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Fascism and Football: How Italy won the 1934 and 1938 World Cup

7.45K   //    20 May 2014, 23:22 IST
1934 World Cup
“I may have let in four goals, but at least I saved their lives.”

Europe went through considerable political change during the 20th century. From monarchy to democracy, to the rule of church and despotism, it seemed like every political ideology was tested in the particular continent.

Fascism, Nazism and similar ideologies basically share an explicit socialist collectivist core. This targeted subjugating individuals as part of the ‘mass’. The government ensured that every individual dances to their tune but the person could not object to it as he/she sees that everyone else was doing it too. Hence the citizens were subjugated into being a choreographed mass.  Each human being was just a tiny screw in the huge machinery, collectively toiling for the government.

Football was the sport of the masses, and three fasicst leaders- Mussolini, Hitler and Franco- knew very well how much they could benefit from propaganda through the sport- they could show the world exactly what their nation was made of. Through manipulation, coercion and corruption, the three exploited the popular appeal of football.

Slow to industrialise, Italy was a latecomer to football. The nation won the First World War but remained highly disgruntled with the ‘sub-par’ treatment given to her by her Allies. Inadequate governments coupled with the threat of communism, fueled the rapid rise to power of Mussolini and the fascist regime.

Having established his dictatorship, Benito Mussolini now focused his interest into marshaling the nation behind the administration. Sport was something that belonged to the masses as it didn’t just involve the people who were playing in the centre, but also the ones watching from the sidelines and rooting for their favorite, the people who were just as much part of the game as the ones actually fighting to get the win. The supporters are often referred to as the 12th man in the game, and Mussolini was quick to understand this.

Il Duce didn’t take interest in the game nor was enthusiastic about it, but he understood that football could prove to be something he could boast about on the world stage. He recognized that as the sport of the masses, he could use football to persuade the masses and tilt and modify their opinion. The government needed popular support. Mussolini and his fascist party established the Italian League, Serie A. He knew that by doing so, he could instill a sense of nationalism and partisanship as the league would eventually help in making players good enough to compete with the best.  The 1926 Viareggio Charter turned football into a fascist game. Led by the head of Bolognese Fascism, Leandro Arpinati, the Federation began revolutionising the game.

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