevideo for four years.


Belgium, 1954-1955
Four years later, at the 5th World Cup in Switzerland, which was inaugurated by Jules Rimet in Lausanne, the 80 year-old President retired at the Congress in Bern. The delegates stood for one minute's ovation after his parting speech. He became the first Honorary President on that 21 June 1954. For the last time, the " Father of the World Cup" presented the captain of the victorious German team, Fritz Walter, with the "Jules Rimet Cup" and so departed from the top rank.

England, 1955-1961
The Belgian, Rodolphe William Seeldrayers was the fourth President of FIFA. In his new function, he could celebrate the 50th Anniversary of FIFA, which now counted 85 members. After having assisted Jules Rimet as Vice-President for over 25 years, he died in October 1955. His successor was Arthur Drewry who was elected on 9 June 1956, but had already headed FIFA for over half a year on an interim basis. He chaired the Study Committee for the new FIFA Statutes and opened the 6th World Cup in Stockholm in 1958. This proceeded very positively and saw Brazil become the clear winners. Arthur Drewry died on 25 March 1961 at 70.

FIFA operations were controlled by the Swiss, Ernst B. Thommen until the Extraordinary Congress on 28 September 1961. As Chairman of the Organising Committee for the 1954,1958 and 1962 World Cups, he did a great deal for the world football federation.

England, 1961-1974
Sir Stanley Rous was elected 6th President of FIFA. He was an excellent referee in his youth and was well acquainted with international football. During his term of office as President, England won the 1966 World Cup to his special joy. He was very popular throughout the world. Among the first steps new nations took to become independent was their affiliation to FIFA. So, the number of members grew steadily. The TV transmission of the World Cup also considerably contributed towards the worldwide expansion. FIFA was rather conservative in those days and reserved in its decisions. Its means and possibilities were restricted. As a private institution, it received neither governmental subsidies nor funds from other sources. Funds strictly came from profits from the World Cup and this is how one had to live and work for four years. It hardly seemed possible to accomplish more without taking risks. Thus, with a great deal of self-sacrifice, one went about consolidating and maintaining the work. Sir Stanley Rous achieved all this. In recognition of his merits, he was made Honorary President of FIFA in Frankfurt on 11 June 1974.

Brazil, since 1974
On that day, the Brazilian Dr. João Havelange took over the reins of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association.

From the moment the South American Confederation, the Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol, presented his candidature for the FIFA Presidency in 1970, he had looked for solutions to the major problems of world football. When Dr. João Havelange was elected at the 39th Congress in 1974, he was ready to consider football not only as a competition, but also to try and find new ways and means to worldwide technical development and to prepare new generations for this.

Dr. João Havelange's instalation in FIFA's headquarters heralded the dawn of a new era. Previously, with survival depending almost exclusively on limited resources from World Championships in four-yearly intervals, FIFA had been somewhat conservative and reserved when it came to taking decisions. Administrative energy had been concentrated on consolidating and maintaining the status quo. In no time, Havelange transformed an administration-oriented institution into a dynamic enterprise brimming with new ideas and the will to see them through. The actual address in Zurich has not altered but instead of the romantic Dewald Villa on the Zurichberg, where in 1974 a staff of twelve used to coordinate the fate of world football, there is now a modern office building housing over fifty employees coming to grips with an ever increasing workload.

Back in 1974, FIFA was also flexing its muscles in readiness for the tenth World Championship in those days, very much a trial of strength between Europe with nine teams and South America with four. The ripples created by political upheavals, particularly in Africa where many former colonies had been granted independence, were beginning to be noticed on the international sports scene. At that time Africa, Asia, and North/Central America and the Caribbean (CONCACAF) were each still sending one selection to the world's greatest football fiesta. For the 1982 World Cup in Spain, Havelange increased the table of competitors to twenty-four teams. Since that decision, the unqualified success of teams that used to be derided as also-rans has reinforced Havelange's notion that his policies were right. For the 1998 World Cup in France, the number of participating teams was increased to 32 finalists making it the largest in the history of the event, and allowing even greater participation from all its confederations

On the political plane he has firmly followed the course of appeasement and service, following the principle of universality to which FIFA has committed itself. His personal integrity assures Havelange respect from all the national associations and his word carries weight. Under his leadership, the FIFA offices have become the hub of sporting diplomacy. An example of this was when representatives from Iraq and Iran, North and South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia came face to face in Zurich in July 1993 to discuss the organizational and administrative details for the Asian final qualifiers of the 1994 World Cup in an atmosphere of friendship and peace. Prior to that Havelange had shown a flair for taking advantage of the conciliatory potential of football at exactly the right moment. After intense diplomatic activity, visiting every association at least once and never mincing his words, Havelange soon smoothed the way for the People's Republic of China to return to FIFA. Then, in 1991, both Koreas sent a joint team to the World Youth Championship in Portugal. And because of its particular situation Israel now competes against European teams in all FIFA qualifying competitions.

For the Good of the Game As of the 50th Ordinary Congress of FIFA, held in Zurich on 3 and 4 July 1996, FIFA has grown to include 197 member associations (and one provisionally affiliated member, thus making it one of the biggest and - with over 200 million active members - certainly the most popular sports federation in the world.

Over the past twenty years football has not only taken root as the world's major game in an ephemeral world but has also blossomed in other branches of society, commerce and politics. Football, more than any other factor, has enveloped whole regions, people and nations. With approximately two hundred million active players it now constitutes a substantial chunk of the leisure industry, having opened up new markets for itself and for the rest of the business world. The potential has yet to be exhausted, especially in Asia and North America.

Fair Play For FIFA to have flourished as a sports association in this way is largely thanks to João Havelange's initiative and work. A lawyer by training and a highly successful businessman, he has, for the past twenty years. drawn on his wealth of experience as an industrialist and given football the dynamic impetus needed to keep pace with modern times. His concern was not just to assure the existence of FIFA but to transform it into a business-like enterprise that would withstand the challenges of the next millenium.

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