by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 9th 2014)


Tonight Louis van Gaal’s Dutch team get the opportunity to claim revenge for an act of football robbery – one that had dire consequences. When Argentina was awarded the World Cup of 1978 it was a democracy – a weak and ineffective one, but a democracy nonetheless. By the time the ticker-tape World Cup got under-way Argentina was ruled by one of the most despicable men to pollute twentieth century despite stiff competition for that tag.

General Jorge Videla Redondo was a thoroughly reprehensible person. He was not prepared to leave anything to chance. The budget was raised to ten times the original, but the extent of poverty and brutal repression was hidden from foreign observers and on the pitch the fix was on. FIFA gave Argentina an unfair advantage of playing their second round matches after rivals Brasil, meaning they always knew what was needed.

The last of those matches was the most infamous. Needing to win 4-0 to progress at Brasil’s expense, Perú capitulated in the second half after a half-time visit to their dressing room by Videla accompanied by his guest Henry Kissinger. But complaints mean little after the fact. Videla got what he paid for, but the Dutch were a different matter. There would be no rolling over for Argentina.

The fouling was persistent and dirty, but the gamesmanship started before the game had even started. It was delayed as Argentina objected to a plaster cast worn by René van der Kerkhof to protect a wrist injury. But FIFA must take responsibility for scandalous cowardice. A respected official Abraham Klein had been selected for the final. Argentina objected and were rewarded with the referee of their choice being appointed.

The Italian Serio Gonella gave a performance of shameful bias, allowing blatant fouling to go unpunished. Despite the gamesmanship and unpunished fouling the Dutch came close to pooping Videla’s party anyway. Rob Rensenbrinck and Dick Nanninga hit the woodwork. Nanninga equalised Mario Kempes’ goal to force extra time, but Kempes scored another and Daniel Bertoni got the other.

Videla had his victory, but football and the human race had lost a whole lot more. Videla and his thuggish junta clung to power, bolstered by the World Cup triumph, committing atrocity after atrocity. The Netherlands were robbed on the pitch. Argentinians lost a whole lot more. They remain by far the biggest victims of one of the most corrupt World Cups ever.


By the time FIFA arrived with its entourage one of the best players the world had ever seen Johan Cruijff refused to play, protesting against the vicious dictatorship that had seized power in Argentina, although he now says that the real reason was a kidnap attempt in Barçelona a year earlier.

While Cruijff sacrificed the chance to win the World Cup and cement his legacy – his country still hasn’t won football’s ultimate prize – FIFA lacked such principle. General Jorge Videla Redondo was a vicious tyrant, responsible for the kidnap, disappearance, torture and murder of thousands of people.1 Videla was absolutely determined to exploit the World Cup and to their eternal shame FIFA acquiesced.

Never forget that Argentinians were far and away the people who suffered most from the military junta that imposed the Dirty War against its own people long before the Falklands War (Malvinas). Videla ended his days in prison after being convicted of an orchestrated campaign to kidnap children and have them brought up by military personnel. It was one of Argentina’s biggest scandals as it confronted the amnesia that had characterised the post dictatorship years.


Videla had learned well from his fellow fascist despot Benito Mussolini. Winning the World Cup bolsters the popularity of the incumbent government, whether illegally in power or not. Isabel Martínez de Perón will never be remembered as a great President of Argentina. She succeeded her husband General Juan Perón upon his death in 1974. She made the grave error of trusting and promoting the tyrant in making Videla.

Martínez de Perón’s husband provided refuge to Nazi war criminals after the Second World War. Argentina had been awarded the tournament in 1966. Videla seized power a decade later. He spent a fortune to exploit the World Cup – some of it necessary. Roads linking host cities were needed, but colour television was not a priority except to Videla.

Slums were hidden behind huge walls and taking no chances Operación El Barrido was unleashed to disappear dissidents at an alarming rate. Videla and his uniformed thugs would stop at nothing to prevent the truth about the repression and economic chaos being revealed by enterprising journalists. The 1978 World Cup was a disgrace, but the greatest victims of it was not Brasil, nor even the Netherlands – it was Argentina. The ranks of the Disappeared, tortured and murdered swelled to thousands. That tournament has blood on its hands, especially of Argentinians.



An Uneasy Relationship – Archive

Editorʼs Note:

Nothing illustrates footballʼs power to foster change than a World Cup. FIFAʼs decision to release doves as part of a commitment to peace is welcome, although the worldʼs most popular sport can do a lot more. But is a dark side. The power of football has been used and abused by some of the reprehensible people the twentieth century has spewed forth.

Tonight world and European champions Spain – a country that has first hand experience of a dictator abusing footballʼs power and of success without the shadow of political abuse of their achievements – play the Netherlands in their opening match defending their title. We therefore publish this article again.

Derek Miller

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 2nd 2012)


Over half a century before Euro 2012 an ageing fascist dictator decided to meddle with football to try to score a political point – actually to avoid the risk of a propaganda defeat. Generalissimo Francisco Franco decided not to risk the possibility of humiliation through defeat to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Franco’s meddling not only prevented a talented generation of Spanish footballers that may have left a legacy and rewritten football history from having the chance to do so, but handed the opportunity of a propaganda coup to his bitterest rivals. This was a boycott that failed spectacularly and should have had even more serious consequences.

Politics and Football

Spain played a very important role in proving that politics and football not only mix, but often collide at speed. The very first European Championship took place in a different era both for politics and football.

A liberating football revolution was taking place in Africa under the guidance of Kwame Nkrumah and Ohene Djan. The football face of that revolution Charles Kumi Gyamfi began his assault on African football’s highest echelons. Gyamfi went on to become one of (if not the) greatest coaches in African history.

Early Boycott Backfires

Meanwhile, Spain was enduring the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco and the dictator refused to allow Spain to play against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). It should have had consequences – ones that properly affected Franco. The dictator had interfered with football and the consequences should have been a ban from the next competition. That didnʼt happen.

Benefiting from the bye gifted to them by the Spanish dictator, the Soviet Union went on to win the inaugural European Championship courtesy of Victor Ponedelnik’s extra-time decider against Yugoslavia. Nikita Khrushchev and his colleagues took full advantage, basking in the glory of the USSR’s only title – by then Olympic gold had lost its lustre. Politics and football mixed at will.


Four years later it was a case of different ideology, but same story. Khrushchev had savoured his moment, but his colleagues brought him down in disgrace after the Cuban Missiles Crisis. His successors hoped for a repeat dose, but Franco had learned his lesson.

His boycott had handed a propaganda coup to his ideological adversary in 1960. That would not be allowed to happen again. The defending champions would have to beat Spain on the pitch if they wanted to retain their title.

Football and Politics

Franco’s fellow fascist dictator Benito Mussolini knew the power of football. He had used it to great effect in 1934 and again in 1938. An England team had given the Nazi salute in an international in the 1930s in Berlin. If that wasn’t a mix of politics and football, what was?

Even more controversially, Mussolini had brazenly interfered with the tournament in 1934. The night before the final he had dinner with the referee, who had also refereed the semi-final – a very controversial match. It was perhaps the worst fix in football, but being champions has its benefits.

Success on the pitch unites a nation. Politicians know this and dictators know its value better than most. Mussolini started the worrying trend in 1934 and continued it in1938, but football had the last laugh on the dictator, helping to bring him down with Hajduk Split in the starring role.

Ducking the Issue

Dictators know the power of football and use it to their advantage. But UEFA, admittedly a very young organisation at the time, made a serious error of judgement almost half a century ago. Franco chose to put himself above football in 1960.

Instead of paying the consequences with a ban UEFA appeased the dictator allowing Spain to not only compete in the next tournament, but to host it. That disgraces the competition and undermined UEFAʼs authority in the future.

Limited Powers

The Soviet Union relinquished their crown, never to win it again and although Spain succeeded the USSR as champions of Europe, they had a 44 year wait to win it again, by which time Franco was long dead and Spanish democracy firmly rooted. But it was not all smiles for the politicians.

José Luis Rodríguez Zapotero became one of the few political leaders to fail benefit from football triumph. Despite Spain winning both the European Championship and World Cup in his tenure Spaniards, feeling the economic pinch, unceremoniously kicked him out of power earlier this year. Mariano Rajoy Brey had best beware – not even footballing success guarantees power.



The Birth of A Problem (Part Four) – Monstrous

Editorʼs Note:

We first published this series of articles six years ago. On the eve of the opening match of the 2014 World Cup, we think it timely to publish them again. Croatia has a problem with racism that has found an outlet in football. Understanding Croatiaʼs history is crucial to combating the problem. Croatia will be entertained by Luiz Felipe Scolariʼs resurgent Brasilian side in São Paulo on June 12th. We hope Croatiaʼs fans will support their team with gusto while showing respect to their hosts as both teams and countries deserve.

Derek Miller

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 1st 2008)

Suppressed Ambitions

In 1921 the new country set about eradicating the individual identities of its constituent parts. Power was centralised in Belgrade under the Serbian Radical People’s Party (SRPP). Croatians resented it greatly and boycotted it. Nevertheless, a foreign threat to the kingdom led by Italy and their allies caused the Croats to unite with the Serbs from 1925-27.

Italian ambitions had been fuelled by entering the First World War allied with Britain, France and Russia. The dictator Benito Mussolini felt that Italy had been cheated of their rightful share of the spoils and set about trying to claim them by force. A foreign threat united the constituent nations of Yugoslavia where nothing else could and once it was over the discord returned, as the Croatians resumed their boycott.

The return of Acrimony

The blatant vote-rigging by Serbian Prime Minister Nikola Pasic – who believed that power should be centralised in Belgrade – and repression of the Hrvatska Seljačka Stranska – HSS1 – fostered simmering discontent. In 1928 it reached fever pitch when the HSS leader Stjepan Radić was attacked in the Parliament by Puniša Račić, an SRPP deputy. Radić died as a result.

Understandably, this incident enraged the Croatians, but things went from bad to worse. The country was renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia by King Aleksandar who assumed dictatorial powers, which further repressed Croatians and their aspirations. Political parties were banned and the new HSS leader Vladko Maček was imprisoned.

The Emergence of the Ustaše

A new party the Ustaše emerged. Most went into exile, especially after the politically motivated murder of Toni Schlegel a pro-Yugoslav editor gave the King’s dictatorship an excuse for further repression. The mainly Serbian police retaliated to Schlegelʼs murder, becoming little more than thugs in uniform, but even in this climate the Ustaše failed to recruit support.

Ironically, one of its few successes in this period was to convince the Communist Party that it was a progressive movement. On October 9th 1934 the Bulgarian nationalist Vlado Chernozemski assassinated King Aleksandar in Paris. Chernozemski belonged to the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation – IMRO – which had close ties to the Ustaše.

Chernozemski was the driver of IMRO leader Ivan Mihailov. The IMRO believed that Macedonia should be annexed to Bulgaria by terrorist means.

Consequences of Aleksandarʼs Assassination

The assassination of King Aleksandar was broadcast throughout Europe. It was the first political assassination of a monarch to be captured on film. Chernozemski was caught by the irate crowd and beaten to death. Mussolini’s government was accused by some of involvement in the assassination as well, because they secretly sponsored the IMRO.

If Mussolini or his cronies had a role in it, it was quickly hushed up as Mussolini was being courted by European governments at the time. But France was furious, especially as their foreign minister Louis Barthou was also shot dead in the attack.2 Italy deported many Ustaše members back to Yugoslavia. They even kept its leader and future war criminal Ante Pavelić in a camp in Italy.

The new government in Yugoslavia moved closer to Mussolini at France’s expense. The Croatian Parliament was restored and it secured parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, including Dubrovnik. At the very least the assassination of the hostile King served Croatian nationalism well.


Even this support was not sufficient for Mussolini and the Axis powers. On April 6th 1941 they took control of Yugoslavia and invited HSS leader Vladko Maček to form a government. Maček refused. Four days later the Ustaše proclaimed Croatia ‘independent.’ Pavelić and other Ustaše members left camps in Italy for Zagreb.

Pavelić claimed the title of ‘Poglavnik’.3 Pavelić’s domain included Bosnia-Herzegovina, but to the annoyance of local Ustaše members he ceded parts of Dalmatia to Italy in exchange for financial and political support. Due to the lack of military strength of the new state it was split into two spheres of influence – German and Italian.


The stage was set for atrocities as the Ustaše avenged the wrongs the Croatian people had suffered, especially on Serbs. It began at Gudovac on April 27th 1941. In an attempt to make itself the party of Croatian peasants the HSS was banned and Maček was sent to Jasenovac – the most notorious of eight concentration camps in Croatia.

Maček’s popularity saved his life. He was confined to house arrest instead and refused calls from abroad to oppose Pavelić. The Nezavisne Drzave Hrvatske (NDH) – Independent Croatian State – planned ethnic cleansing of Serbs in the country by killing a third of them, expelling another third and assimilating the remaining third.

Hundreds of thousands of Serbs were killed in this programme, especially at Jasenovac. The atrocities would be remembered by Serbs, who proved to have very long memories. The atrocities, especially those committed at Jasenovac were neither forgiven, nor forgotten. They would become the justification for retaliatory atrocities half a century later.



1 It translates as Croatia Peasantsʼ Party.

2 It later emerged that he was accidentally shot by a policeman.


3 It loosely translates as chief man or führer.


More Despicable People and the World Cup (Part Three) – Archive

Editor’s Note:

With the World Cup just days away, we publish these articles on the abuse of football’s most prestigious tournament again. They are particularly timely as Brasil has been polarised by hosting the tournament. Demonstrators will once again take to the streets in major cities throughout the country to demand social changes – ones that should have been delivered after last year’s Confederations Cup.

Derek Miller

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 18th 2008)

The Victims of the Fix

While Dutch complaints over the 1978 World Cup have garnered numerous column inches they were not the victims of the notorious fix that occurred in that tournament. They may have experienced unsporting conduct – being kept awake at night, but the victims of the fix was Brasil. If Perú had played to the height of their form and ability – remember they topped a group that included the Netherlands – then Brasil and not Argentina would have reached the final.

Even now 30 years later it defies logic that such a good team could have conceded not only the four that Argentina needed, but an extra two as well. No Brasilian will ever accept that this result was anything but a deliberate fix to cheat them of the ultimate prize – winning the World Cup in Argentina. That would have been the sweetest victory of all five of their World Cups.

It would have benefited Brasil’s dictatorship, which had appointed its man Ernesto Geisel as ʻPresidentʼ in 1975. Geisel represented the militaryʼs party ARENA. Geisel favoured a slow return to democracy. The worst excesses of the previous dictatorship were not repeated, but Geisel was a tyrant too. Nevertheless, despicable as he undoubtedly was, Videla was far, far worse than Geisel. A Brasilian triumph in Buenos Aires could have been the greatest blessing of all for Argentina – the catalyst to oust Videla.


Videla was not about to risk that happening. He entered the Perúvian dressing room at half time in the crucial match. There had been no sign of the capitulation that would follow Videla’s visit in the first half. Some say that Videla or his cronies threatened the Perúvian players with what would happen to them if they refused to throw the match.

Others believe that it was a betting scam and bribery, or benefits for the Perúvian economy were offered that persuaded the players to throw the match, but some point out that no concrete evidence ever emerged. Conspiracy theories flourished, but what really happened?

It is certain that Videla went into the Perúvian dressing room and in the second half the talented Perúvian team collapsed to guarantee that Argentina progressed to the final. Many conspiracy theorists point accusing fingers at goal-keeper Ramón Quiroga, but there was little that he could do about many of the goals that Perú conceded.

Even the fact that he worked as a coach in Argentina years later was used against him, but what did it prove? Quiroga was born in Argentina after all, so why should he not work there, or anywhere else for that matter? The conspiracy theories will continue and something odd certainly happened in the second half, but the full truth of why an impressive Perú team meekly surrendered in the second half may never be established.

If it was by foul means as seems most likely the victims on the pitch was Brasil and sadly there were many more victims off the pitch. The Argentinian nation continued to suffer the horrors of Videla and his thugs in uniform for three more years and the junta survived until the ill-judged Falklands War brought the criminal régime down.


Argentina deserved to host the World Cup – it was their turn, – but Argentinians deserved human rights and justice more. They needed FIFA, football and the world to stand up for them and ostracise the repulsive Videla and his martinets more than they needed to host the World Cup – a tournament that they could have hosted and possibly won when the fascist thugs had been overthrown. Simply put, they deserved far better than football gave them.

History had already shown that despots knew how to take advantage of sport to gain legitimacy at home and abroad – something both FIFA and the International Olympic Committee should have prevented. Hitler had used and abused the Olympic Games in 1936 and Mussolini had shown two years earlier exactly how to manipulate public opinion, sport and officials to bolster a despicable régime.

Mussolini had given a virtuoso exhibition of how to manipulate domestic public opinion and international opinion too by shamelessly rigging the World Cup in 1934. It was a lesson other despots of any political affiliation learned well. Jorge Videla had learned well.

He was far from the first despot to exploit the prestige of hosting and/or winning the World Cup – Mussolini and Brasilian dictator Emilio Garrastazú Médici had paved the way, but Videla remains one of the most bestial and odious tyrants ever to be allowed to exploit the World Cup. Mussolini would have been proud to see his political heirs – despicable people – were also adept at using the world’s most popular sport to serve their own political needs.






Despicable People and the World Cup (Part 4)


Editor’s Note:

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.

Derek Miller


by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 8th 2008)


After an exhibition of enthralling football in México, Brasil were champions of the world for a record third time. The country forgot its problems to celebrate, but it should never have been allowed to happen the way it did. The country’s dictator General Emílio Garrastazu Médici had no right to interfere in football matters – organisation and control over Brasilian football was the domain of that country’s FA.

Médici’s interference was a flagrant breach of FIFA’s Charter. João Saldhana was the coach and had a very good record – he had not lost in six matches in charge. Plainly, he was sacked for non-footballing reasons and he should not have suffered such outrageous interference. His record did not deserve such abuse of the rules. It was a flagrant breach of FIFA’s Charter – sadly far from the first time that FIFA did not enforce its Charter when dictators came courting.

The Brasilian FA could not stand up to the fascist despot Médici. The players could not either. It is the nature of vile dictatorships to rule through fear and torture. However, FIFA have no such excuse. They could have told the dictator and the Brasilian FA that they would suspend Brasil from the 1970 World Cup if Médici did not stop his interference. They could have made other demands too, but did not. It was not unusual for sporting bodies to turn a blind eye at the time.

Without being in the tournament Brasil could not win it and without that Médici could not exploit the win. Médici needed the win to justify his dictatorship – FIFA therefore had the power to uphold its Charter and did not. It was yet another example of a dictator being allowed to flout the rules and reap undeserved rewards by shamefully manipulating the power of football. Médici had learned well from Mussolini’s use and abuse of the power of football.

Police at Stadium


A delighted Médici received the team and enthusiastically greeted some of the greatest players ever to play the beautiful game. They had little choice. Médici took credit for the triumph and used it for propaganda purposes. He also used it to distract attention from the torture and executions, especially in prisons. Brasil’s military dictatorships ended in 1985 after more than two decades in power. He was perhaps the worst of the despicable people that Pelé referred to.

They only had one World Cup success to exploit and Médici proved adept at using it to bolster the popularity of his government – a time that the gap between rich and poor increased significantly. Despite economic growth, the benefits were not distributed fairly and poverty became a real problem. And then there were the human rights abuses.

People disappeared, were tortured or murdered. Médici is remembered now as the most cynical and brutal of Brasil’s military tyrants. He died in October 1985, having lived just long enough to see the military rejected by the Brasilian people who voted overwhelmingly against their choice and in favour of Tancredo Neves. His military successors relaxed the brutality, but there was no doubt that Brasil was under the control of a military junta with no respect for even the most basic of rights.

Restoration of Rights


Civilian rule had been restored for less than a decade before another World Cup triumph was delivered to the football-loving people of the biggest nation in South America. It was the first of three consecutive appearances in the World Cup final itself – two of which would result in victory. But the restoration of democracy came at price – a high one.

The amnesty laws that paved the way for elections gave the perpetrators of gross abuses of human rights on both sides of the political divide immunity from prosecution. Many years later, with the spectre of military coups receded, the crimes of the past demand a hearing. One in particular affects the integrity of the forthcoming World Cup, the shocking death of journalist Vladimir Herzog in custody in October 1975 in São Paulo. We covered this story previously and will do so again.

In the fourteen years between hosting the World Cup for the first time and the military coup the country celebrated two World Cup triumphs and in the seventeen years since the restoration of democracy in 1985 and Asia’s first World Cup in 2002 they celebrated another two triumphs and suffered a defeat in the final as well.

The military dictatorship delivered poverty: repression and misery along with one World Cup win in twenty-one years in power. Readers will draw their own conclusions from that. Back in 1970 Brasil needed the joy of the World Cup triumph to forget the horrors of Médici’s rule even for a few days. The tyrant needed football far more than it needed him.



He used and abused the triumph for his own ends, but some people knew Médici for the tyrant he was. Pelé took an England player aside during the 1970 World Cup and told him: “Our country is ruled by despicable people.” He was criticised by some for not using the platform fame had given him to speak out publicly, but many who had did not live to tell the tale.

Médici was neither the first nor last despot to use the World Cup to serve his own political needs. The next two World Cups would include two further attempts – one of which would succeed and the other would demonstrate the the consequences for ordinary people. And the following two would involve attempts to escape that unwanted legacy of the World Cup.

It remains an outrage that football did not prevent it from happening again after Benito Mussolini had shamelessly exploited its power in the 1930s. It is perhaps even worse that Médici was not the last dictator to benefit from abusing the power of football for his own ends on the world stage. The gross abuses of human rights under the vile dictatorship of the now universally reviled General Jorge Videla in Argentina were known about long before the fall of the junta.

Nevertheless, despite knowledge of Videla’s crimes, the tournament allowed to take place in Argentina when it was subject to such use and abuse. Why? How did FIFA learn so little from allowing the dictator Mussolini to host and fix in 1934 and Médici to use the power of footballing success. Football has a social responsibility – one that should have been understood and embraced after Mussolini was allowed to utilise the power of the sport. Videla should never have been given the chance to follow il Duce’s example.



Despicable People and the World Cup (Part 2)

Editor’s Note:

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.

Derek Miller

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 8th 2008)


The South American challenge was weak. Argentina was enraged by the poaching of top players by Italy – the Oriundi – so they sent a weakened team to the 1934 World Cup in Italy. Uruguay, the defending champions were incensed by Italy’s boycott of their tournament four years earlier. They refused to defend their title. Brasil had yet to become Brasil.

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini knew that despite the weakened field there were still European countries to deal with, so Mussolini left nothing to chance. There were scandals aplenty and that was before the controversy over Swedish official Ivan Elkind, who refereed the final.

Shameful Officiating

Spain drew Italy in the quarter final. The first match ended in a 1-1 draw, amid complaints that Belgian referee Louis Baert allowed the Italians too much latitude. Baert was a linesman in both the semi final and final, which were refereed by Elkind as well.

The rustic nature of their challenges in the first match, particularly on Spanish goalkeeper Ricardo Zamora1 caused him to have to miss the replay, which was even worse. It was so scandalous that the previously highly rated Swiss referee René Mercet was disgraced over it.

His refereeing was said to be so biased in favour of the Italians that the Swiss FA withdrew him from any further appointments for internationals. Just as Zamora had been persistently fouled by the Italians in the first game, Mercet allowed them to get away with it in the replay too.

Giuseppe Meazza benefited from yet another foul on the keeper to score the only goal of the match. Mercet was accused of shamefully favouring Italy and allowing the crowd to influence his decisions. Italy progressed to the semi final.

Bad to Worse

Elkind refereed it with Baert as one of the linesmen. Italy won 1-0 with a goal scored by Enrique Guaita.2 Elkind was appointed to referee the final. Mussolini still wasn’t satisfied. Leaving nothing to chance the dictator dined with the Swedish referee the night before the final. Italy beat Czechoslovakia 2-1.

Mussolini had his trophy. It was perhaps the most scandalous World Cup ever. Despite allegations of bribery and corruption against them over the 1934 World Cup, both Baert and Elkind enjoyed long careers as referees. Elkind refereed a total sixteen World Cup matches and Baert took a prestigious appointment with the Belgian FA after his retirement as a referee in 1952.

Basking in Undeserved Glory

Meanwhile, Mussolini basked in the glory of a World Cup triumph that allowed Italians to forget their problems while they celebrated. He also used the success to bolster the credibility of his government. Knowing what World Cup success could bring Mussolini wanted more of the same, but four years later as the world veered towards war he could not interfere as outrageously as had been achieved in 1934.

And Italy would have to win by fairer means in 1938. Nevertheless, they received some unexpected assistance. The threat of war resulted in some nations withdrawing early. The tournament was weaker than it should have been. And top European teams would miss it too. England apparently believed the World Cup was beneath them.


Spain was the first country to miss a World Cup due to war in 1938. The Spanish Civil War stopped international football, but not the Cup of Free Spain, which Valencian club Levante won. The World Cup continued without them. Austria – semi-finalists four years previously – qualified, but withdrew due to unification with Nazi Germany.

The Austrian Wunderteam was torn asunder by reunification and the ‘unified’ German team did not gel. It lacked Austria’s greatest player Matthias Sindelar. Rather than play for the Nazis Sindelar retired, claiming his age and injury and did so after thumbing his nose at the Nazis in a ʻunificationʼ match.



Sindelar was no Nazi and celebrated his goal against the Germans in that match in an exuberant manner. Sindelar had revolutionised forward play in the Wunderteam under legendary coach Hugo Meisl. Sindelar refused to play for Germany. He died in mysterious circumstances a year after the World Cup in France aged just 36. There was no shortage of conspiracy theories. Another pair of opponents had neutralised themselves.

Wringing Value

Mussolini was determined to wring whatever propaganda value he could from the defence of their title. The quarter final pitted the Italians against the host nation. Baert refereed the match with Elkind serving as one of his linesmen. The Italians wore the infamous black-shirts. It was highly provocative.

Nevertheless, Italy beat France 3-1. They faced a bizarrely chosen Brasil team in the semi-final, winning 2-1. Leading scorer and one of his country’s first super-stars Leônidas da Silva missed the match – possibly rested. His absence was attributed by some to interference by Mussolini, but that has never been verified.

Italian great Giuseppe Meazza scored the controversial winner from the penalty spot, but according to objective reports Italy deserved their win anyway. It was fitting that Brasil finally sent their strongest team to the World Cup, but somehow conspired to get tactics and selection wrong. Italy retained the trophy in 1938, beating Hungary 4-2 in the final. They were the best team, even though their physical approach, especially that of enforcer Luis Monti, had critics.

An Uncertain Future

World War II meant that there was no World Cup in 1942. It would probably have been held in Brasil. The world had other priorities in 1946. It was therefore unclear if would even be a World Cup ever again. Football and the World Cup survived. A World Cup in 1949 was mooted. The Superga Disaster ended that possibility. FIFA wanted Italy to defend their title, but after the tragedy Italy did not want to. They had to be persuaded to come, but the Azzurri were understandably deeply affected by Superga.


Brasil was chosen to host the next tournament, but insisted that it be held in 1950 rather than 1949 as FIFA originally intended. Germany was partitioned and originally banned. Football had not been organised in either East or most of West Germany at first anyway, so there was no German representation in Brasil in 1950.

Mussolini had been executed by Italian partisans in 1944, so Italy – the defending champions – were permitted to come, but originally decided not to play in spite of FIFA’s offer to meet their expenses. However, Italy defended their title, but deeply affected by the Superga tragedy the Italian FA refused to allow their team to fly. Instead they sailed, depriving the squad of training opportunities.

They were the first World champions to go out in the first round after a woeful defence of their title even though there were exceptional circumstances. Not only had they suffered poor transportation, they has lost the flesh of a truly great team – il Grande Torino. Two years before the Superga Disaster that team contributed ten out of eleven starters for Italy. Not even the world champions could afford to lose that amount of talent.

The 1950 World Cup finals ensured that the tournament would continue. But twenty years later the hosts of the first post-war tournament would abuse the World Cup again for political ends, as another vile dictatorship would seek to profit from the World Cup.

1  The goalkeeping award in Spain’s La Liga is named after him. He became a controversial figure as he represented both Cataluña and Spain and accepted awards from both the Spanish republic and fascists. He also won trophies for both Barcelona and Real Madrid.

2Enrique Guaita: Raimundo Orsi and Luis Monti had previously played for Argentina.




Despicable People and the World Cup (Part 1)

Editor’s Note:

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.

Derek Miller

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.

Dubious Origins

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?