The founding assembly of world football federation FIFA heralded the rise of football as a global sport. The Dutch Bosatlas van het Nederlandse voetbal (Atlas of Dutch Football) displays a timeline and a map to demonstrate that the history of football reflects the turbulence of the twentieth century.
On 21 May 1904, the Dutch daily Het Nieuws van den Dag reported on the international football conference in Paris, with delegates from the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Denmark, Switzerland and Germany. This conference was in actual fact the founding assembly of FIFA, which today, 115 years later, comprises 211 member countries, exceeding the IOC and even the United Nations!
At the last minute, Germany did not send a representative to the assembly, yet this absence does not alter the fact that Germany should be deemed a Founding Father of Football, as sport historian Andy Mitchell agrees on his website Scottish Sport History – here. The fact is that the year before a preparatory meeting had been organised: the First International Football Conference, held in Paris on 14, 15 and 16 August.Germany did attend this conference.
The conference had been announced in various newspapers: “The agenda includes: 1. Establishment of an international committee, 2. Foundation of a European association of amateur clubs, 3. Changing the laws of football and possibly instituting new laws, 4. Establishment of an international cup competition.”
Obviously, at the time of writing nobody knew that these four items would, essentially, serve to carve in stone the future of international football to this day. The first item, the establishment of an international committee, was realised a year later. The European association would not be a reality until 1954. The third item has not stopped being the subject of much debate and experimentation. Lastly, this “international cup” became an actual thing with the 1930 World Cup.
FIFA and the Netherlands
The Dutch FA had not sent a delegate to the 1903 preparatory meeting, which drew the ire of the editor of Het Sportblad, the official magazine of the Dutch Football Association. “For nearly two years now we have observed with the utmost interest the preparations for a very nice plan, gestated in the bosom of our highest board: the foundation of an International Football Association.”
According to the editor, the idea had been born in the Netherlands, but hardly anything had been done to realise it. The French, however, had picked up the ball and run with it, the magazine reported. “On 14 August and subsequent days, the delegates of various countries assembled in Paris for an international football conference to discuss the possibility of founding an International Football Association. At this conference no Dutch delegation was present.”
The underscoring was done by the author, who was clearly fuming with rage. “Whatever circumstances or whatever particular motives caused this indolence”, he continued to rant, “may for now remain a mystery.”
But on 21 May 1904 the Netherlands was represented by Carl Hirschmann, who would go on to play a pivotal role within FIFA in the years to come. In the end, seven countries signed the founding document; having endorsed the founding by telegram, Germany affixed its signature later that year.
Up until the outbreak of World War I, new signatories joined FIFA almost every year, as the authors hereof demonstrated in a timeline featured in the Bosatlas van het Nederlandse voetbal.
By now, FIFA comprises 211 countries, exceeding the IOC’s number by six and the number of United Nations by as many as eighteen! For the same publication I listed for each country when it joined FIFA, thereby basically recording the globalisation of football throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Just have a look:
In summary: the first wave up until WWI included most of Europe, Russia and Northern America. The second wave, during the interbellum, sloshed against the South American continent, Japan and China. The third wave followed in the wake of the decolonisation of Asia and parts of Africa. The rest of Africa followed later, in the fourth wave, which was directly related to the decolonisation of the relevant countries. The fifth wave resulted from the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Finally, the sixth wave picked up the final crumbs that now make up the global football cake.
The historical map of FIFA, it follows, reflects the key moments of modern history. Anyone still insisting that football is “just” a game will be forced, by way of punishment, to learn this map by heart.
Translation Ben van Maaren
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