The FIFA World Cup (often called the Football World Cup or simply the World Cup) is the most important competition in international football (soccer), and the world’s most representative team sport event. Organised by Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the sport’s governing body, the World Cup is contested by the men’s national football teams of FIFA member nations. The championship has been awarded every four years since the first tournament in 1930 (except in 1942 and 1946 due to World War II), however it is more of an ongoing event as the qualifying rounds of the competition take place over the three years preceding the final rounds.The final tournament phase (often called the “Finals”) involves 32 national teams competing over a four-week period in a previously nominated host nation, with these games making it the most widely-viewed sporting event in the world. In the 17 tournaments held, only seven nations have ever won the World Cup Finals. Brazil are the current holders, as well as the most successful World Cup team, having won the tournament five times, while Germany and Italy follow with three titles each. The next football World Cup Finals will be held in Germany.
The first international football match was played in 1872 between England and Scotland, although at this stage the sport was rarely played outside Great Britain. As football began to increase in popularity, it was held as a demonstration sport (with no medals awarded) at the 1900, 1904 and 1906 Summer Olympics before football became an official competition at the 1908 Summer Olympics. Organised by England’s Football Association, the event was for amateur players only and was regarded suspiciously as a show rather than a competition. The England national amateur football team won the event in both 1908 and 1912.
With the Olympic event continuing to be contested only between amateur teams, Sir Thomas Lipton organised the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy tournament in Turin in 1909. The competition is often described as The First World Cup,and featured the most prestigious professional club sides from Italy, Germany and Switzerland. The first tournament was won by West Auckland, an amateur side from north-east England that was invited after the Football Association refused to be associated with the competition. West Auckland returned in 1911 to successfully defend their title, and were given the trophy to keep forever, as per the rules of the competition.
In 1914, FIFA agreed to recognise the Olympic tournament as a “world football championship for amateurs”, and took responsibility for organising the event. This led the way for the world’s first intercontinental football competition, at the 1924 Summer Olympics. Uruguay won the tournament,before winning the gold medal again in 1928, with another South American team, Argentina, taking silver. In 1928 FIFA made the decision to stage their own international tournament. With Uruguay now two-time official football world champions and due to celebrate their centenary of independence in 1930, FIFA named Uruguay as the host country.
The 1932 Summer Olympics, held in Los Angeles, did not plan to include football as part of the programme due to the low popularity of football in the United States. FIFA and the IOC also disagreed over the status of amateur players, and so football was dropped from the Games.FIFA president Jules Rimet thus set about organising the inaugural World Cup tournament to be held in Uruguay in 1930. The national associations of selected nations were invited to send a team, but the choice of Uruguay as a venue for the competition meant a long and costly trip across the Atlantic Ocean for European sides. Indeed, no European country pledged to send a team until two months before the start of the competition.Rimet eventually persuaded teams from Belgium, France, Romania, and Yugoslavia to make the trip. In total 13 nations took part — seven from South America, four from Europe and two from North America.
A spin-off tournament, the FIFA Women’s World Cup, was first held in 1991. It is similar to the men’s tournament in format, but so far has not generated the same level of interest.
by John Francis