Next year, a century will have passed since the moment that a football World Cup became necessary and inevitable.
Uruguay arrived unheralded at the Paris Olympics of 1924, and cruised to the gold medal with a style and a swagger that astonished all those who saw them. That settled it: There had to be a football competition open to all, amateurs and professionals alike, to find out who was the best. The point was reinforced four years later when Uruguay successfully defended their title in Amsterdam. And so, in 1930, it was Uruguay who staged -- and won -- the inaugural World Cup.
Next year, unwittingly, by pure coincidence, football can celebrate the centenary of such an important moment. The Olympics will return to Paris in 2024. So, will football take a more conscious decision to value its own history? Will it choose to commemorate a hundred years of the World Cup in the same place that the competition was born?
This is the proposal of CONMEBOL, the South American confederation. Its president, Alejandro Dominguez, argues that the International Olympic Committee made a mistake by not honouring the 1996 centenary of its event in Athens. Football, he says, should not make the same blunder.
- Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga & more (U.S.)
But there is no way that Uruguay could stage a modern World Cup on its own. It is a small country, with a population of little more than three million, and the capital of Montevideo is the only city outsiders might know of.
The idea, then, is a joint bid. Uruguay are at the centre of the 2030 project, but neighbours Argentina would stage most of the games, with some also going to Chile and Paraguay. In the pipeline for some time, the South American bid for the 2030 World Cup was formally launched last week. But is it a serious contender?
The idea has undeniable romantic charm -- at least from a distance. In reality, the months of June and July can be uncomfortably cold in South America's southern cone, with the wind whipping off the River Plate making Uruguay especially inhospitable. But there are other, more serious concerns.
Originally CONMEBOL was pressing for the venue to be decided in 2021, to give more time for work to be carried out. This, of course, has not happened. The 2030 host will be chosen in 2024, leaving a mere six years of preparation time. Would that be enough?
Plenty of work would need to be carried out on stadiums and on general infrastructure. And there is the entire financial side to organise, clarifying the rights and obligations of both FIFA and the host countries. This can be complicated enough with one host. Trying to steer the necessary laws through four countries -- different parliaments, different currencies -- looks like a bureaucratic nightmare.
Moreover, this is a region of considerable political instability, where local populations would be within their rights to conclude that hosting a major sports event should not be a government priority. Memories are still fresh of the protests in Brazil that focused on the 2013 Confederations Cup, and cast a shadow over the World Cup the following year. A repetition of those scenes is certainly a possibility.
The spontaneous force of the protest movement took everyone by surprise in Brazil. The political class in its southern neighbours does not have the same excuse. Do they really want to expose themselves to that kind of risk?
And is the FIFA membership likely to be seduced by the idea of the World Cup going back to its roots? On one hand, the concept has obvious appeal. On the other, they might be put off by having yet another tournament in the Americas. Brazil, of course, had 2014, and with 2026 going to the USA, Canada and Mexico, a successful CONMEBOL bid would mean three World Cups out of five, and two in a row, going to the Americas. Some elsewhere on the planet might see that as too much of a good thing.
With the exception of the romantic idea of celebrating the centenary, then, there would not appear to be much to recommend the Uruguay-Argentina-Chile-Paraguay bid. Some insiders doubt that CONMEBOL has much hope of winning. At this stage, they suggest, the real aim is to play kingmaker later down the line, to accumulate support that could be a useful bargaining chip in future negotiations.
Time, of course, will tell. But even if it turns out that Uruguay cannot celebrate the centenary of the first World Cup on home soil, then at least next year's Paris Olympics will be a chance for new generations to be told the story of how, exactly a hundred years earlier, a team from their country not only won a gold medal but changed the entire course of sporting history.