Soccer and its Trophy Award: History of a Global Sport

Soccer’s, or as the rest of the world call’s it – futbol’s, biggest and most long-standing award is the World Cup (now the FIFA World Cup) trophy. The World Cup began in 1930, and at the time, the trophy the founders created was called “Victory” and then later “Jules Rimet Trophy” in honor of the founder of the world cup. It was a lapis lazuli base with a gold-plated sterling silver figure of Nike (the Greek goddess of victory). This trophy was stolen in 1966 and later recovered by a man and his dog on a walk in London.

The Second World Cup Trophy

Soccer has an interesting tradition for its world cup trophy. Because of the theft in 1966, a new trophy had to be commissioned. It was agreed that no team would receive or own the actual World Cup trophy until it had won the World Cup 3 years in a row. Brazil was the first to do this, achieving their hat-trick World Cup victory in 1970. It turned out that just over a decade later, in 1983, the original was stolen yet again and never found.

Replacement Design of the FIFA World Cup Trophy

In 1974, an Italian sculptor won a contest for a redesign of the trophy – it became an 18-carat gold figure of 2 people holding up the world cup, and a metal plaque for engraving winning team’s names was added to the base. The base is accented with malachite. But considering what happened in 1966, and what would again happen in 1983, the original is kept at the FIFA museum in Zurich, and teams now win a gold-plated bronze replica.

What do the Materials of a Trophy Represent?

The FIFA World Cup trophy’s composition is definitely why it was stolen twice. But the materials and design also tell us something about the developing culture of soccer itself. The first trophy – made of a silver Nike on a lapis base, was a clear way to tie soccer to the long history of Europe and the Mediterranean. Lapis lazuli was used for centuries in building décor, jewelry, etc. in these areas because of its blue color and sturdy structure. It’s virtually impossible to find in large quantities today. And the Nike has represented victory and fortune for at least 2400 years, particularly in Graeco-Roman culture.

The design change in the 70’s made sense, because the competition had become more global. Malachite is a relatively common stone, but topped with a solid gold sculpture representing teamwork, it’s easy to see how the image of FIFA changed over time. It’s also really easy to see why people wanted to steal these trophies; the metal alone is worth a lot of money, silver or gold. And the first version with the lapis base would have been worth a pretty penny as well as lapis became harder and harder to get. So while it may sound like a bummer that now the World Cup winners just receive a bronze replica; it protects the history of the real trophy. In turn, the real trophy, which now lives in Zurich permanently, records the history of the winners on its engraved plaque.