World Cup Soccer

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World Cup Soccer

Type of Holiday: Sporting
Date of Observation: Every four years
Where Celebrated: Location varies
Symbols and Customs: FIFA World Cup Trophy


The World Cup is an international championship tournament of men's soccer, a team sport known in many countries as football. The tournament is organized and governed by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and is officially known as the FIFA World Cup. The World Cup existed solely as a men's event for years, until a women's tournament was added in 1991.

FIFA was founded in 1904 by representatives of the national soccer organizations of seven European countries. Although FIFA members voted almost immediately to establish a worldwide championship tournament, it was many years before the first World Cup tournament was held. Factors that contributed to this delay included the establishment of soccer as a new sport throughout the world, differences in playing abilities of teams outside Europe at that time, and varying rules of game play. Most importantly, World War I disrupted normal life throughout most of Europe from 1914 to 1918.

Jules Rimet, a French attorney who had previously served as the president of the French Football Federation, was elected president of FIFA in 1921. Rimet is widely credited as the creator of the World Cup. Through his efforts to increase the international popularity of soccer, standardize the rules of play, and expand FIFA membership, Rimet developed soccer as a viable sport for both amateur and professional players. The success of soccer during the 1924 and 1928 Olympics demonstrated the increasing worldwide support for the game and hastened the development of the World Cup tournament. The first World Cup was held in 1930 in Montevideo, Uruguay. Uruguay was chosen to host the event because its team won the gold medals for soccer in the two previous Olympic competitions. At that time the Olympics allowed only amateur players, but Rimet decided to allow professionals to enter the World Cup. Enormous controversy surrounded these two decisions, with disputes erupting over the chosen location as well as the status of qualifying players. In a dramatic protest, England resigned from FIFA, beginning a boycott that would ultimately continue through the first four World Cup tournaments. Many other European teams also objected to the distant location, which required several weeks of costly steamship travel to reach. The worldwide economic depression at that time resulted in many teams declining to participate, despite Uruguay's offer to pay the travel expenses of any team that wanted to come. In the end, thirteen countries chose to participate in the inaugural World Cup, including four teams from Europe.

After a turbulent beginning, interest in the World Cup grew steadily. Although some European countries continued to boycott the World Cup for political reasons, subsequent tournaments were attended by a growing number of countries. World War II interrupted the World Cup, with a twelve-year gap between the 1938 tournament in France and the 1950 tournament in Brazil. The 1954 World Cup match between Yugoslavia and France was the first to be televised, with a limited broadcast reaching fans in Lausanne, Switzerland. In 1966, England beamed the first global television broadcast by satellite. This was also the first World Cup to have an official mascot character-a lion cub named Willie-marking the beginning of the popular tournament mascot tradition.

World Cup Soccer has evolved to include teams from more than 200 countries around the world. An extensive regional qualifying system requires teams to win a place in the final tournament, which is limited to thirty-two teams. Games in the final championship tournament are generally held in several different cities within the host country and are attended by millions of fans. Television broadcasts reach billions of viewers throughout the world.

The phenomenal popularity and success of the men's World Cup prompted FIFA to create a Women's World Cup in 1991. The women's tournament, also held every four years, continues to grow in popularity and further extends the global appeal of the game.


FIFA World Cup Trophy

The original World Cup prize was the Jules Rimet Trophy, a commissioned piece created by French sculptor Abel Lafleur in 1930. The trophy was a statue made of gold, standing almost twelve inches high (thirty centimeters) and weighing almost nine pounds (four kilograms), depicting a winged goddess of victory whose raised arms held an octagonal cup. The statue's base was made of lapis lazuli, a semi-precious blue stone. Four gold plates, one on each side of the base, were engraved with the names of the nine winning teams between 1930 and 1970.

Like the early years of the tournament it represented, the Jules Rimet Trophy itself had a colorful history. Near the end of World War II, the trophy was hidden in a shoe box under the bed of Ottorino Barassi, the FIFA vice president at the time and a resident of Italy. Barassi was responsible for hiding the prize from German soldiers. At that point in the war, German soldiers were retreating from Italy and were raiding homes along the way, looking for valuables. Then on March 20, 1966, the trophy was stolen from its public display in London, England. A frantic public search ensued. The trophy was discovered in a London garden a week later by a dog named Pickles, who became an instant national hero. In 1970 Brazil became the first to win three World Cup tournaments, and the Jules Rimet Trophy was retired in their honor. On December 20, 1983, the trophy was stolen again. This time it was never recovered, and it was eventually replaced with a replica donated by the Kodak Brazil Corporation.

After the retirement of the original trophy, FIFA held a competition to select a design for a new World Cup prize to be awarded at the 1974 tournament. Italian sculptor Silvio Gazzaniga's design was chosen, featuring two figures representing athletes in motion amidst curving lines rising to a sphere representing the earth. The trophy is made of solid gold, stands fourteen inches high (thirty-six centimeters), and weighs eleven pounds (almost five kilograms). The base is made of malachite, a semi-precious green stone, and includes enough space for the names of seventeen winning teams. FIFA plans to commission a new, third World Cup trophy for the tournament in 2038.


Cantor, Andres. Goooal! A Celebration of Soccer. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. Fiore, Fernando. The World Cup: The Ultimate Guide to the Greatest Sports Spectacle in the World. New York: HarperCollins, 2006. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Lewis, Michael. World Cup Soccer. Wakefield, RI: Moyer Bell, 1994.

Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009
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