Interview by Matthias Aberle with Pierre Arrighi about his new book
36 Lies of Jules Rimet: Review of the influential book The Wonderful History of the World Championship
Jules Rimet was FIFA President from 1921 to 1954. The first part of his book “The Wonderful History of the World Championship” is the basis for FIFA’s official history. “It is indeed an uninterrupted series of lies,” says Pierre Arrighi, a professor at the University of Amiens, who has just published a critical book on the theme of the first World Cup.
Mr. Arrighi, you are a professor at the University of Picardy in Amiens. In which field do you work there?
I work in the field of graphic arts and visual arts in general. I also collaborate with art historians and through the CRAE (Centre de Recherches en Arts et en Esthétique) I was able to introduce at different times the problem of football which I consider to be an “art of action”. This idea, which comes from my Uruguayan culture (I was born in Montevideo, and in Uruguay football is perceived as an art), has led me to develop an international academic activity. In 2011, I founded the GREFU (Grupo de Estudios del Fútbol del Uruguay) at the Facultad de Humanidades and I am currently working with Belgian researchers who, in the field, are developing a very particular sociological and archaeological perspective on football and producing a very successful graphic documentation.

The University of Amiens is called Jules Verne. You don’t necessarily think about sport or football. What is your connection to sport and football in particular?
My work as a football historian goes well beyond the university context. At the University I am above all an art professional, and my research work on football is in a way a singular and unexpected extension. I am currently writing a football geography of Montevideo that is linked to a research theme (arts and territories) insofar as football fields of all kinds (gardens, schools, vacant or improvised fields, clubs, etc.) are indeed the workshops and galleries where balloon artists are trained and expressed. That said, I do make the difference between sport and play, between athletics and football. In my opinion, sport is – and this is what the Olympic leaders of Coubertin’s time thought – a performance that starts from an “already existing natural” activity (running, jumping, walking, swimming, fighting, lifting weights, throwing weights, arrows, etc.). Pre-existing activity in social reality “before” sport took hold of it. The game is something else: it is a total invention that, on the basis of rules, develops techniques and ways of thinking that do not exist in the “real society”. We only play football when we play football.

Your new book bears the spectacular title ” The 36 lies of Jules Rimet “. This seems unambiguous. What are you accusing Jules Rimet of?
At the time of his retirement, Rimet wrote a book; “Wonderful Story of the World Cup”. The first part describes the process of creating the World Cup and covers the period from the birth of FIFA (1902-1904) to the beginning of the 1930 World Cup in Uruguay. This part is a succession of manipulations of facts that allows Rimet to highlight himself, to take over the merits that belong to other leaders, and finally, to present himself as “the absolute inventor of the World Football Championship” whose first achievement would have been that of 1930. He says that the idea of organizing the World Championship in Uruguay appeared to him in 1924; that he started the project in 1925 with the help of his accomplice, the Uruguayan diplomat Enrique Buero; that in Barcelona in 1929, he manoeuvred to make Montevideo’s bid triumph; and that later, at the cost of great effort and sacrifice, he obtained the participation of four European teams, including France’s. The documents, and in particular the book published by his so-called accomplice in 1932, “Negociaciones internacionales”, show that everything Rimet says is invented. Moreover, in 1954, when his book was published, European leaders, who knew the truth, totally ignored it. Rimet’s fictions were resurrected long afterward by Brazilian FIFA President Joao Havelange, who, without explicitly mentioning his source, recovered the Frenchman’s stories to build a kind of FIFA gospel. The imposture allowed Rimet to become the “father-founder” of an expansive FIFA and his religion, football.

Why do you think Jules Rimet lied?
There are several reasons. Personal, circumstantial, institutional, historical and football reasons. On a personal level, Rimet claimed to win the Nobel Peace Prize, despite a politically turbulent past in many respects. He therefore had to build a great story against his main “opponent”, Coubertin. The founder of the Games could boast of having sought “peace” in the world through sport, and without lying, to present himself as the absolute inventor of the modern Olympic Games. In his book, Rimet was careful to demolish the Baron’s work and contrast it with the much more wonderful story of the creation of the Football World Cup. Rimet triggered his own personality cult right after the War. In 1946, the FIFA championship was named the “Jules Rimet Cup”. It’s not very modest. The institutional reasons for Rimet’s lies are linked to a major fact: with the exception of the Guérin years (1903-1905), the international coordination that took the form of FIFA in 1904 had as its priority the development of its own power and apparatus, not the development of football. In 1905, the English and Belgians sabotaged the International Cup project led by the French Guérin to promote the takeover by the Football Association. It was FIFA’s DNA. Similar manoeuvres prevented the creation of a European Cup in 1927 and led to the sabotage of the 1930 World Cup by Rimet himself against the vote of Congress. This tradition of football serving the device and not a device serving football has not yet been the subject of self-criticism on the part of the federation. Finally, there are purely football reasons. Uruguay had the “misfortune” to win the first three world tournaments, and the four in which it participated between 1924 and 1950. And on every occasion, his victory was traumatic for losers who did not accept to lose to a “little one”. France, Switzerland, Holland, Argentina, Brazil have suffered, sometimes a lot, from the victories of the ugly duckling. The cumulative trauma favoured the establishment of an interested oblivion, and the void thus produced was filled by a review of the facts.

In the original text of Jules Rimet’s book “The Wonderful Story of the World Championship”, there is a chapter describing the creation of the first World Cup. This chapter is no longer included in a later edition of the book. How can this be explained?
When this reissue was published in 2014, I asked its manager, Renaud Leblond, for an explanation, but I did not receive an answer. Yet it is the strongest, most important and most significant part of the book. This censorship, in my opinion open to criticism and not mentioned in the preface, is a cover-up. I think Renaud Leblond is aware of the fact that the first part of Rimet’s book is full of lies and settling scores, that it reveals a special, almost sickly psychology. The French academics who have worked with FIFA also know this. Republishing this text was therefore too exposed. Moreover, in Rimet’s memory, it is better to make people believe that his title as inventor of the World Cup was awarded to him by others, not by himself.

What you call lies is part of FIFA’s history. FIFA doesn’t know the facts?
“FIFA” is not a solid, coherent and intelligent reality. It is not a scientific body. These are diverse people who occupy positions and receive salaries within a company. In 2016, I had the opportunity to interview all the candidates for the FIFA Presidency and witnessed their total ignorance of history and documents. They are not historians and when they come to power, their concern is not to consult the archives but to put in place their policies. FIFA is international for some things, but when it comes to writing football history it is “French” under Blatter, “English” under Infantino, and so on. More or less university lobbies have revolved around FIFA for the past twenty years or so and have ended up imposing a certain narrative that suits their nation, but which must always defend two central ideas: that FIFA has always done the right thing and that the World Championship is a FIFA creation, a FIFA “brand”. However, on the one hand, FIFA has often acted against football, and on the other hand, the 1924 and 1930 World Championships are not FIFA’s creations but those of the French Federation and the Uruguayan Football Association respectively. FIFA’s “official” books are written by a handful of individuals, not by committees of historians representing the different continents. These editors hired by the international federation do not refuse, quite the contrary, they take advantage of this abusive and profitable position. The result on paper is an always partisan vision of the story that pleases the department president. In this sense, Rimet’s book has made a name for itself: it presents a history totally enslaved to the image of the apparatus and its leader.

According to FIFA’s history, Uruguay has won the World Cup twice: at the first FIFA World Cup in Uruguay in 1930 and in Brazil in 1950. You say that Uruguay have won the World Cup four times. How do the different representations explain themselves?
There is not really a “FIFA history”. In 2004, “FIFA” said that the first World Cup took place in 1930, but in 2017, in her recent book, she explained that the 1908 tournament in London was a first World Championship. Both “theories” are absurd and contradict what is reported in the official documents written at the time by the organizers and what the press said. Moreover, FIFA awards Uruguayans, Belgians and the English “other FIFA titles” for their Olympic victories from 1908 to 1928, without being able to say what the exact nature of these titles is, what their name is, and by confusing the English team with Britain’s Olympic team. In 1924, the vanguard of football was not FIFA, which had barely been reborn, but the intellectual leaders who revolved around the French Federation in France and the Uruguayan Association in South America. Individuals such as Gabriel Hanot, Gautier-Chaumet, Achille Duchenne, Lucien Gamblin, Héctor Gomez, Rodolfo Bermúdez, José María Delgado. In 1923, the French federation called for a World Championship as part of the 1924 Olympic Games and officially qualified this championship as a “World Football Tournament”. Rimet was President of the FFFA, FIFA, the Appeals Tribunal, Vice-President of the French Olympic Committee, etc., and he followed suit. So he instituted the first world championship. But he did so from the FFFA, not from FIFA. In fact, the first world championship was created by the FFFA of Rimet, thanks to Coubertin. It is not the work of FIFA. FIFA was then a rearguard, divided, in poor condition, which in 20 years of existence had not been able to organise a single football match. Moreover, in order not to offend the English, it was necessary to hide the “world” ideal, a World Cup without them was not yet conceivable. In 1928, it was the same thing, and in 1930 too. On March 10, 1930, four months before the start of the World Cup, Rimet wanted to replace the World Cup with a European Cup in Rome! This is why, it can be said that in 1924 the World Championship was that of the French association and in 1930 that of the Uruguayan association.

In 2020, the FIFA World Cup will be 90 years old. There will certainly be many more publications to come. Do you think that FIFA will change its historiography in the light of these “new” facts?
She will not take the path. The recent book by the FIFA Museum marks a step back in many respects and a return to the misleading speeches that the English leaders were already making in 1904 to prevent the birth of the international federation! The founder of FIFA, Robert Guérin, has disappeared altogether! Yet he is the greatest leader of this federation. The prospect of the Centenary of the “World Tournament” of 1924 in 2024 in Paris, and that of the Centenary of 1930, will require us to ask ourselves some questions. Will the 2030 World Cup be held in Britain when the British ignored or even sabotaged the FIFA World Cup between 1924 and 1938? Or finally, to acknowledge that the South Americans saved FIFA from shame in 1930 by organising this competition across the Atlantic at all costs? But I think that FIFA will eventually realise that it is not its role to write the history of football, that it is not capable of doing so, and that its successive attempts have only aggravated inconsistencies, contradictions and absurdities. This implies a cultural revolution that requires intellectual sharing, but also another way of conceiving power and sharing the material fruits that come from football.
Pierre Arrighi
Professor at the University of Picardy, Member of the CRAE
Founder of GREFU (Faculty of Human Sciences
The interview was conducted in French. Here you find the Spanish version.
Find the book here:
Treinta y seis mentiras de Jules Rimet