Football and Fascism: The National Game under Mussolini

Football and Fascism: The National Game under Mussolini

Football and Fascism: The National Game under Mussolini

Football and Fascism: The National Game under Mussolini

Excerpt

Whether beyond or within the borders, sporting or not, we Italians shook,
and still shake with joy when seeing in these pure thoroughbreds, that over
whelm so many noble opponents, such a symbol of the overwhelming march
of Mussolini's Italians. Now the 'Tour' [de France] awaits us: the footballers
shirts are in the cyclists' bags as moral support and certain lucky charms. But
the strongest sign of the third, desired, hoped for, predicted victory is in the
unshakeable will with which, outside the country, Italy's athletes struggle and
win in the name of Mussolini. L. Ferretti, 'Uno, due (e tre?)'

The 1938 World Cup victory in France was the zenith of sporting achievement for Fascist Italy. As Lando Ferretti, Mussolini's press officer and one of Fascism's most prominent theorists of sport, suggested such successes were uniting the Italian diaspora behind the regime and symbolized the rise of the Fascist Italian nation.

Until this point, 'Italy' was a more accurate term for the geographical area united by the 1861 Risorgimento (Unification) than the 'Italian nation', which remained a disparate, disconnected entity, in need of physical and psychological integration. Post-unification governments lacked a critical sense of legitimacy among Italian citizens, who were alienated by geographic, economic and linguistic barriers. Their legitimacy was also severely impeded by the restrictive franchise and the failure of electoral turnout to register any more than 60 per cent between 1861 and 1886, which resulted in governments that 'represented' only a tiny minority of the population. There was a desperate need for something capable of tying the new nation into a communal identity.

Geographically and psychologically Italian society was estranged from itself as much as from the state, while analyses of the physical condition of the 'united' nation failed to improve the picture. Not surprisingly, for the malnourished masses, who were employed in backbreaking labour for gruelling hours, lived in desperately unsanitary conditions and experienced high rates of infant mortality, the pursuit of sport and physical recreation for health or leisure purposes was a low priority. Among the working and peasant classes there was simply not the time, money or will . . .

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