Sporting Trophies and what they say about the organisations that commissioned them – An occasional series

Number 1 – The FIFA World Cup

Sporting trophies don’t appear to have figured much in the way of criticism; like much of sport, it appears to be too far below the radar of the critiquing classes. But they are worthy objects of discussion, if only for the obvious point that they don’t get made by themselves. Someone commissions them. Someone buys them. The organisation responsible is saying something about itself at the time of first sourcing the trophy; this may have little to say about the now, or it could say something about what they thought about the now back then. If you see what I mean.

To kick this little series off, I’ll begin with my absolute favourite – The FIFA World Cup Trophy, designed by Sergio Gazzaniga. It was commissioned to replace the original trophy named after Jules Rimet, variously described as the creator, founder and father of the world cup (I can’t believe he was the first person to have the idea of working out who the world’s best team were, but he did actually get the thing off the ground, so fair play to him). Brazil had won the trophy three times and so kept the statuette, and FIFA needed a new one. 53 designs were received and Gazzaniga’s won.

It stands 36cm and weighing in at 4.9Kg. It’s an absolute beauty. It says much about the organisation at the time that having allowed Brazil to keep the last one, the rules were changed to prevent this happening again. This one is in it for the long haul. FIFA had an eye on the future, and I think they did a good job, which is a statement you’d be hard pushed to make today.

So why do I like it? The simplicity and the symmetry are the main ones. The weight too. There was always something that didn’t seem right in the fact that the Jules Rimet trophy was so small and light; something so important shouldn’t look so inconsequential and be able to handed around with little effort. The Ashes in cricket suffer from this same problem to my mind. It should have a near religious sense of a relic, as it is the nearest sport gets to something that transcends the temporary circumstances of the time. It is the perfect trophy for the greatest competition in football, the dream of kids all over the world to one day win, and as they get older and realise they are rubbish, to see their team win.

So the World Cup, heavy beast that it is, feels right. To see a player struggle to hold it and lift it above their head mimics the struggle they have had to win it (apart from France, but I won’t go there). The player holding it above their head mirrors the trophy itself, where two figures hold a globe aloft.

Trophies seem to be little more than updated replayings of hunting rites; the presentation is to demonstrate to the world that they have killed it, they have vanquished the foe. We did this, and we did it for you is the message. The World Cup is perhaps the finest at this. Deceptively heavy, pleasingly simple yet still redolent of great wealth, and looks a treat when held aloft. FIFA might just have bumbled into choosing this design, but I’d like to think not. Even so, in age of gaudy trophies and transient tournaments, the greatest tournament in the world have the greatest trophy in the world. FIFA probably wouldn’t choose this now, of course.

But it seems they might be up for trying, with talk of them getting a new one made. FIFA’s choice said much about the game in 1974 when it was first awarded. Respectful, though with less of a nod to the standard curves and heraldic figures of past trophies and cups than one would expect. It spoke of an organisation secure in its knowledge that football was the greatest game, and confident of its prospects. The modern game has moved on so much since then, and FIFA has done so too. A new prize would unlikely to have that respect and comfort with history of the game and its future. Just like FIFA itself.