Introduction-The Olympic Games and the World Cup
In the approach to the World Cup hosted for the first time by Russia in 2018, this is the first in a series of blogs about how poster designs, and other commercial marketing techniques, such as mascots and trademarked goods promote the tournament, even to those who are not fans of football.
The historical development of official World Cup posters provide a fascinating insight into the growth of the world’s most popular sport. There were important continuities with the modern Olympic Games, which were inaugurated in 1896 in Athens. From 1908, the Olympic Games staged a small but influential football tournament, out of which the World Cup eventually developed. Formed in 1904, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), football’s world governing body, agreed to recognise the Olympic tournament as a world championship for amateurs following the very well attended matches in Stockholm in 1912. The inter-war period included a particularly well-attended series of matches at the 1920 Antwerp Olympic Games, won by Belgium. Uruguay won the Olympic tournaments in 1924 (Paris) and 1928 (Amsterdam).
The First World Cup and An Invented Tradition of Home Advantage
The first FIFA World Cup was hosted and won by Uruguay in 1930. This invented a tradition whereby home advantage seemed to be conferred upon the hosts but this was by no means a guarantee. Uruguay’s victory coincided with centenary celebrations of the first Uruguayan constitution, and ten matches showcased the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo, built specially for the tournament. There were seven South American and two North American squads, and only four of the thirteen teams were European (Belgium, France, Romania and Yugoslavia).
Local artist Guillermo Laborde designed an oil painting of a goalkeeper rising to tip the ball over the crossbar and, in so doing, set a tradition of winning a public competition to have his design reproduced as a World Cup poster. The original painting became a national treasure and an original in the Uruguay Museo Nacional de Artes Visuales (national art museum) has been restored and conserved recently.
Images courtesy of the National Football Museum
The Loneliness of the Goalkeeper
The Guillermo Laborde curvilinear design for the first World Cup poster in 1930 resonates with contemporary graphic and industrial trends. With a population around 2 million people in 1930, the Uruguayan economy had begun increasingly to industrialise. President José Batlle y Ordóñez had a major influence in the establishment of a circle of fine art, and business interests known as the Circulo de Bellas Artes in Montevideo in 1905. Studios were established for the graphic and decorative arts, architecture and construction and Circulo teachers included Laborde (1886-1940) who had already exhibited his work publicly.
Circulo graduates formed the core of Uruguay’s planismo movement, so-called because it derived from Cézannes techniques of building up an image with levels of opposing planes. However, natural forms including animals and plants were strong influences in Uruguyan art deco, which influenced the buildings of Montevideo in the 1920s and 1930s and design of the World Cup poster. As well as the construction of Estadio Centenario in just nine months, the iconic Palacio Salvo had been finished in 1929, and was, at that time, South America's tallest building.
The 1930 Laborde World Cup poster incorporated planismo elements, with layered contrasts of typography and the crossbar. Meanwhile, the sinuous goalkeeper provides a strong human diagonal element. We see his loneliness and isolation. The design translated to other artifacts like enameled pins and posters were reproduced in both colour and monochrome for matches. All of these items are now highly sought after collectibles. There were many stamps, programmes, ticket stubs, medals, pins, cards and other memorabilia from the first World Cup, many of which can be seen on display at the National Football Museum in Manchester. This remained a trend throughout the following tournaments with some very practical artefacts and others more decoratively embellished.
Why a Poster?
Firstly, the process of hosting a World Cup was partly reflected in the design of the poster, and social, economic and political concerns often influenced both the style and topical motifs used by the artist. Secondly, the idea of a football world championship fed into larger debates about a particular nation’s place in the global economic, political and social order. So, the posters reflected the hosts self-image, to both domestic and international audiences. World Cup posters, like Olympic artworks, and their antecedents (including cheap paper bills circulated by hand), acted as both public service announcements and metaphors for spectacle.
The development of World Cup competition out of the Olympic Games helps to explain the centrality of designing a poster as integral to the cultural identity of sporting spectacle. Posters spoke those who did not necessarily share the language of the host country and the integration of text and image became part of football’s visual lexicon. Easily read at a distance, and graphically simple so that those travelling at speed could absorb information, posters simultaneously announced forthcoming events but also spread ideas. World Cup posters distilled in typography and image complex metaphors for the host nation, the cities in which games were played and football as a world-wide cultural industry. On the one hand the host country defined, projected, and invited an international audience to participate in their celebration of football. On the other hand, regional stakeholders of various kinds had to be involved as paying spectators; local venues for the games and as suppliers of tourism services.
Whereas the Olympic Games are a multi-sport, mixed gender tournament held in a single venue, a World Cup is a quite different marketing spectacle, as a single sport, single-gender event held across cities, and, more recently by more than one nation. The visual lexicon of World Cups therefore diverge from Olympic history, with strong elements of civic self-identification for the host cities, as they simultaneously present themselves to an international audience, and to local or regional consumers. France will host the Women’s World Cup in 2019 and the branding will be quite different. This combines design history and commercial display, blending sport, politics, industrial graphics, cultural geography and national representation. But there are also strong and relatively under explored links with fine art, and high culture.
Posters have played a key role in publicizing the World Cup since its inception and, as interest in the event burgeons to new host countries, so has the sophistication of graphic design. Historians have largely neglected the confluence of these aspects of football’s history, and particularly the visual aesthetic of world sport. This extended to representations of each venue, local transport systems and related ephemera. In today’s diverse and instantaneous social and mainstream media environment, posters play an important part in setting the tone, and brand, of each World Cup. They have also become more of an aesthetic and commercial statement than a functional one, because basic information such as the times and dates of matches can be obtained elsewhere. So following blog posts will ask: what values and structures of power in visual representation have World Cup posters signified historically? How have the design features of graphic representation shaped the identity of the World Cup over time?