The man who dared to dream: Carlos Dittborn

Two South American countries had hopes of hosting the seventh FIFA World Cup: Argentina and Chile. Both presented their bids to the FIFA Executive Committee on 10 June 1956. Germany also put themselves forward as potential hosts, but the idea was unpopular as the previous two editions had both been held in Europe (Switzerland in 1954, Sweden in 1958) so they withdrew their bid. It seemed the 1962 tournament was due to return to South America.

Most of the signs pointed towards Argentina, passed over as hosts by FIFA in 1938, being chosen. Argentina’s representative Raúl Colombo was so convinced he would return to Buenos Aires having secured the hosting rights for his country that he closed his speech to FIFA with the words: “We have everything. We could organise a World Cup tomorrow.”

But Chile, supposedly invited to bid for the sole purpose of making up the numbers, counted a certain Carlos Dittborn, a 32-year-old diplomat who had been head of CONMEBOL for just under a year, among their delegation.

The Chilean daily El Mercurio reported Dittborn’s account of the moment he made his speech,  delivered in perfect English:  “Argentina had given a great long presentation of their proposal; they were offering seven stadiums for 100,000 spectators, hotels for the visiting fans, an underground rail network to transport millions of people. They made reference to the Olympics, crowed about their football... The brilliant speech lasted an hour and ten minutes, after which I took the stage. I only needed 15 minutes. I didn’t show any documents, I just briefly explained who we were and what we were like, and I invoked the letter and the spirit of article 2 of the FIFA Statutes, according to which the governing body’s function was to use the Jules Rimet Cup to promote football in less-developed countries. My argument contained only four points: our consistent record in attending the tournaments and congresses organised by FIFA; the institutional and political stability of our country; our nation’s tolerance of beliefs, races and other ideas and its sporting climate; and that article of the FIFA Statutes.”

[QUOTE Person="Carlos Dittborn" Phrase="Argentina's brilliant speech lasted an hour and ten minutes, after which I took the stage. I only needed 15 minutes."]

Legend has it that Dittborn closed his speech with the words “Because we have nothing, we will do everything.” This phrase was later displayed on the scoreboard of a stadium named after him in Arica. However, his son Pablo has tried to debunk the myth several times. On the 50th anniversary of his father’s death, he told the newspaper La Hora: “I asked my mother, Juanita, and she confirmed that my father had never said those words, but that they formed the title of an interview in El Mercurio.”

The book Historias secretas del fútbol chileno by Juan Cristóbal cites an anecdote from that congress in Lisbon concerning Dittborn’s right-hand man, Juan Pinto Durán. According to Dittborn: “The funniest thing that happened was this. The Venezuelan delegate was distracted and didn’t hear that he was being called. After Venezuela were called for the third time without answering, Juan Pinto Durán couldn’t contain himself and stood up, shouting “Chile!”, that is, making the Venezuelans’ choice for them. The laughter in the Congress hall brought the Venezuelan delegate to his senses, and he gave his vote, amid joshing from the hall.”

A run of bad luck before the World Cup

Sunday, 22 May 1960. The cool calm of the afternoon belied the unimaginable destruction that was about to hit Valdivia, as it suffered the most powerful earthquake ever recorded. Measuring 9.5 on the Richter scale, it left 2,000 dead, and almost 2,000,000 people (a quarter of the population of Chile) were affected.

Dittborn contacted the Chilean president, Jorge Alessandri, offering to return all the government money that had been given for the World Cup. Instead of taking him up on this, Alessandri told him that the Chilean people needed the distraction of a footballing fiesta and that it should go ahead. With a huge amount of effort and some external support, four host cities were confirmed: Arica, Viña del Mar, Santiago and Rancagua. Five others had to be dropped from the plans: Antofagasta, La Serena, Valparaíso, Talca and Concepción.

The three men behind Chile 1962 – Carlos Dittborn, Juan Pinto and Ernesto Alvear – had been dubbed “the Three Musketeers”. But when the earthquake struck, they had been reduced to two as Juan Pinto had died in November 1957 - hit by a car as he was changing a tyre on his own vehicle. The tragedies multiplied as Alvear’s daughters were also involved in a car accident in May 1962, but the most shocking event occurred on 28 April of that year - just 32 days before the kick-off of the tournament.

Having taken no breaks from his relentless work schedule - despite doctors’ warnings - Carlos Dittborn Pinto died of acute pancreatitis at just 38 years of age. The whole of Chile mourned the loss of this visionary man who did not live to see his dream become reality.

In May 1962, shortly after his death, the magazine Vea wrote this tribute: “It is wrong to attribute his achievement to a few nicely turned words – it was actually thanks to his overwhelming enthusiasm, his limitless tenacity and his contagious optimism.”

Chile had its World Cup, the streets were filled with celebrating fans when they won the match for third place, and the country demonstrated that, even with nothing, they really could do everything.