The FIFA World Cup Trophy will once again be raised by the captain of the new World Champions, on the 15th of July 2018. Sadly for the first time since 1974, one man won’t see the trophy being lifted. Silvio Gazzaniga, the creator of the trophy, passed away in October 2016.
Creators of trophies, generally aren’t feted or perceived as being real artists. They are, in essence, commercial artists who are paid to execute a specific brief.
Gazzaniga was different. He was a great artist, who created two of the most famous trophies in sport. The FIFA World Cup trophy and the UEFA Europa League trophy, both without a brief. He was once asked, ‘When does art become magic?’ His response was an insight into the genius of his art. “When it evokes an emotive reaction and creates a symbol of our humanity.”
The FIFA World Cup trophy is one of the world’s most revered and recognized objects, not just because it’s the prize for the greatest (single) sports event in the world, but because it was purposely created as a symbol that would appeal to the whole world.
The design was selected by FIFA, the body that represents world football, by a committee that consisted of an Englishman, a Swiss, an Italian, an Irishman, and a German - and because Gazzaniga created it that way.
Gazzaniga understood that players needed a prestigious symbol of victory, which would make them proud of their life-changing achievement. That’s why the trophy is made of solid gold. However, he also knew that to be really successful, the trophy would need to connect with people all over the world at an emotional level, irrespective of their nationality, age, race, and despite the fact that only a handful of countries have ever won, or are ever likely to win, the trophy.
In the markets where the awareness of the trophy is audited, awareness reaches an astonishing 80% to 90%, way ahead of any other sports trophy, and probably way ahead of any other man-made object. You may be thinking at this point, it’s just a trophy, surely that isn’t such a big deal? The FIFA World Cup trophy has been one of the few constants of the World Cup since 1974. Players have come and gone. The competition and the event have changed significantly over the years.
If you stop and think about it, the trophy is one of the few things that hasn’t changed at all. And is probably one of the reasons why you have always liked (or even loved) this amazing competition.
The Creation Of The FIFA World Cup Trophy
A trophy was commissioned by Jules Rimet, the then FIFA President and one of the founders of the competition, from a Parisian jeweler for the inaugural World Cup in 1930. The trophy was a small, beautiful, golden statuette of Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, and was eventually renamed the “Jules Rimet Cup”.
Nike had been for thousands of years as a symbol. Twenty years before, in 1911, it had been used by Rolls Royce for its ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ figurine on their cars. Coincidently, an American shoe company adopted the goddess’s name a few months after the FIFA World Cup trophy was created.
There are very few genuinely new ideas in the world today. The skill is to take an existing idea, develop it, and make it relevant for whatever purpose is intended. FIFA needed a new trophy because it had been decided to make a permanent award of the Jules Rimet Cup to any country that had won it three times.
As luck would have it, the 1970 World Cup final was between Italy and Brazil, both two-time winners of the competition. Brazil beat Italy 4-1 in Mexico City and was therefore awarded the Jules Rimet Cup on a permanent basis.
The Design of The Trophy
For an Italian sculptor, working for an Italian company who aspired to make the new trophy, these conditions were not the most auspicious. FIFA then organized a design contest lasting two months in October 1970 to commission the new trophy, as was the standard practice in those days.
In January 1971, FIFA met in Athens but decided to extend the contest, as most companies that had been invited to pitch had been too busy fulfilling Christmas gift orders. 53 designs from seven countries were eventually received. The discarded designs haven’t survived but must have included some returned Christmas gifts, and over-sized fruit plates, the sort of thing other sports use as trophies.
Fortunately, Bertoni, a company from Milan with a long and distinguished record of trophy making, rose to the challenge and appointed their creative director to win the prize to create the ultimate prize in world football. Gazzaniga first started work at the age of 16 at the company in 1937 and was 50 when he found himself working on the pitch for the trophy. The trophy that would come to define his future career and eventually his whole persona. He became known as the ‘Father of the Cup’.
In his own words, “When you’re looking to create something really personal and unique you just start sketching, and you sketch, and sketch until you find something that you think might work.” Gazzaniga built on solid foundations. He adopted the iconic shape of the ‘victory’ symbol which had worked so well with the Jules Rimet Cup.
More importantly, Gazzaniga was able to re-work the ‘victory’ idea to make it fresh and contemporary. Even today, forty years after it was first made, the trophy still looks very modern. The ‘Ahaa!’ moment was beautifully expressed in the Italian language, again in Gazzaniga’s own words: “Uomo ingigantito dalla vittoria”. Man transformed into a giant by victory. It was a simple idea based on a universal human instinct. When a player scores a goal in the World Cup, look at any field of play, look at the fans celebrating in the stadium, or even the fans watching on television screens around the world, it’s exactly the same gesture.
The victory symbol is inspirational and aspirational. Gazzaniga captured, in solid gold, one of the most instinctive gestures of our civilization. It also has to be said that Bertoni’s submission didn’t rest on a solitary genius. Gazzaniga was a salaried employee and had the support of a big team behind him at Bertoni.
There was even, as you’d expect with Italians, a certain amount of harmonious creative conflict with the owners of the company, for example, as to whether the trophy should feature a football or a representation of the world. In order to have the best possible chance of winning the competition, Bertoni decided to make a life-size model of the trophy to accompany the pencil sketch that had to be submitted.
Winning the Pitch
However, the golden trophy was only made a long time after Bertoni actually won the pitch. What was taken to Zurich was a plaster model, and this had to be cast from the mold. There was no point presenting something that couldn’t actually be made, and also the FIFA pitch document had asked for an original and a replica to be used for exhibitions. So a plasticine model was first created, and it was from that the (negative) mold was made to create the final (positive) plaster model to send to FIFA.
The mold (for the copy of the trophy) was constructed on Gazzaniga’s kitchen table with the help of his 14-year-old son, Giorgio. In a design contest, by the time one finds an idea that is good enough, there isn’t much spare time left, and every moment needs to be exploited. Creating the shape, and, more importantly, a shape that could be made from a mold that would need to be cut in half, was not an easy task. Also, the surface texture of the trophy had to be just right.
The texture of the two figures that hold up the world was created with sandpaper, which, after some experiments, was deemed more suitable than cuttlefish bones. Yes, it all sounds low-tech, but the objective was to create a texture that would convey the endeavor and sacrifice needed to win such an important prize.
It was Gazzaniga’s style to create texture in his trophies. Like any great artist, he was exacting and therefore somewhat difficult to work with, but he had great respect for his fellow craftsmen, who turned his designs into real objects. And he typically afforded them the opportunity to show their hand with his creations. When, at last, the final plaster model of the new trophy was ready, it was packed in a wooden box and driven to FIFA headquarters, by the owners of the company.
When, at last, the final plaster model of the new trophy was ready, it was packed in a wooden box and driven to FIFA headquarters, by the owners of the company. The trophy’s first trip, the first leg of its ever-lasting journey, took it across the Italian border, over the Alps, along the shores of Lake Lucerne, and onto Zurich. It was, indeed, a beautiful journey for a beautiful trophy. The FIFA trophy approval committee was also quite exacting and requested a number of changes. One has to give the committee credit for making such an inspired and brave selection.
It was, of course, no ordinary committee, and consisted amongst others of the FIFA President, and also the FIFA Vice President, an Italian, who as President of the Italian Football Federation had bravely taken the Jules Rimet Cup from a bank vault in Rome during the war, and had hidden it in a shoebox under his bed to make sure the Nazis didn’t take it.
In 1971, the other great football in the world, the UEFA Champions League trophy, had just been redesigned and had been made huge partly so that it could be recognized on live television broadcasts. A classic, big, shiny metal cup would have been the easy and obvious option to choose, especially for a competition called the “World Cup”. Messrs Rous, Widerkehr, Baratti, Cavan, and Neuberger instead chose a smallish, very expensive, golden sculpture that wasn’t really a cup at all. And that’s one of the reasons the awareness of the trophy is so high - it’s just so different.
The FIFA Cup
Again, in Gazzaniga’s own words, “my FIFA World Cup Trophy isn’t really a cup it’s a trophy, because, after all, the world is round so the trophy had to have a convex shape.” Bertoni’s trophy proposal was accepted, after several rounds of voting by the trophy approval committee which met in Zurich on the 5th April 1971, and the rest is history.
The true beauty of the FIFA World Cup trophy only became apparent once it was cast in gold, polished and then lifted in triumph by the 1974 World Champions - West Germany. It’s the combination of celebrating athlete, moment, and golden sculpture that makes the trophy so achingly beautiful.
Three days before Italy won the 2006 World Cup final, Gazzaniga was working on a proposal for a plate to commemorate Italy’s victory. (If he had known Italy was going to win, he could have told everyone and spared everybody the agony of the penalties in the final). By that time, Gazzaniga knew the trophy so well that he only needed a few pencil strokes to draw its shape. Despite the simplicity of the sketch, it’s revealing to see that the work is just bursting with human endeavor.
There are people running, saving, scoring, doing brilliant things. And that, in a nutshell, was Gazzaniga’s style; he was brilliant at identifying what was appealing and engaging about humans engaged in sport. And in a small 37cm-high golden sculpture, he was able to express all this and celebrate the universal beauty of man’s competitive spirit. And that, in essence, is the idea behind one of the most powerful symbols of the modern world.
Although Gazzaniga won’t be watching when the trophy is raised after this year’s World Cup final, his name will be present at the trophy ceremony. FIFA, to their eternal credit, allowed Gazzaniga to sign the trophy. He did no, subtly, on its base, a fitting acknowledgment to the man who held up a mirror to our world, and showed us just how good and beautiful we can all be together - win or lose.
Worth Its Weight In Gold
The FIFA World Cup Trophy stands 36.8 cms tall with a base diameter of 12.5 cms. Overall it weighs 6175 grams (13.61 pounds) and has a gold content of 4927 grams (10.86 pounds) of 18 karat gold. The trophy is hollowed, since otherwise, being made of gold, it would be far too heavy to lift. The base of the trophy contains two layers of the dark green semi-precious stone malachite.
Given that it’s 18 karat gold (meaning 18 parts gold to 6 parts other metals, i.e. 75% gold), there are 3695.25 grams (118.8 troy ounces) of pure gold within the trophy. At a gold price of US$ 40 per gram at the time of writing, the gold within the World Cup Trophy has a current market value of approximately US$ 150,000. But as a unique sporting trophy, the FIFA World Cup Trophy is arguably priceless, so important that nowadays FIFA closely guards the original while presenting a replica to each winning country.
The choice of using gold to create the FIFA World Cup Trophy seems to have been a given. Nowhere within the history of the trophy or its design does it appear to be documented that there was any debate on what Gazzaniga’s design should be made of. The choice of using gold just appears to have been the natural choice for such a unique and important sporting prize.
But this is not surprising. For gold is rare and precious. Gold has inherent value. Gold has been revered in countless civilizations throughout history and has long been associated with the divine sphere. Gold symbolizes the pinnacle of human competition and achievement. Gazzaniga knew this when he designed the iconic trophy. FIFA knew this when they chose Gazzaniga’s unique design. Every footballer who has ever played in a World Cup dreams of this golden prize.
From 1974 to 2014, the FIFA World Cup trophy has been won 13 times. A unique quadrennial football event, in which thirteen elated winning captains have held aloft a World Cup made of gold, not any other metal. So a fourteenth captain did the same when the winner of the 2018 World Cup final. And the iconic trophy made of gold will again be in the spotlight, a “universal symbol” as Gazzaniga put it, “at the stirring moment of victory.”
FIFA actually first awarded winners the Jules Rimet Cup in 1946, named after the World Cup founder. But following a series of tumultuous events, in which the trophy was hidden during World War II, stolen in England, permanently given to Brazil, stolen again in 1983, FIFA commissioned a new World Cup Trophy - the one that exists today.
Given how many people handle the trophy after each final match, Italian company GDE Bertoni restores the trophy before it gets returned to FIFA for the next World Cup. At that point, the previous winning team members receive a gold-plated replica. Brazil is currently the team with the most FIFA World Cup victories, holding five championship wins, and is immediately followed by Italy and Germany with four wins to their names.