I have always held events such as the Olympics or the FIFA World Cup in high esteem because they are able to, through athletic competition, bring different cultures of the world together. Though most of us learned that the first Olympic competition dates back to Ancient Greece (776 BCE), few know the origins of the FIFA World Cup—the modern world’s most watched athletic event.
The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) was founded in 1904 by Sweden, and is still to this day based in Zurich. The association, its committees, and legislative body are still to this day dedicated to the constant improvement of football. FIFA’s first aspiration to create this open competition was sparked by the 1924 Olympic Football Tournament’s success at bringing elite soccer teams from around the world in competition against each other. Driven by FIFA President Jules Rimet and the Secretary of the French Football Federation, Henri Delaunay, the FIFA Congress accepted the proposal to organize a world championship in 1928.
The first FIFA World Cup took place in Montevideo, Uruguay July 18, 1930. The low turnout of merely four teams (France, Belgium, Romania, and Yugoslavia) nonetheless brought the new program tremendous sporting and economic success, paving the way for future tournaments to come. The second tournament, hosted by Italy in 1934, was approached by so many teams that it required qualifying matches to identify the top 16 finalists. Since then, the grandeur of the World Cup has grown into the all-encompassing cultural event we now experience every four years.
So how does a team get to the World Cup? In the four years between each Cup, national teams all over the world compete in qualifying matches. The top 31 teams in the world are ranked and then invited to the tournament, with the host team automatically having a slot. The 32 total teams then become divided by a lottery system into 8 different groups (Group A through Group H). From there, each group battles it out, receiving 3 points for a win, 1 point for a tie and 0 for a loss. The two teams with the highest score in each group then move on to the “knockout stage.” As you might have guessed, the knockout stage is where a team either wins or packs their bags. The runner–ups from different groups are pitted against the victors from another, and from there on the World Cup bracket shrinks from 16 teams to the top two, which compete for the solid gold World Cup Trophy.
The mere thought of holding that Holy Grail of trophies gives me chills and thrills of excitement. For the lot of you markedly less obsessed with the Cup, I believe the pride many of us feel for your countries (or cultures) is not at all dissimilar from the pride World Cup athletes use to push them towards victory. Indeed, this year’s world cup in Rio has again proved that while we may play for different teams- we’re all part of the same game.
Readers: What does the FIFA World Cup mean to you?