How the official trophy of the inaugural FIFA World Cup became the most coveted artifact in world sports.
The FIFA World Cup is the most important single-sport tournament in the world, and the most viewed sporting event of any kind. Known everywhere on the planet, the event was first played in 1930 in Uruguay, and the inaugural Cup was won by the home side, under the leadership of Uruguay national team captain José Nasazzi. After defeating all of their early round opponents handily, Uruguay found themselves 2–1 behind at halftime in the championship game against arch rivals Argentina. But Nasazzi rallied his teammates in the second half of play, eventually leading them to a 4–2 victory, and the first World Cup trophy ever. Nasazzi, who was honored as the tournament’s Best Player, had also led them to Olympic gold medals at the 1924 and 1928 games. Nasazzi was widely considered the best player of his day, and Uruguay’s best defender ever, as well as one of the best Latin American defenders of all time. His defensive play earned him worldwide renown for his strength, speed, and recovery, as well as his infallible field positioning. Known as “El Gran Mariscal” (The Great Marshal), he was not only a captain and player for the Uruguayan team, but a leader and an orchestrator of their game, known for his commanding presence and courage on and off the field.
The World Cup, first conceived by FIFA President Jules Rimet, went on to a rich history, and a deep trove of lore for fans to draw upon. From Diego Maradona scoring both the best goal and worst goal in Cup history in one game, to Zinedine Zidane’s red-card head butt, from Luiz Suarez biting an opposing defender, to 56th-ranked South Korea defeating top-ranked defending champion Germany, from a 17-year-old Pele’s hat trick over France, to Colombian goalkeeper Andres Escobar’s calamitous own-goal and eventual murder, no sporting event creates dramatic narratives like the FIFA World Cup.
But the event itself isn’t the only aspect of the World Cup steeped in drama. Even the original trophy presented to the winners has its own set of colorful stories and mysterious history. Like a real-life version of the Thomas Crown Affair, the story of the Jules Rimet Trophy is almost too wild to believe. The trophy, originally simply named “Victory”, depicted the winged goddess Nike, and was created by famed French sculptor Abel Lafleur to be awarded to the winning team (with 22 commemorative copies made for each of the players on the winning team). The original trophy, later renamed the Jules Rimet Trophy in honor of the tournament’s proposer and creator, was to be passed on from one winning team to the next, until one nation had won the title three times, entitling them to keep it forever as their own.
After Uruguay won the first World Cup and held the trophy aloft in 1930, it passed to Italy after their victories in 1934 and 1938. But before Italy could secure the Cup as their permanent possession with a third victory, World War II broke out, and the next two tournaments, set for 1942 and 1946, were canceled. During the war, Ottorino Barassi, the Italian vice-president of FIFA and president of FIGC (Italy’s football federation), secretly took the trophy from the bank in Rome where it had been held, and hid it in a shoe box under his bed to prevent the Nazis from taking it as war plunder. Brought back into public view after the war, the Jules Rimet Trophy became a popular attraction for exhibition, and a favorite subject of news photographers everywhere it went. By 1966, two teams, Italy and Brazil, had won two World Cups, and were poised to duke it out for permanent possession of the coveted Cup in the 1966 FIFA World Cup. But just four months before the tournament was scheduled to begin in England, the trophy was stolen during a public exhibition at Westminster Central Hall in London, despite being heavily guarded by both uniformed and plainclothes officers.
Apparently, someone had forced open the rear doors of the building by removing the screws and bolts that held the doors closed. They had then removed the padlock from the back of the display case, and taken the trophy, all without being detected. Scotland Yard quickly took over the case, and handed it to their elite robbery unit, who managed to get a number of descriptions of potential suspects but no real leads. The next day, the head of England’s Football Association received an anonymous call from a man who left him a package that contained the removable lining from the Cup, and a ransom note, as well as a threat to melt the trophy down if their demands were not met. Despite instructions otherwise, the head of the FA turned the note over to the police, who attempted to ensnare the thieves by setting up a meet in Battersea Park to exchange the trophy for the ransom, and then pounce. A pile of fake cash and a botched sting operation later, the police had apparently identified the wrong man, the Cup was still missing, and the primary suspects still unknown. Then, a few days later, in a bizarre twist, the Cup was found wrapped in newspaper under a suburban garden hedge in South London by a little dog named Pickles. Pickles went on to become quite a celebrity in England, and he and his owner were invited to England’s celebration dinner after they won the 1966 World Cup later that year.
Because of the theft and increasing security issues, the English Football Association secretly had a replica of the trophy made to be used in future exhibitions in place of the original. But since FIFA had specifically prohibited the creation of any replicas, the FA had to make sure their replica disappeared from public view after the original trophy was returned to FIFA for the 1970 World Cup. For many years, the replica was kept under its creator’s bed, and then eventually sold at auction in 1997 for about $420,000 to FIFA itself. FIFA’s purchase, and the shocking price (which was about ten times the expected reserve price), was the result of speculation that the two trophies had been swapped, and that the replica being auctioned was actually the original! Subsequent testing, however, confirmed that the purchased trophy was in fact a replica.
But the Jules Rimet Trophy’s colorful story was far from over. After winning the trophy for a third time in 1970, Brazil took permanent possession of the famous artifact, and it was put on display at the Brazilian Football Confederation headquarters in Rio de Janeiro. The famous piece was placed behind bulletproof glass in a secure cabinet to ensure its safety. But on December 19, 1983, two men incapacitated and tied up the night watchman and forced the cabinet open with a crowbar, and the Jules Rimet Cup was stolen again. The theft was supposedly masterminded by a banker with various aliases who was not present at the theft, but had paid the two men to carry it out. The three supposed perpetrators were turned in by a safecracker who said he had been contacted by the plan’s mastermind to help them steal the trophy, but had declined because his brother had died of a heart attack when Brazil won the trophy in 1970. In an even more bizarre twist of fate, the safecracker turned informant died in a car accident in 1985, on his way to the police station to testify about the crime. Though the men were tried in absentia, and convicted, the original trophy was never recovered. And while there has been speculation that the trophy was melted down into gold bars, this seems highly unlikely, as only the exterior of the trophy was gold, while its primary composition was silver.
Although the famous original trophy from 1930 has never been recovered, some of the commemorative copies of the trophy made for the winning players of the first World Cup are still known to exist. And their importance has only grown in the absence of the original. Because there were just 22 of them made, they are rarer even than a Fabergé egg. One of those Uruguay-authorized commemorative reproductions — the very one belonging to team captain and 1930 World Cup Best Player José Nasazzi — had been held in the collection of Rony Almeida until recently, when we were fortunate enough to acquire it. It bears José Nasazzi’s own signature, and is accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity for the Cup, a notarized Paper of Action, and a Certification of Authenticity for Nasazzi’s signature. Because this rare artifact and its unparalleled story are so unique, we have minted one single “Ultra Rare” 1/1 NFT, conferring ownership to its holder of the one-of-a-kind, signed, and Uruguay-authorized Jules Rimet Commemorative Trophy that was presented to team captain José Nasazzi. The NFT itself is based on a 12k capture, and depicts every detail of this unique collectible in 3D. In addition, commemorative “Limited Edition” NFTs of this rare collectible will be released that unlock additional rewards and exclusive content. This is a one-time opportunity to own a piece of world history, and one of the most unique trophies in sports lore.
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