The creator of the football World Cup, Frenchman Jules Rimet was president of world football's governing body the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) from 1921 to 1954. It was this self-made professional man and religious believer who dominated the growth of international football. He was trained in law, and as an older man, the bearded, bowler-hatted, and bourgeois Rimet was an established figure among Parisian polite society. But he came from humble origins, born in 1873 into a modest family in rural France, and from an early age helped his father in the family's grocer's shop. From the age of 11, though, he was raised in Paris where his father had moved in search of work. He lived in the heart of the city, learning to survive in the tough urban setting, in part by playing football on the street. A conscientious and able schoolboy, he worked his way towards a full legal qualification, as well as encouraging football among the poorer children of the city. He was one of a philanthropic breed of sport administrators who saw sport as a means of building good character. Christian and patriotic, his love of God and France came together in his passion for football. He believed in the universality of the church and saw in football the chance to create a worldwide ‘football family’ wedded to Christian principles. Like his countryman, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, Rimet believed that sport could be a force for national and international good. Sport and football could bring people and nations together in a healthy competitiveness, he thought. Sport could be a powerful means of both physical and moral progress, providing healthy pleasure and fun, and promoting friendship between races. He resisted, though, the development of continental confederations and the empowerment of football confederations in Africa and in Asia, arguing that decentralization would destroy FIFA, and that ‘only direct membership will retain FIFA as one family’.
Heading FIFA during its formative years, Rimet gave it a clear mission: to produce a global football family. But he found it difficult to escape Europe's imperiousness. Europeans still adopted supercilious approaches to South American members of the international football community. For example, at the first World Cup in Uruguay in 1930 only four of the fifteen competing teams—Rimet's own France, Belgium, Yugoslavia, and Romania—were from Europe. Uruguay's victories in the 1924 and 1928 Olympic football tournaments had encouraged the country's diplomats to lobby for the inaugural world football championships, and Rimet agreed to this prospect of spreading the FIFA gospel on the other side of the world. But although the World Cup was to be staged in Brazil in 1950, Rimet still resisted the formation of worldwide confederations, preferring to deal solely with the South American confederation, CONMEBOL, established in 1916. It was not until the end of and after his extended presidency that confederations were established for Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceania, North and Central Americas and the Caribbean. Rimet's vision was rooted in what he called, speaking at the FIFA Congress in Rio de Janeiro in 1950, the ‘finest human qualities’ that football and sport could impart: loyalty to the spirit of the game; moderation in competition and sporting rivalry; and solidarity in clubs. But his philosophy of commonality of values—‘world unity of football, the essential goal of FIFA, has been an accomplished fact: unity both moral and material’, he claimed—was to be overtaken by the burgeoning ambitions of new nations in the postcolonial world. Rimet lent his name to the first World Cup trophy, which was won outright by Brazil on its third World Cup victory in 1970.