Soccer And Dictatorships: A Love Story

Mussolini used the terraces and his nation’s youth to install his power. Il Duce saw the stadium as a cathedral. It was the one place where people united to drive on one cause. Therefore, Mussolini began to build an arena in 1926, as the Littoriale was erected in Bologna. The city’s team incurred success, leading to the construction of the Giovanni Berta in Florence. In addition, Mussolini strived to bring back the glory days of the ancient republic‘s muscular athletes. Thus he created the Fascist Youth, a program strongly based around the principles of discipline and organization. Uber Gradella played for Lazio, a football club in Rome, from 1939-1948, as a goalkeeper. In the BBC documentary Football and Fascism, the Italian said that he was, “indoctrinated and brainwashed,” along with other Youth members, for whom only soccer remained.

With his soccer theatres and influence in place, Il Duce was honored with the privilege of hosting the second FIFA World Cup. Italy 1934 was a concrete opportunity for his rule to gain popularity on a massive scale. A former newspaper editor, Il Duce was able to harness the power of media with exceptional grace. His press secretary equivalent, Lando Ferretti, created the Order of Journalists to control the information distributed to the Italian people. In fact, the writers themselves were better known than Mussolini’s prized eleven. The papers gave the people much pride, as only positive news was comprehended by them, thus they felt they were part of an immaculate and superior society. Mussolini furthered this overweening attitude, saying, “With the Deuce one is never lost; neither will we lose today,” before England drew 1-1 with Italy in 1933. Tying media and sport into politics, the perfect storm for Mussolini to get the willful backing of the Italian state was conjured.

The people’s game, a simple recreational activity was brought to its fascist zenith at Italy 1934. The host’s XI were among the best in the world. They breezed through the group stage, demolishing the U.S. 7-1 in the process. However, the Italian side was less convincing, as the competition progressed. Mussolini was there to cover for his lacking team to ensure they would win the “Copa Il Deuce.” The dictator handpicked each referee for Italy’s matches, which became evident in their quarterfinal match with Spain. Reports state the match’s officials were fired upon arrival for their poor performance. In the semi-final, Italy slated to take on the Wunderteam. Led by Hugo Michel, the Austrian side is considered one of the best ever to play the game. Mussolini had no fear of defeat after having the young Swedish referee, Ivan Eklund, over for dinner on the eve of the match. The two are said to have spoken about “tactics.” Josef Bican of Austria told the BBC, “Michel knew the games were rigged,” as did the rest of the team. Eklund clearly favored Italy. Bican noted that he played a ball down the right flank, which the official headed out of Italian territory. With the official on their side, the Italian’s win at all-costs strategy proved effective. Video from the match shows Austrians blatantly fouled, while play was allowed to continue. Similar to the football teams immaculate behavior, the Italians began to believe that the regime could do no wrong.

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