Jules Rimet, founder of Fifa, and after whom
the World Cup is named, was born in east France but
spent most of his life in Paris. A successful lawyer
and self-made man, he was also a Catholic whose
view of society was heavily influenced by Catholic
He was born in 1873 in the village of
Theuley. His father, a farmer, was forced to sell his
land in the economic crisis. When his parents moved
to Paris, Jules stayed behind in the care of his
grandfather, a devout Catholic who owned a mill.
But disaster struck again and, when his
grandfather lost his mill in another economic
depression, young Jules boarded a train to Paris to rejoin his parents,
and began life in the working-class quarter of Gros-Caillou.
In 1891, Rerum Novarum, Leo XIII’s encyclical on labour
and capital, had a profound effect on the 17-year-old. Inspired by
this, Jules and his friends formed an organisation offering social and
medical help to the poorest. Rimet became a social reformer in the
Catholic mould, seeking to reconcile Church and republic.
With the legal separation of Church and State in 1905, Jules
Rimet re-directed his energies towards football, seeing it as a
powerful way of promoting social harmony. His career as a sports
administrator had begun with the creation in 1897 of the Red Star
club. The intention was to divert working-class youth from the
left-wing anti-clericalism present in other teams. Discussions of
politics among players were expressly forbidden!
Red Star would grow to become one of the top clubs in
France. Rimet was on the first rung that would see him as Fifa’s top
administrator, though his ascent was interrupted by World War I.
For four years he served at the front, earning the Croix de Guerre.
After the war, he became President of Fifa. Under his
leadership, Fifa proposed a world championship for national teams.
Rimet, the ardent Catholic and war veteran who believed that
football could “promote understanding and reconciliation between
nations”, travelled by ocean liner to the first World Cup in Uruguay
in 1930, carrying in his bag the trophy that would later bear his
name. He served as Fifa president for 33 years. In 1956, the year he
died, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Jules Rimet believed that players should be paid. He saw no
reason why working-class footballers should not market their
individual talents. But the gross materialism that has infected the
game today would have dismayed him. -Dick Lyng.