Contribution of Dr. Ottorino Barassi To World Football
History of any art always talks about the beauty that the artists have created on the stage, but no one talks about that platform on which that art has been made and through which that scintillating art is reaching millions of people across the world.
This truth is no different in case of football as well. We always devour, appreciate, and discuss what is happening on the field in any competition. But we are least bothered about how the stage has been created and has been reached out to the global audience. Yes, I am talking about the role of football administrator.
Their job is thankless one, but they get their fair share of criticism when they get embroiled in any corruption. The beautiful game of football is in the that state now when it is being muddled by off-field reports like taking bribe for allowing countries to officiate world cup or showing favoritism to certain football clubs. FIFA has lost its credibility and respect amongst the football lovers across the world.
So, there cannot be more better time than today to remind one of the legendary football administrators who can be considered as a benchmark in leading football back to its 24-Karat purity. It’s none other than Mr. Ottorino Barassi (5 October 1898 24 November 1971), Il Presidente.
Although he is not a football player, he has always been considered as national hero in Italy because of the humongous effort with which he saved Jules Rimet Trophy from the Nazi troops during World War II.
1934 World Cup Organization
His first achievement was to organize 2nd World cup in his own country Italy under the Fascist regime of Mussolini as general secretary of FIGC.
Mussolini was eager during that time to show his political muscle through organizing World Cup in his own country. He tried to do so in 1930 world cup. But since Italy was not chosen to host the competition, he withdrew Italian national team from that world cup.
So, it can easily be understood the level of expectation of Mussolini that Barassi carried on his strong shoulder and successfully hosted the competition without any major hitches. Italians won the cup on home soil and Mussolini got the bragging rights to show this authority to the world.
1938 World Cup
Although there was Patto d’Acciaio (Meaning Pact of Steel i.e. political alliance) between Germany and Italy, Hitler did not take 1934 world cup win lightly. He also wanted Germany to become numero uno in next world cup to show off his superiority.
When Germany captured Austria in March 1938, he took 6 players from Austrian football team so that Germany can have the force to win the world cup. During 1930s, Austria was known as the Wunderteam. They were considered one of the best teams in the world. Their captain Matthias Sindelar rejected to play for Germany and he was found dead in his apartment in Vienna due to carbon monoxide poisoning as per official statement.
Unofficially, Nazi Secret police force Gestapo is rumored to have killed him because of his opposition. Such was the aggression shown by Hitler to win that world cup. But all efforts went in vain as Italy won the world cup consecutively in France and kept Jules Rimet Trophy with them. But, Hitlers ego was hurt for the second time and would take any opportunity to capture that trophy by hook or crook.
Darkest Period of World Football (1938-1950)
With the fall of Fascist regime in Italy, Germany cuts away political alliance with Italy in 1943. Before 2nd world war, Barassi understood with his impeccable foresight that coveted Jules Rimet trophy will be under scathing attack from Germany because of Hitlers undying hunger of claiming that trophy.
So, he secretly took the trophy home from a bank in Rome and kept it hidden in shoebox until World War II ends. Nazi troops searched his house thoroughly, but they were not able to find that trophy. He returned the trophy back at the first post-war Congress of FIFA held in Luxembourg on July 25, 1946.
During the war, he was selected as commissioner of the Italian Football Federation from 1944 to 1946 and then he became President of the federation in 1946. He held that position till 1958.
1950 World Cup
When world cup resumed in 1950, Brazil got the right to host the world cup. Then, Barassi was given the responsibility to assist them since he had the experience of organizing the same in Italy in 1934. He completed the job with flying colors which consists of building largest stadium in the world Estádio do Maracanã on time which is double the capacity of largest stadium at that time, the Wembley Stadium.
Formation of UEFA
After World War II, he was given next responsibility to bring all European football playing nations organized as an executive member of FIFA in early 1950s. This action actually started the formation of European Football Association UEFA.
Three pioneers in the formation of UEFA were Ottorino Barassi, Henri Delaunay and José Crahay. They took the example of South American Football Federation to form a football association which will keep European nations organized.
Along with that, they planned to start common club and country based competitions within Europe which will have huge impact of maintaining peace in Europe after the two world wars. That seed of UEFA has now grown up exponentially and has become the best continental football association of the world now.Barassi remained as part of FIFA executive committee until his death in 1971.
Dr. Ottorino Barassi is legend in the world of football administration in his own right. If he would not have saved football during the darkest age of football, we might not have the chance to enjoy the world cups again or we might not have competitions like Euro Cup, UEFA Cup, UCL. Now, it is upon us to take the baton from him and carry the legacy forward for progressive football which will keep the world united and corruption free. Rest in peace, Il Presidente.