These articles were originally published by us as one article. We have split the original into four articles for ease of reading. We think it timely to remind readers, especially now, that football’s greatest tournament has been subject to political exploitation by despicable people previously. It is fitting that despite his interference Francisco Franco never lived to see Spain become the dominant force in football – consecutive European Championships and a World Cup – let alone benefit from it. There must be no return to such exploitation of the world’s most popular sport.
by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 8th 2008)
The Power of Football
The European Championship in Austria and Switzerland is centre-stage and rightly so, but some have other priorities. Over forty European nations that failed to qualify are already focusing their attention firmly on the World Cup to be held in South Africa in 2010.
England played the USA at Wembley on May 28th and Trinidad and Tobago on June 1st as Fabio Capello continues to experiment ahead of the World Cup qualification campaign that will begin in earnest in September. It will offer England the opportunity to renew acquaintance with Croatia and possibly Slaven Bilić too.,
South America has already begun its qualification matches and Africa has also begun the task of whittling down the 30 countries to the five that will accompany the hosts too. Other federations have started their qualification process as well. Some friendlies offer the opportunity for members of rival federations to learn about each other as well ahead of the important business of making sure they get to South Africa.
Jorge Luis Pinto brought his entertaining Colombian team to Craven Cottage to face Giovanni Trapattoni’s Republic of Ireland team on May 29th. They know that the price of failure is high. Many coaches will either be sacked or resign and harsh decisions to end international careers will be taken by players or coaches, but the rewards of World Cup success are great and not just for players, or even coaches.
Basking in Reflected Glory
Sadly, some truly despicable people and régimes have basked in the glory of World Cup triumph and used the awesome power of footballing success on the greatest stage for their own ends. Both the former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco and his then Italian counterpart Benito Mussolini are among those to profit from the power of football.
They understood the value of footballing success to distract the attention of the public from social ills. Franco had no love of the game, but he saw that it was popular and could be used to bolster his rule. Spanish football was organised to suit Franco’s wishes. It paid off at club level, but not in the World Cup.
Despite almost four decades in charge Franco never managed to bring the World Cup to Spain either as host or champion. The best he could do was Spain’s only triumph in a major tournament – the European Championship of 1964. Compared to Mussolini, Franco was a novice, who never understood or got the chance to exploit the World Cup for political purposes.
In 1932 Italy was awarded the right to host the 1934 World Cup finals. From the start it was a controversial choice. The fascists had been in power for a decade and Italy had snubbed the previous tournament in Uruguay – a slight the first hosts did not forgive. Luis Monti had represented Argentina in the first World Cup in 1930, even playing in the final itself. Four years later he would play in the final again – this time for Italy. He is the only player to have played in the World Cup final for two different countries.
Other Argentinian players were recruited by Italy before the 1934 tournament, much to the chagrin of the beaten finalists of 1930. The Oriundi as they were called was controversial. Argentina protested by sending a weak team. Uruguay – the defending World Champions – boycotted the 1934 event because of the lack of European participation in the inaugural World Cup.
Uruguay, previously unofficial world champions by virtue of winning the Olympic title of 1928, which was the last time the Olympic title truly was a measure of the best team in the world, was not there – the last time the winners did not defend their crown. Brasil came, but was not the force that they would be in 1938.
The South Americans were no threat to Italy, but given the fact that Italy had boycotted the inaugural World Cup, should they have been allowed to host it at all?