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These Five Objects Tell the Story of Soccer

Take an exclusive look inside the new FIFA World Football Museum in Zurich

A rainbow of jerseys from all over the world greets the museum's visitors. (FIFA World Football Museum collection)
The FIFA World Football Museum opened in Zurich, Switzerland on Sunday. (FIFA World Football Museum)
The museum took three years to plan and cost nearly $140 million to build. (FIFA World Football Museum collection)
The bulk of the museum's exhibits focus on the sport's past. (FIFA World Football Museum collection)

Visitors to the new FIFA World Football Museum in Zurich, Switzerland, which opened Sunday, will be greeted not by one of the sport’s iconic black-and-white spheres, but by a five-ton rainbow. A collection of 209 jerseys collected from FIFA teams all around the world, arranged by color, illustrates soccer's global reach.

It's all part of a museum that took three years to plan and cost nearly $140 million to build. David Ausseil, the creative director of the museum, says its goal is to create a place that soccer fans everywhere would love to see. "It is the world that made football what it is today," he tells Smithsonian.com. "Our museum shows the rich heritage of the game and how football connects and inspires the world." 

Though hints of soccer's embattled present are visible throughout the museum, the bulk of the exhibits focus on the sport's past. A visit to the museum begins on a ground floor appropriately named "Planet Football." Visitors start their journey through the history of soccer with a timeline that tells the story of the game, from its birth in England during the 19th century through today. Other walls are taken over by LED screens that show film of children and adults—beginners and skilled players alike—kicking soccer balls in slow motion.

The second level of the museum, which is underground, explores FIFA's founding in 1904 and the pledge the founders made to take the game from the British Isles to the world. The main room hosts a glittering array of FIFA World Cup trophies, each accompanied by an artist's poster commissioned for the museum. Giant screens play the greatest moments from World Cups, and a special cinema shows a short film mashup in which players from different World Cups kick the ball in a seemingly seamless soccer game of historic greats.

From there, visitors can watch soccer enthusiasts share their stories of the game. "We tried to make the stories amusing or thought-provoking," Ausseil says. The floor of this room is made of green and white lines—a testament to just how deeply soccer has invaded people's lives.

FIFA has faced a rough road of late. Preparations for the museum, which is housed in the iconic 1970s “Haus zur Enge” in Zurich-Enge, started in 2013 and were signed into being by then-president Joseph "Sepp" Blatter. The permanent exhibit's concept was produced before the United States indicted 30 current and former FIFA officials and associates on charges of corruption. Blatter himself was among those in power ousted on charges, which included "criminal schemes involving well over $200m...in bribes and kickbacks," as the BBC reports. But things might be looking up. The organization just elected a new president, Gianni Infantino, and early reviews of the museum have been positive. As the Guardian wrote, it's a "nerds’ nirvana untouched by [the scandal's] grubby reality."

The museum does plan to include the recent scandal within its educational scope. "We know the public will want to ask us what happened, what FIFA did and how it is mending, and what are the new things that FIFA is putting in place," Ausseil tells Smithsonian.com. During the opening ceremony, Infantino spoke about reforms that will be implemented in the organization. In the future, the museum says it will also hold lectures on FIFA's corruption in its conference rooms.

For Ausseil, his favorite object in the collection is the rainbow, as it represents the universal bonds forged by the sport. Here's an exclusive glimpse at five of Ausseil's other favorite artifacts from the museum—objects that show the sport's colorful impact on the world.

The Jules Rimet Cup (France, 1930)

(FIFA World Football Museum Collection)

The Jules Rimet Cup is the trophy awarded to the winner of the World Cup. "It's the absolute dream," Ausseil tells Smithsonian.com. "Any footballer wants to win it. The World Cup is the pinnacle of soccer. This trophy is the first symbol for the first winners of the event back in 1930, and that’s the first reason why I chose it."

The 1930 cup’s story doesn’t end there: It was stolen twice, first in England in 1966 and then in Brazil in 1983. One of FIFA's historians found the object now on display—a piece of lapis lazuli, a semi-precious stone that was part of the trophy's base in 1930—in an old box while doing research in the FIFA archives.

"The golden part is a copy, but the base is the real one," Ausseil tells Smithsonian.com. "Against all odds, here is a genuine piece of the 1930s Cup."

About Jackie Mansky

Jacqueline Mansky is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles. She was previously the assistant web editor, humanities, for Smithsonian magazine.

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