Soccer And Dictatorships: A Love Story

In the final, a young Czechoslovakian team having paraded to the competition’s climax, were primed to take “Copa Il Deuce” out of Italy. To ensure victory, Ivan Eklund was invited by Il Deuce for another “tactical talk,” in addition to a VIP box meeting hours before kick-off. Italy won the match easily; thus Mussolini had pulled off the perfect propaganda stunt. As a result, the world saw Italy as a unified nation full of joy after their emphatic victory. People celebrated the triumph in the streets, though unknowingly supporting the dictator and his fascist regime. These citizens were stuck in a bubble, in which they worshipped a media mogul. What made the scheme so brilliant was its “truth.” There was no air of uncertainty around football, as the masses saw who beat whom. The dictator’s regimented and technically brilliant side progressed to win the 1936 Olympic competition followed by the 1938 World Cup. To say Mussolini’s World Cup was a turning point in the regime’s success would be a great understatement, as the victory brought pride to Italians, thus the team’s success through the leader brought them unbridled love for their country, allowing Mussolini to rule until 1943.

Il Duce did not limit his fascist ideals to Italy, as he supported General Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War, which spanned from 1936-1939. The general defeated a weak Communist Party, and in essence was Spain’s leader before his official victory. Football’s governing body recognized the RFEF (Spanish FA) of Franco in 1937, two years before the world credited him with leading the massive Iberian nation. (FIFA recognizes Palestine as a country. Is this a sign of things to come?)

Franco’s nationalized sport according with the actions of other dictators. Santiago Bernabeu, a member of Real Madrid C.F. from his teenage days until his death, supported Franco‘s fascism. The rebel returned from France to aid Franco in battle. Being the disciplined individual he was, the rebel said, “The spectacle of a few sweaty youth must disappear and give way to a youth that is healthy in body and spirit.”  The Spanish dictator followed this path by creating the DND (Delegacion Nacional de Deportes de Falange Espanola Tradicionalista y de la JONS), a state run organization centralizing sport, which recommended that before each match, revolutionary chants of the war, such as, “Arriba Espana!” and “Viva Franco!” be echoed throughout the terraces.  To further his ego and supremacy Franco renamed “Copa del Rey” (Spain’s domestic football tournament) to “Copa del Generalisimo,” coinciding with Mussolini’s self-centeredness, which saw him put his nickname on the World Cup trophy. To further his domination of Spanish football, the famous red shirts were scrapped, in favor of a fascist blue strip, thus showing off Spain to the world as a united right-wing nation.

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