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In the first few decades of the twentieth century, football was quickly becoming the world’s most popular sport, particularly in Latin America and Europe. This resulted in politics and sports becoming more intertwined than ever before. At the same time, right-wing political movements were becoming more popular in Latin America and Europe. Benito Mussolini made use of the Italian people’s love of football to bolster his fascist political movement by linking himself to the national team and influencing games, insuring Italian victory in the 1934 and 1938 World Cups.
In his book, Football and Fascism, Simon Martin describes the relationship between the Italian government and the Italian people that allowed for Mussolini’s right-wing movement to gain such traction. After the 1861 ‘Risorgimento’ (unification), the governments lacked legitimization because of geographic, economic, and linguistic barriers. The Italian attempts at government were only loosely connected to the people; a disorganized election system resulted in low voter turnout in the late nineteenth century, meaning that governments only represented a small minority of Italian people. Even though Italy won the First World War, Italy still was troubled by inadequate governments, and now the threat of communism. These fueled the rapid rise to power of Mussolini and the fascist regime. Before Mussolini, Italy was not unified. Martin argues that there was a desperate need for something capable of tying the new nation into a communal identity. For Italy, that was football and fascism. 
Italy was slow to industrialize, so football caught on later than most of Europe. For the lower class, who were working long and grueling hours, living in unsanitary conditions, and having few surviving children, recreational sports were not a priority. Among peasant classes, there was not enough time or money to play football. Soon, Italy began to catch up with the rest of the world. Workers started making more money, having leisure time, and earning enough for a disposable income. Nevertheless, there was still a gap in the market between demand for recreational activities and provisions for recreational activities, due to the failure of the liberal Italian governments, the Catholic Church, and the Socialist-Labor movement to respect sport and physical recreation, and appreciate their potential for mass socialization of society that Italy needed. 
Fascism traditionally leans towards more classical scholarly sports, like fencing and motorsports. Italian fascists, unlike the liberals, were quick to understand the mass appeal of football, even though they were not very excited by the game themselves. Mussolini’s regime institutionalized football as a fascist game in 1926 with the Viareggio Charter, intending to use its mass appeal to connect the Italian sense of identity that was tied to football to the regime. The regime financially and organizationally invested into football, improving performance at the Olympic Games, and resulted in a more disciplined structure capable of producing skilled Italian footballers capable of playing at the highest international level. 
When Italy was awarded to host the 1934 World Cup, Mussolini took this opportunity to show off his nation’s mettle through the organization of the event and the reformed Italian national teams skill. Italy’s performance off the pitch was classy; Mussolini was able to plan and control the organization of the competition ahead of time. However, he could not guarantee stellar performance on the pitch. He still made sure he had the ultimate say in his nation’s world cup skill. Referees were bribed, and corruption was rampant and obvious. Italy won their first match against the USA 7-1, and moved on to the quarterfinals against Spain. Spain played a valiant game and made the corrupted referee’s jobs extremely difficult, such that Spain forced Italy to a rematch. One referee in particular was especially in Mussolini’s pocket. René Mercet was a Swiss referee who turned an obvious blind eye to all rules that Italy broke. Mussolini ensured victory over Spain by having Mercet officiate the replay against Spain. The Italians then moved on to face Austria’s Wunderteam fn in the semi-finals. The night before that match, Mussolini personally had dinner with another Swedish referee, Ivan Eklind, who would be the one to officiate the semi-finals. Italy narrowly scraped by with a 1-0 victory over the Wunderteam. Austrian Center-forward Josef Bican played in that match, and until his death in 2001, swore that Eklind had been paid by Mussolini. During the game, Bican sent a ball to the right wing, which was intercepted by Eklind and headed to an Italian player. The one goal that was scored that match was scored by Enrique Guiata, who scored offside, but the officials ruled his goal was legitimate. In the moments leading up to the goal, Italian players were seen pushing the Austrian goalkeeper into the back of the net. Eklind was called back to officiate the final against Czechoslovakia. He was invited into the Fascist VIP box before the match began. Italy won 2-1 in extra time, securing the title of 1934 World Cup champions. For Italy, it was more than just a win. Italians won the cup on home terrain, and Mussolini got what he wanted, which was to show off his country on the world stage. Mussolini’s propaganda had won him the World Cup; the moment the Italian team won the finals, the fascist anthem ‘Giovinezza’ played throughout the stadium. 
Italy benefitted hugely from winning the World Cup in 1934. Whenever a nation wins a World Cup —especially on home terrain— that country’s people become very proud of their country. Since Mussolini had already linked his movement to Italian football, it was easy for him to turn the Italian patriotism into support for his pro-Italy fascist movement. 
The 1934 World Cup win ushered in a new era for the Italians, confirming the emergence of a new generation that would end up dominating international football for the rest of the decade. Italy continued to flaunt its prowess in the 1936 Olympics, when a team of university students won the gold medal, which is the highest award for an amateur team. Italian clubs also dominated in Europe, with Bologna FC winning the Coppa d’Europa in 1932 and 1934, and then proceeding to claim the Paris Exhibition tournament trophy in 1937. These victories increased regime support because they increased Italian nationalism, partly because the victories were achieved use a unique Italian play style, which the Italians were obviously very proud of. Mussolini continued to bolster his movement using the patriotism gained from having such a successful Italian football scene. 
Mussolini’s World Cup was obviously a huge success. Besides confirming that the azzurri was one of the strongest football teams in the world, the tournament allowed fascist Italy to project itself as an advanced, first world, welcoming country, fully capable of hosting huge and expensive events. Any positive news reports from other European countries were put into the Italian press for two purposes. First, to inspire pride in Italians and sell the regime’s achievements to them, and second, to make the claim for another, possibly larger event in the further, such as the Olympic Games, which Mussolini “coveted with a passion”. As Italian columnist Bruno Roghi wrote in La Gazzetta,
“the spontaneous and most heartfelt statements of our foreign colleagues are more than sufficient to show that Mussolini’s Italy – that was once Little Italy of all improvisations and apologies – has organized the festival of football with style, flexibility, precision, even the courtesy and the meticulousness that indicate an absolute maturity and preparedness . . . For this, the Italian Football Federation is worthy of Fascist sport not only by virtue of the primacy reached on the fields of the eight superb stadia, but because it knew how to guarantee the perfect functioning of the massive organizational task.”
The fascist operated Italian press exploited the victory to the highest degree, setting it in the image of national struggle and football patriotism. Roghi compliments Italy’s amazing work on organizing such a flawless event, pandering towards Mussolini and his constituents. This would make them feel proud of their movement, and they would know that they are doing the right thing for their country. Roghi continued to expand on just how amazing Italy was in the world cup in his article called ‘Soldati dello sport’ (soldiers of sport), writing,
“They are rare, the rarest of matches in which you see the metamorphosis of the players, no longer little colored boys who go about their work, with the ball at their feet, but little, gallant soldiers that fight for an idea that is greater than them but who work for the divine unknown, that is the genius of the soldier on the charge. They are the matches, in other words, where not one squad of eleven men but a race shows itself with its feelings and instincts, its anger and its ecstasy, its character and attitude. The game that the Italians won at that stadium was this type of match.”
Roghi writes in a highly enthusiastic way, which would further excite loyal Italian fascists, and show what could be achieved if everybody worked together. Rough refers to the players as soldiers in this specific type of game, fighting for Italy. This would not only make a La Gazzetta reader make the connection between the Italian team and Italy, but between the Italian team and the fascist government, which is responsible for organizing the entire event. Roghi’s two writings are the exact thing that Mussolini wants to show his people because it excites them about their team, their country, his movement, and the future of Italy.
The fascist’s football golden age continued into the 1938 France World Cup. For Mussolini, much was on the line. Europe was on the brink of the Second World War, and it was anticipated any second. For Mussolini, the 1938 World Cup was an ideal place to improve Mussolini’s standing in the world, for the Allies to take him as seriously as Hitler, and for Hitler to take him more seriously. Mussolini had been opportunity to do just that in the 1938 World Cup. All he had to do was have Italy keep its World Champion title. Mussolini was greeted in France by French socialists, communists, and Italian anti fascists that either fled or were exiled. The quarter finals were played against France, but there was a minor conflict with what kits the teams would be wearing. The French home kit is blue shorts and a blue jersey, which is the same as the Italian away kit. Since France was hosting, Italy was required to switch to its alternate kit, with both a white jersey and white shorts. This was considered a win for those against Mussolini’s regime, as they believed they had Mussolini cornered, because he would be embarrassed by his teams all white look. Mussolini instead had his team wear an all black kit, symbolizing his fascist paramilitary. Mussolini turned around what would have been an embarrassment for him entirely. Italy beat France 3-1, further boosting support from his loyal fascist supporters. For Mussolini winning this World Cup was so important for enhancing his perception that he threatened his own national team with death if they did not win. In a telegram that he sent before the finals, he wrote just three words, “Vincere o morire!”fn which translates into English “Win or die!” Even though death is a commonly thrown around threat that may have lost some meaning, in this context, from a person who is known for regularly purging or murdering people who did not believe in his ideologies, it should not be ruled out that this is a literal threat that would have been carried out. Luckily, the Italians beat the favorites, Hungary, in the finals, 4-2. The Hungarian goalkeeper Antal Szabó said after the match, “I may have let in four goals, but at least I saved their lives.”fn For Mussolini, this each game of the World Cup was a battle, and he won.
This was not the only time that Mussolini used violent language to bolster his political movement. In a speech he gave in Rome, he said, “We were great when we dominated the seas. Rome won’t be able to rebuild its empire until we destroy Carthage again!”fn Mussolini refers to a famous quote by an ancient Roman censor named Cato. Rome and Carthage are ancient rivals, and calling for the destruction of Carthage alludes to a time when Rome was a European superpower. Mussolini is almost saying that he wants to ‘make Italy great again’, since its global presence has declined since the fall of the Roman empire. Mussolini calls for violence to further bolster his fascist movement. 
In 1926, Mussolini’s fascist party began to intervene in calcio because they saw opportunity where no other political party did. They saw football as the biggest mass cultural leisure time activity in the country. As players, newspaper readers, and spectators, the Italians had made the game their own. Mussolini saw football as a ready made opportunity to mass mobilize society by linking his regime to the sport, constructing a sense of Italian identity and community among the masses, legitimizing his rule like no Italian government could successfully do before him. 

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