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The Pride of Fascism: How Benito Mussolini used Sport as Propaganda

Tim Kraus
Core Capstone Project for GST 357A Rome.
Thursday May 7, 2015

As a Communications Major at Elon University, I understand the importance of

presenting ones message in a clear, effective manner. When attempting to articulate a
thesis, it is important to help your audience envision the setting and tone of your
argument. While it is certainly possible to do so in a traditional research paper, using
visual aids can help add to an argument, and present information in a more palatable way.
In a paper, one can discuss the AS Roma SS Lazio rivalry and the atmosphere present at
matches between the teams, however it is more effective for the audience to visualize
actual images from the games. Since most of my research was about highly covered
historical events I thought presenting this information in the form of a documentary was
the best option. The goal of the documentary was to allow viewers to physically see how
Benito Mussolinis fascist regime used football as a means of propaganda.
Thesis of my project
Benito Mussolini understood the power that sport played in society. His regime
worked to enhance the success of Italys sports heroes, and used their accomplishments as
a means of propaganda to instill national pride in Italys people. Yet to do so involved
corrupt methods and overlooking some of fascisms principles.

The legality of my work

Every aspect of my documentary is legal. The video footage I used came from
two sources: a soccer website called Coppa90 and BBCs Documentary titled Football
and Fascism. I received expressed written approval from Coppa90 to use the websites
footage of a 2013 AS Roma - SS Lazio match for academic purposes. The video
segments I took from the BBC documentary were originally from a now defunct Italian

source called Luce. The footage I used was solely from the 1934 World Cup, and thus is
in now in the public domain. The pictures I used in my documentary were taken from the
Internet, but fall under Fair Use as I am using my documentary for academic purposes,
and do not intent to receive payment for my work. The background music is from a
website called FirstCom, which the Elon University School of Communications has a
paid subscription for; any communications student can use songs from the website in
his/her academic projects.
My documentary opens in the ESPN Films 30 for 30 style, where the narrator
asks several what if I told you questions to set the mood. After the intro, my
documentary follows the Ken Burns style, where Ill focus on videos and images with
The Pride of Fascism, a Tim Kraus Documentary
What if I told you that a peoples national and regional pride would be linked to the
success of their sports team?
That winning a World Cup would be glorified in one country, but disputed elsewhere?
What if I told you that a government would create one of sports great rivalries?
What if I told you that men the representing the success of a national system, were not all
born in that nation?
That members of a losing team would become national heroes?
What if I told you that it was all part of a dictators plan?
That his actions would set a precedent for historys most infamous figure to follow?

Part I: Roma vs. Lazio

The Stadio Olimpico in Rome Home to two of Italys top teams. Since 1953,
AS Roma and SS Lazio have shared the stadium, and one of the greatest rivalries in
Italian football (Foot 2006). The derby della Capitale is one of the biggest sporting
events in Rome each year. Fans of these teams hate each other, and allegiance to one
club is often part of a modern Romans identity (Testa and Armstrong 2010).
However, something that todays fans dont focus on is the history behind the
rivalry. This great clash of Italian football was created by Benito Mussolinis fascist
regime (Foot 2006).
In October of 1922, Mussolini and members of his National Fascist Party
marched on Rome, and demanded the resignation of the liberal Prime Minister
(Cannistraro 1972). A few days later, Mussolini was appointed as Italys new Prime
Minister, with the expectation of restoring law and order to the country. In the coming
years, Mussolini and his Fascist regime would come to control all aspects of Italian life.
Mussolini would often use propaganda to achieve his goals (Cannistraro 1972).
Benito Mussolini and his regime wanted to restore the glory of Rome, making the
capitol city the hub of Italian pride (Nelis 2008). He presented himself as the new
Augustus, and like Roman Emperors of the past, he understood the power of
entertainment (Futrell 1997). Not unlike the ancient Romans, 20th-century Italians
enjoyed sport and athletic competition. Football was their favorite pastime (Foot 2006).
Following the First World War, teams from Italys north dominated the game.
Northern clubs from Turin, Milan, Genoa, and Piedmont won Italys championship

annually (McComb 2004). This of course did not fit Mussolinis vision of having Rome
as the hub of a fascist Italy.
In the summer of 1927, the regime sought to change the power of Italian football
and create a super team in Rome, one that could not only compete with, but beat, the
northern clubs (Foot 2006). Italo Foschi, a secretary of the National Fascist Party,
organized a merger among Romes several professional clubs (Testa and Armstrong 2010.
The best players from each team came together to create AS Roma. Only one club in
Rome resisted the merger, this club was SS Lazio (Foot 2006).
Based in the regimes aspirations to connect fascism to ancient Rome, it came as
no surprise that the Capitoline She-Wolf would become the symbol for the team (Foot
While AS Roma did not win a Scudetto until 1942, the regimes plan worked
(McComb 2004). Just two years after the clubs creation, AS Roma had the highest
attendance in the country (Testa and Armstrong 2010). In 1931 the club would finish in
second place, a major accomplishment (Foot 2006).
Since AS Romas creation, the clubs rivalry with SS Lazio has been one of the
fiercest in Italy; a rivalry created by Mussolinis regime.
Part II: Italys National Team
While AS Roma inspired the regional pride of Italians living near the capitol, only
one team could capture the devotion and attention of the entire country; this was the
Azzurri, Italys national team.
The first World Cup was held in Uruguay in 1930 (Lisi 2007). Italy did not
participate, as sending its athletes all the way to Uruguay was too costly (Lanfranchi

1992). France was the only European country that traveled to South America (Lisi 2007).
Despite the lack of European countries, the first World Cup was seen as an overwhelming
success (Lanfranchi 1992). The host nation defeated Argentina to win the first ever
tournament, but the success and popularity of the 1930 World Cup ensured that future
competitions would follow (Lisi 2007).
Two years later, FIFA executives met to plan the next World Cup. Looking to
show off his fascist country to the world, Mussolini saw the World Cup as an opportunity
(Martin 2004). Two nations submitted a bid, Sweden and Mussolinis Italy (Lanfranchi
1992). On October 9, 1932, FIFA accepted Italys bid (Martin 2004). Teams representing
sixteen countries would travel to Italy to compete in the 1934 World Cup (Foot 2006).
This was Mussolini and Italys chance to shine.
The government selected eight host cities to represent the country. Matchers were
played in Bologna, Florence, Genoa, Milan, Naples, Trieste, Turin, and of course, Rome
(Martin 2006). Many of these games took places in brand new stadiums built and funded
by the fascist regime (Notaro 2000).
The Italian National Team was considered one of the best in the world entering
the 1934 World Cup. Six years earlier, a young Italian team had won the Bronze Medal
at the 1928 Olympics (Foot 2006). Now more experienced, the team was considered as
one of the tournament favorites. The Italian team was led by goalkeeper Gianpiero
Combi, forward Angelo Schiavio, defender Luis Monti, and center forward Giuseppe
Meazza, considered four of the best players in the world at their position (Martin 2004).
Benito Mussolini marked the special occasion by raising the stakes. The
tournament winners would not only receive the World Cup trophy, but would also be

presented with the Coppa Del Duce, a trophy commissioned by Mussolini that was 6
times larger than the World Cup trophy (Thomlinson et al 2006). Mussolini did
everything in his power to ensure both trophies would stay in fascist Italy. So he took
control of organizing every aspect of the 1934 World Cup, including the selection of the
referees for each match (Lisi 2007).
In the first round of the tournament, Italy dominated the United States in a 7-1
win. Schiavio scored three of the host nations goals (Foot 2006).
The second round saw Italy face a young, but very talented Spanish team. The
match ended in a 1-1 tie, meaning that the teams would compete in a re-play the next day
(Martin 2004). Italy won the second match 1-0, but the game had numerous controversial
calls, all going in Italys favor. The performances of the referees in both games against
Spain were widely criticized by non-Italian reporters. The criticism was so harsh that the
referees were suspended from officiating upon returning to their home countries after the
World Cup (Fascism and Football 2003).
Nevertheless, Italy moved on to the Semifinals, with the nation caught up in
supporting their journey. The tournament was turning out to be everything Mussolini
dreamed of.
In the Semifinals, Italy faced its biggest challenge of the tournament, the World
Cup favorites Austria. The Austrians were renown for their quick tempo pace, and
skillful passing. However, a storm the day before the match turned Milans San Siro
Stadium into a muddy mess. This disrupted Austrias ability to play the game in their
style (Foot 2006). This was not the only factor that worked in Italys favor. Reporters
covering the tournament alleged that Mussolini had a private dinner the night before the

game with the matchs referee to discuss football tactics. Nothing was proven, but
many reporters believed the match had been fixed (Martin 2004). Italy won the match 10, with another disputed goal, as many spectators thought Enrique Guaita scored from an
offside position (Foot 2006).
Italy moved on the World Cup Finals in Rome. The Azzurri faced a relatively
inexperienced Czechoslovakian team (Foot 2006). Mussolini chose the same official
from Italys Semifinal match against Austria to referee the Final (Matin 2004). Before
the match, Mussolini invited the referee to his VIP Box to meet with him once again
(Fascism and Football). The two assistant referees officiating the sidelines were from
Italys Quarterfinal victory over Spain (Martin 2004).
The Czechoslovakian team heard rumors of the matchs corruption. Before the
game started it seemed to the Czechs that they were up against the Italian team, the
stadiums fans, and even the referees.
Despite this, the Czechs took a 1-0 lead in the 71st minute. But ten minutes later,
Raimundo Orsi tied the game, which was forced into extra time. Italys Angelo Schiavio
scored the World Cup winning goal in the 95th minute (Foot 2006). Mussolini himself
presented the victorious Italian players with their winners medals and the trophies
(Martin 2004).
Italys World Cup victory was glorified throughout the country. The fascist
partys newspapers praised the players courage, discipline, order, and teamwork, saying
that they were qualities all Italians should aspire to (Thomlinson et al 2006). The
winning players were treated as heroes; thousands of people lined the streets of Rome to
celebrate the victory with a parade (Foot 2006). The victory put Italian and fascist pride

at an all time high. Not only was the national team was the toast of Italy; the successful
World Cup also cemented Mussolinis popularity among the Italian people (Thomlinson
et al 2006). To celebrate victory was to celebrate fascism (Fascism and Football 2003).
Mussolini used the teams victory as a means of propaganda, proof that his nation was
While the participants of the 1934 World Cup were certainly among the games
elite teams, one nation was glaringly absent from the tournament; footballs inventors,
England (Foot 2006). In 1928, the English Football Association withdrew from FIFA due
to political differences; England did not compete in the first two World Cups (Martin
Despite not playing in the World Cup, the English National team was considered
by many as the best team in the world, especially given the contentious nature of Italys
victory. In November 1934, the two football giants met (Martin 2004).
The game dubbed the Battle of Highbury pitted the World Cup Champions
against an English team that had not lost a game in two years. Before the match, top
Italian journalist Bruno Roghi described Highbury as a theater of international war.
Many papers throughout Europe discussed the game as an unofficial playoff, with the
matchs winners to be viewed as the best team in the world. For fascist Italy, the game
was crucial. A victory over cultural rivals England would be an example of fascisms
superiority (Martin 2004).
The match lived up to its pregame hype, and it was a very physical affair. Four
English players went to the hospital after the game with injuries. But one player couldnt
finish the match; in the second minute of the game, Italys star defender Luis Monti broke

his leg. Football at this time did not allow any substitutions, so Monti tried to play
through his injury until he could not bear the pain in the 15th minute (Foot 2006). By the
time of Montis departure, England led 3-0, exploiting Montis injury on all three of their
goals. Italy would have to come back while playing a man down for the rest of the game,
a nearly impossible task (Martin 2004). In the second half, Giuseppe Meazza stepped up,
and scored two goals in four minutes. He was denied an equalizing third goal by the post
and several impressive saves by English goalie Frank Moss. Despite their best efforts,
Italy could not complete the comeback (Foot 2006).
Surprisingly, the loss did not prevent the Italian news media from glorifying the
teams efforts. After seeing Italy play the majority of the game a man down, Roghi
claimed that the Italians played like a platoon of gladiators and argued that this defeat
was worth twice as much as victory (Martin 2004). The National Team players were
dubbed the Lions of Highbury and were treated as heroes upon their return to Italy
(Martin 2004). The team lost the game, a reality that the fascist regime seemed to ignore.
The players were made to represent everything that it meant to be Italian.
There was just one problem; not all the players were born in Italy. Five players
on Italys World Cup winning team that represented fascist superiority, were not born in
Italy. Anttilio Demaria, Enrique Guaita, Raimundo Orsi, and even Luis Monti were born
in Argentina. Filo Guarisi was Brazilian (Bocketti 2008). Orsi had scored the gametying goal in the 1934 World Cup Final (Foot 2006). Some of Italys biggest heroes were
not pure Italians (Grand 2004).
Four years later, the Italians would go on to defend their World Cup success with
another victory in 1938, defeating France, Brazil, and Hungary on route to their triumph

(Martin 2004). For the regime, the two World Cup successes were proof that fascist
Italians were superior.
Italys success in hosting and winning the 1934 World Cup inspired pride
throughout the country (Thomlinson et al 2006). For fans, Italys team was proof that the
country was superior on a global stage. Mussolini used the tournament as propaganda
and showed the world the success of his fascist system (Martin 2004). Another dictator
would try to emulate the 1934 World Cup two years late (Baxa 2007). He was Adolph
Hitler, whose Nazi Germany hosted the 1936 Olympics in Berlin (Bax 2007). He would
use Mussolinis actions as precedent for his mega event, and try to show the world the
strength of his Nazi Party (Roche 2000).
Sport is a power aspect of life. It garners the attention of numerous fans. With that
comes a dangerous reality. Sport can be used a piece of propaganda. Mussolini is a prime
example of this. In the process his fascist regime created the great AS Roma SS Lazio
rivalry, and it also glorified the 1934 and 1938 World Cup Winners. During his reign,
Mussolini changed Italian football forever, and used it to instill pride in his people.
### End Script ###
You can view my documentary here:
Further Research
In my attempts to create visual aspect to my argument, I wanted to keep the
documentary less than 15 minutes, which narrowed my focus to how Mussolini used


Italian football as propaganda. With this in mind, there are several important points
relevant to my topic that I did not address in the documentary.

South American Players

One of the most intriguing aspects of the Italian National team that won the 1934
World Cup was the fact that five members of the team were not born in Italy (Bocketti
2008). They also did not immigrate to Europe until adulthood. Three of the four
Argentinian born players even made senior squad experiences for Argentina before
moving to Italy and joining the Italian national team (Bocketti 2008).
While it is clear that Mussolinis fascist regime was not as race-strict as Hitlers
Nazi government, Mussolini did believe in the superiority of the Italian race (Grand
2004). On several occasions before and during World War II Mussolini mentioned the
race issue in his country, referring to a supreme Italian race (Grand 2004). With that in
mind, it is very complex that almost a fifth of the team that was supposed to represent the
qualities all true Italians should strive were born elsewhere.

Beyond football: Primo Carnera

While the bulk of my research, and the entirety of my documentary focuses on
how Mussolini used Italian football as an aspect of his regimes propaganda, the fascists
used more examples of sport to bring pride to the Italian people. The regime also
glorified the success of Italys star boxer Primo Carnera (Margolick 2005).
Primo Carnera was one of the most popular individual athletes during Mussolinis
fascist regime. His success and popularity coincided with the triumphs of the Italian


National team, as Carnera held the World Heavy Weight Championship in 1933 and 1934
(Margolic 2005). The fascist party newspapers glorified Carnera with every victory;
especially successes over American, British, and French fighters, who represented Italys
national rivals (Margolic 2005).
In June 1935, Carnera lost perhaps his most important bout. At Yankee Stadium,
a symbolic cathedral of Americas pastime, the relatively inexperienced Joe Louis
knocked Carnera out in the sixth round (Margolic 2005). This fight propelled Louis to
American acclaim, and was the main reason the US chose Louis to fight German Max
Schmeling a year later (Margolic 2005). However, for fascist Italy the loss was
devastating. Had Carnera defeated the American, his victory would have been portrayed
as further proof of fascism superiority over a cultural rival (Martin 2008). Carnera was
the pre-fight favorite, and the papers in Italy covered the build up to the fight with the
expectation that he would win (Margolic 2005). Being knocked out during the fight was
a nightmare scenario for the Italian press, as there was not way to spin the loss in a
positive light, so they didnt (Martin 2008). After Carneras loss, most of the fascist
leaning media outlets in Italy chose not to write about the fight (Martin 2008). While still
popular, Carnera would never again receive the level of praise and support from his home
country (Margolic 2005).

Architecture: New Stadiums

As I mentioned in the documentary, Mussolini used the 1934 World Cup as an
opportunity to not only boost the moral of his people, but also show off his fascist nation
to the world (Martin 2004). In his attempts to bring glory to Italy, Mussolinis regime


commissioned building projects throughout the nation (Page 2014). This was most
apparent in the World Cup, as the regime chose eight cities to represent Italy by hosting a
match. These matches took place in stadiums that were either renovated or built by the
fascist regime. Five of the cities had new stadiums commissioned for the purpose of the
World Cup; the most glaring example of the regimes influence on these projects was the
Stadio Benito Mussolini in Turin (Agnew 1998). After the World Cup, these new or
newly renovated stadiums became home to Italys top football clubs. These stadiums
helped the Italian league become one of the best in the world and grow in popularity and
global respect (Martin 2004). Building these stadiums not only assisted the regime in
portraying the power of fascist Italy, it also helped display the power of Italian football in
the future.
From glorifying the victories of Italys heroes to building impressive new venues
to demonstrate his power, Benito Mussolini and his fascist regime used sport as a means
of propaganda to instill pride in the Italian people. In doing so, Mussolini changed Italys
sporting landscape forever, and also set a preceded that would be followed by later
dictators. Much of Mussolinis success as a leader was a result of his propaganda efforts,
which were undeniably aided by the success of Italian athletics.


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