Today we are joined by Philippe Vonnard, Senior SNSF Researcher at the University de Lausanne, and the author of Creating a United Europe of Football: The Formation of UEFA (1949-1961) (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020). In our conversation, we discussed the role UEFA played in the production of European identity, the global origins of the European confederation, and how European sports bureaucrats were able to navigate the Cold War.
In Creating a United Europe of Football, Vonnard explains the rise of UEFA through a close examination of the rarely utilized UEFA archives. His work pushes past a prosopography of European football bureaucrats – such as Stanley Rous, Ottorino Barassi, Ernst Thommen – and instead situates UEFA’s emergence in the rise of the global football and the Cold War. He argues that rather than simply a movement of European football officials, UEFA was also inspired by the South American confederation (CONMEBOL, founded 1916) provided an impetus and model for UEFA.
Vonnard does not shy away from the details of the FIFA Executive: he shows how debates over the reorganization of FIFA necessitated the creation of a European confederation to promote officers to the Executive Committee. A new cadre of European football officials, however, opted for a more expansive confederation with independent financial resources rather than a minimalist association organized only to decide that limited question. A more extensive UEFA fought alongside and with FIFA as a major sports stakeholder.
UEFA’s professionalism and scope expanded over the 1950s as it responded to issues and opportunities. As UEFA organized a ever wider series of competitions, it crowded out nascent challenges to its control over European football. It succeeded where other political, cultural, and economic unions failed, producing a genuine European-wide organization that formed and operated successfully across the Cold War East-West divide. Vonnard explains the qualities of leadership and strategies that made possible their achievements.
Creating a United Europe of Football is a fascinating work from an important francophone sports historian. Now in English translation it provides a compelling read for people interested in the continental conversations about football’s role in European identity and the rise of sports diplomacy during the Cold War.
There is also a free French version pour les francophones. https://www.peterlang.com/view/title/65151
Keith Rathbone is a senior lecturer at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. He researches twentieth-century French social and cultural history. His book, entitled Sport and physical culture in Occupied France: Authoritarianism, agency, and everyday life, (Manchester University Press, 2022) examines physical education and sports in order to better understand civic life under the dual authoritarian systems of the German Occupation and the Vichy Regime. If you have a title to suggest for this podcast, please contact him at email@example.com.
Keith Rathbone is a Senior Lecturer at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. He researches twentieth-century French social and cultural history.