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Sir Stanley Rous

(1895—1986) football referee and administrator


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(1895–1986) An influential football administrator who was secretary of the English Football Association (FA) and went on to be president of world football's governing body, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). Although not assuming the FIFA presidency until 1961, Sir Stanley Rous was an influential force in the game of association football after World War II, holding the post of secretary of the (English) Football Association from 1934 to 1961. Rous took over at FIFA in his mid sixties, the age at which most people retired, and he grasped this new challenge with typical energy and commitment. Walter Winterbottom, the first man to be appointed as manager of the England team, says that ‘in our own country he took us out of being an insular Association Football League and got us back into world football and this was tremendous’. Winterbottom also praised Rous's exceptional charm and diplomatic skills.

A son of the middle classes, Rous's father had planned for him to go to Emmanuel College, Cambridge. But, after service in Africa during World War I, Rous studied at St. Luke's College, Exeter, and then taught at Watford Grammar School. He was not born into the establishment but through football he became an establishment figure. For him, teaching and football were acts of public service. He played football at college, then in the Army during the War. Though he may have been good enough to play the game professionally, his commitment to amateur ideals denied him the chance to be paid for playing. Instead, in 1927 Rous became a referee of international repute. This is where he made his first impact on world football. His rewriting of the rules of the game in 1938 was immensely influential. In administration, he went on to modernize the English game, establishing a more efficient bureaucratic base, introducing teaching schemes for all levels of the game—coaching, playing, refereeing.

The FA had left FIFA in 1928 and Rous believed that it was time for Britain to be reintegrated with world football. In a paper which he presented to the Football Association, first drafted in May 1943, he claimed that the activities of the FA's War Emergency Committee had boosted football's international profile by fostering relations with government departments and by establishing links with influential people through cooperation with the armed forces. Recognizing that Britain's formal political empire was about to shrink dramatically, he saw in football a chance to retain some influence over world culture: ‘The unparalleled opportunity which the war years have given the Association of being of service to countries other than our own’, he wrote, ‘has laid an excellent foundation for post-war international development.’ A modernizer on the world stage, he remained nevertheless trapped in an anachronistic set of values. ‘We used to look upon it as a sport, as a recreation,’ he said in a BBC interview in the early 1980s. ‘We had little regard of points and league position and cup competitions. We used to play friendly matches, mostly. There was always such a sporting attitude and the winners always clapped the others off the field and so on.’ Ruefully he added, ‘That's all changed of course.’

Despite such a nostalgic sentiment Rous transformed the profile of England in the international sporting world. He was knighted for his contribution to the London 1948 Olympic Games, and was instrumental in getting the 1966 World Cup located in England. He was, however, concerned at the economic practices and interpersonal pressures which surrounded the bids of Argentina and Mexico to host the 1970 finals. To curb this, as FIFA president, he developed a planning cycle for the event, calling this ‘the long look ahead’, designed to give adequate notice to those committing themselves to such a major event. He wanted to give hosts the advantage of a twelve-year lead-in, and at FIFA's 1963 Congress in Tokyo, a future list for post-England 1966 was confirmed: Mexico 1970; West Germany 1974; Argentina 1978; Spain 1982. Colombia received the same twelve years of notice, at the end of Rous's presidency, for the 1986 finals (but ended up having to pull out). Rous foresaw the co-hosting role, and proposed that FIFA's long-term plan should envisage zoning the finals, suggesting that the event could be split up between three or four countries.

As the media profile of the modern game expanded, Rous was increasingly uncomfortable with the intrusiveness of the broadcast media, and the politics of the world game, and was defeated by the Brazilian Dr João Havelange in a vote for the presidency at the FIFA Congress of 1974. When he stood for re-election, claiming that he wanted ‘just a couple of years to push through some important schemes’, Rous either had a confidence which was misplaced, or he had miscalculated the institutional politics of FIFA. Ten years on he put his defeat down to the limitless ambitions of his rival: ‘I know what activity was being practised by my successor, the appeals that he'd made to countries’. The countries to which Havelange had appealed included the newly independent nations of Africa and Asia, some of whom Rous had offended in what were perceived as neocolonial positions on issues such as the South African question. For all Rous's forward thinking, his defeat by Havelange was a barometer of a changing international sporting politics, in which the aspirations of emerging and developing countries and the ambitions of new players in the international sporting economy combined to oust him.

From A Dictionary of Sports Studies in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.


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