The World Cup Winner’s Trophy History: Eye On The Most Famous Prize
The football World Cup has always been in a league by itself among sports trophies, revered by footballers and fans alike. The copious myths and legends surrounding football’s No. 1 prize will often inspire athletes to do great deeds, and at the same time inspire the average Joe to do stupid things. “How did the FIFA World Cup trophy come to be?” “Who created it?” “What was its history like?”.
All the fans of the squadro azzurro were jubilant when Dino Zoff, Italy’s greatest goalkeeper and then-national team captain, lifted up that World Cup trophy in 1982. But one Italian, the 61-year old sculptor Silvio Gazzaniga, probably felt even more elated than the footballers and the tifosi. He had been invited to a live talk show on national television as the creator of the FIFA World Cup trophy.
“My hands were shaking from excitement,” Gazzaniga would later recall. “In the video, you can tell I’m pressing the palm of my one hand to the table with the palm of the other. I was overwhelmed with excitement from the game that night, then they pulled me into the TV on top of it.”
But football’s top trophy did not always look the way it looks now.
The Golden Nike
The Jules Rimet Trophy, originally named Victory, was awarded to World Cup winners until 1970. The third FIFA President, Jules Rimet, passed the vote to initiate the first global football championship in 1929. A year later, he would be awarding the Cup to the Uruguay team, the first World Cup winners in history. The trophy was renamed in honour of Jules Rimet after the Second World War.
Designed by French sculptor Abel Lafleur, the trophy depicted the winged Nike, the ancient Greek goddess of victory, holding a decagonal cup aloft. The statuette, weighing 3.8kg, was made of gold-plated sterling silver on a base of lapis lazuli. The trophy was nicknamed “Golden Goddess,” which could be the reason why some sources mistakenly claim the Cup was made of pure gold. The Coupe du Monde had cost FIFA dearly: Lafleur charged 50 thousand francs for the statuette.
On the gold plaques affixed to each of the four sides of the Cup’s base, the names of the nations were engraved that had won the World Cups from 1930 to 1970: Uruguay (1930, 1950), Italy (1934, 1938), Germany (1954), England (1966) and Brazil (1958, 1962, 1970).
Having won its third World Cup, the 9th World Cup in Mexico in June 1970, the Brazil team earned the right to keep the trophy in perpetuity, according to the then-current FIFA regulations.
It was only fair that the World Cup was named after Rimet, the third President of FIFA, who had stood at the helm of FIFA for 33 years, following his appointment in 1921. It is to Jules Rimet that the world owes its first global football tournament. He had negotiated long and hard with top government officials, football federations and national teams. Rimet’s obsession with the idea kept him on track until the first World Cup materialized in Uruguay in 1930.
While leading FIFA, Rimet succeeded in boosting football’s popularity dramatically worldwide, establishing the national team tournament as the premier four-year football highlight, and strengthening FIFA’s authority. FIFA listed 56 member nations in 1954, when Rimet resigned from the office of President, nearly a triple of its early 1920s membership.
Three thefts and a dog
The Jules Rimet Trophy embarked on its maiden voyage to Uruguay aboard a transatlantic liner, the Conte Verde, in 1930. Interestingly, the legendary Russian opera singer Pyotr Shaliapin also travelled aboard the Conte Verde for his South American tour that year.
The trophy was held by 1938 winners Italy when World War II broke out. Italy was no place for a valuable trophy amid the tumult of the pre-war months, so Ottorino Barassi, President of the Italian Football Federation, decided to hide it in a way that would look like a theft. He secretly removed the cup from the bank vault, and hid it in a shoebox under his bed, hoping that the Nazis would not find it there. The cup was saved and, come 1950, awarded to the Uruguay team, the first post-war winners, again.
On 20 March 1966, four months before the 1966 World Cup in England, the Jules Rimet Trophy was stolen while on public display at Westminster Central Hall, despite 24-hour security. London’s entire police force was mobilized in search of the thief, who had demanded a ransom of 15,000 pounds.
The English hurried to have a replica of the trophy manufactured, in case the original was not recovered in time for the tournament. A dog named Pickles saved the day for England. Pickles found the trophy, wrapped in newspaper, at the bottom of some garden hedge in Upper Norwood, South London, while being walked by his owner David Corbett. A football fan, Corbett knew right away what was in that newspaper, and turned it over to authorities. Rumour has it that Corbett was invited to attend a gala dinner in honour of the England team winning the World Cup, and was paid a reward of 6,000 pounds, while his dog, the star of the story, got a lifetime supply of dog food. The replica the English had made for security reasons was subsequently sold at an auction for £254,500 in 1997.
The original trophy moved to Brazil in 1970, but that was not the end of its vicissitudes. The news that Golden Nike is “no more” left the world dumbstruck in December 1983. Some evil-minded people had purloined the trophy from its display cabinet at the Brazilian Football Confederation headquarters in Rio, having pried open the wooden rear of the cabinet with a regular crowbar.
Four men were tried and convicted in absentia for the theft, but the trophy was never recovered. The Brazilians had to have another replica of the Jules Rimet Trophy manufactured. No one knows what happened to the original. It is generally believed that the trophy was either melted down and sold, or ended up in a private collection.
After the handing-over of the Jules Rimet Trophy to Brazil, FIFA had to commission a replacement trophy for the 1974 World Cup. Fifty three submissions were received for the design tender, announced in 1971, from sculptors in seven countries. Silvio Gazzaniga, who would end up winning the commission, made two submissions. The earlier one was accepted.
Silvio Gazzaniga was born in 1921 in Milan. He apprenticed as a sculptor in the art schools of Milan from the age of 16 on. He attended the Umanitaria School of Applied Art and the High School of Art at the Sforzesco Castle, specialising as a goldsmith and jeweller. After World War II, he started his career as a sculptor of medals, cups and decorations and at the end of 1953 began to collaborate with Milan’s Bertoni studio as artistic director and master sculptor.
Gazzaniga’s design was selected by FIFA for its new World Cup trophy in 1970. Riding the wave of the great international success of his FIFA World Cup trophy, the artist continued to create other important football trophies, such as the UEFA Cup trophy (1972, European League trophy since 2009) and the UEFA Super Cup trophy (1973). He also produced the Baseball World Cup trophy (2001), Bobsleigh and Volleyball world cup trophies plus medals for important sporting events in basketball, swimming, skiing and many other sports.
In 2003, the former Mayor of Milan, Gabriele Albertini, on behalf of Milan City Council, bestowed a “Certificate of Merit of the Ambrogino d’Oro” on Gazzaniga in recognition of “his professional reputation as one of the most prolific contemporary artists of the city.”
In 2011, while attending a meeting for the annual edition of the International Numismatic Fair in Vicenza, the International Association of Numismatists and Medal Designers bestowed upon him the International Award for his contribution to his Profession. A year later, Gazzaniga was awarded an Order of Merit of the Italian Republic 4th Grade by decree of the President of Italy.
“To create a universal symbol, I was inspired by two fundamental images: those of a triumphant athlete and of the world,” the artist said, explaining his World Cup trophy concept. “I wanted to reflect the elation of the winning footballer – a man transformed by the enormity of his victory – but without the super human ego. This sporting hero who embraces the world in his arms, reflects the strength needed to make sacrifices day after day with his fellow team members and the universal characteristics of sport such as commitment and freedom.”
They say the artist stayed closeted away in his studio for a week, working on the trophy. Gazzaniga himself would later admit the bulk of the work didn’t take very long to do. However, the trophy being made of solid gold, the finer details conceived by the artist proved a challenge, and had to be added after the debut presentation of the Cup.
Five kilos’ worth of trophy gold
Unlike its predecessor, the new trophy was made of 5kg of 18 carat gold. The trophy stands 36.5cm tall and weighs 6,175kg. The base is 13cm in diameter with two layers of malachite, matching the colour of a football field. The cup depicts two human figures holding up the Earth, crowning the trophy.
“The two players raising their arms symbolize the team at the moment of joy and the excitement of victory,” Gazzaniga explained. “The sphere at the top is shaped with a relief reflecting the images of continents. This also symbolises football and the world and the lines showing between the two mirrored players expresses the energy of sport. The lines spring out from the base, rising in spirals, stretching out to receive the world.”
The trophy has the engraving “FIFA World Cup” on its base. Next to it there is a plate on which the names of winning countries are engraved. The inscriptions state the year in figures and the name of the winning nation in its national language; for example, “1974 Deutschland” or “1994 Brazil”. In 2010, however, the name of the winning nation was engraved as “2010 Spain”, in English, not in Spanish. There isn’t must space left for new inscriptions. It is believed that there is space left for only three more engravings at the most, which means that the engraving for the 2038 World Cup will probably be the last.
Germany national team captain Franz Beckenbauer was the first to receive the new World Cup Trophy in 1974. In the award ceremonies that followed, the trophy would pass into the hands of Daniel Passarella (Argentina, 1978), Dino Zoff (Italy, 1982), Diego Maradona (Argentina, 1986), Lothar Matthaus (Germany, 1990), Dunga (Brazil, 1994), Didier Deschamps (France, 1998), Kafu (Brazil, 2002), Fabio Cannavaro (Italy, 2006), Iker Casillas (Spain, 2010), and Philipp Lahm (Germany, 2014).
Adventures of the Cup
Like its predecessor, the Jules Rimet Trophy, the new FIFA World Cup has seen some rough moments in its history. It was badly damaged in Italy, the home country of the trophy and its creator, in 2006, where it had been moved after Italy’s legendary win against the French in that year’s World Cup final. Italian papers carried photos of national squad captain Fabio Cannavaro holding up a piece of green malachite. The trophy subsequently underwent some serious restoration work.
The trophy would need some restoration again a few years later. In 2014, German media reported that the Germany national team players had broken the trophy a few days after their Brazilian triumph. The President of the German Football Association, Wolfgang Niersbach later confirmed that a small chip had broken off the trophy. He promised to investigate and, in the meantime, the trophy would be sent off for restoration.
On July 11, 2010, moments before the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final between Spain and the Netherlands in South Africa, the notorious Spanish trouble-maker Jimmy Jump rushed into the field in what looked like an attempt to grab the trophy, before being subdued by several security guards in the immediate vicinity of the World Cup. While the media branded the Spaniard a “demented thief,” Jump himself claimed he had only wanted to place a barretina, Catalan headdress, on the trophy for good luck. He walked away with a small fine.
Gazzaniga was once asked if there was anything he would change about his trophy if he had a chance. “If I had to make it from scratch again, I would not change a thing,” he said. “I’ve had to restore it many times, I know every millimetre of its terrain. My cup keeps bringing joy to people, which means my aesthetic principles have universal relevance.”
Where the World Cup is Stored
Before 2006, the trophy would be handed over to the winning country, which would keep it until the final draw of the next World Cup. Not anymore. By the current FIFA regulations, the winner of the tournament receives a gold-plated bronze replica of the trophy.
The original trophy stays at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich. Any movement of the trophy, including the route and flight details, is kept in strict confidence to assure the maximum security of the trophy, which is insured for US $230,000.
2006 was also the year when the original trophy was taken on its first worldwide Trophy Tour.
Trophy Tour in figures
The first tour, which preceded the World Cup Germany, was about three months long. The trophy visited 31 cities in 28 countries. On its tour before the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the trophy had visited 84 countries, 50 of them in Africa, covering a distance close to 139,000km.
The trophy was welcomed by 90 nations prior to World Cup Brazil. The tour began in Rio de Janeiro on 12 September 2013, and ended there 221 days later. The trophy had travelled about 150,000km, and had been seen by over a million fans.
No one is allowed to touch the World Cup trophy, except FIFA President and the players of the winning nation. Support staff may handle it, but have to wear gloves. The support staff are usually FIFA employees or sponsor representatives.
Waiting for 2018 World Cup trophy’s winner!