Italy, Argentina, Russia… Before Qatar, three controversial World Cups

Fascist Italy in the 1930s, General Videla’s Argentine dictatorship in 1978, Putin’s Russia… If the World Cup in Qatar is controversial, FIFA is not its first World Cup organized by regimes that are not very attentive to democratic principles.

Suspicions of corruption, death of migrant workers on its construction sites, questionable ecological balance, winter edition … The World Cup in Qatar, which takes place from 20 November to 18 December, is undoubtedly the most controversial football World Cup in history. .

Launched in November 2019, FC Geopolitics’ Twitter account had one ambition: to talk about football through international politics. And viceversa. One year after the publication of “Football Club Geopolitics: 22 unusual stories to understand the world” – book released on the occasion of Euro-2021, Kevin Veyssiere, the author of the story, returns with 22 new stories focused on the rich history of the most prestigious of football competitions.

For France 24 he returns to three controversial editions, recalling that FIFA is not on its first attempt.

Italy 1934: fascism triumphs

Context: “This is the second World Cup in history, four years after the first edition in Uruguay. Given the success, several European countries are lining up to organize it, in particular Benito Mussolini’s Italy. The fascist party sees it as a way to promote his regime and Italy internationally. Important means are implemented for the organization: it will be the first broadcast of the World Cup, many journalists are accredited, stadiums are built and Italy focuses on welcoming fans. .. For its part, Fifa sees this Italian investment as a boon because it is then trying to affirm its competition in the international World Cup calendar by fascism “.

A boycott? “At that time, Europe was quite accommodating to far-right regimes. The fascist party has been in power since the 1920s, Hitler has just taken power in Germany. No controversy emerges.”

The competition: “The competition is going very well for Italy. After an easy first leg against the United States, they face Spain in the quarter-finals. It is from there that we begin to see the hand of Mussolini and the fascist party. The game is on. It was a real carnage with many injuries on both sides and ended in a draw, at the time no extra time and penalties, so the game is replayed the next day and Italy wins thanks to a more than lax refereeing in his favour.

In the semifinals, Italy faces Austria. The coach of the latter knows not to play on equal terms. When a journalist asks him “which Italian player he fears most”, he replies “the referee”. History proves him right because the referee helps the Italians win the game. The same referee will be renewed for the final and will have the right to visit the Duce before the final.

Faced with Czechoslovakia, Italy wins, despite complaints of match-fixing. The referee will also be suspended thereafter. It doesn’t matter, Italy is world champion “.


The budget: “This 1934 World Cup is Mussolini’s competition. He is omnipresent there, overshadowing the FIFA president, Jules Rimet. He is the Italian leader presenting the Cup, which is not the usual trophy but a” Coppa del Duce “. It does not require less than six players to take it. For Fascist Italy, this competition is a consecration at all levels “.

Argentina 1978: Murders of opponents against match-fixing

context “In 1976 a military dictatorship settled in Argentina under the command of General Videla. He wanted to legitimize his power and intended to use the World Cup, the 1978 edition of which was awarded to Argentina in 1966. He wants to reshape it in his image. , silencing all possible disputes.

He knows that football is central in the country. Argentina has been doing well for years. He has won several Copa America but no World Cup. The country remains marked by the defeat in the final against neighboring Uruguay during the first edition but also by the “Malmö tragedy” of 1958, when the country was humiliated in the first round of the World Cup. Videla is pushing for the victory of Albiceleste “.

A boycott? “Unlike in 1934, a first protest movement emerged, particularly from European countries. However, this boycott would not have been successful. At the time, the watchword was to dissociate sport and politics. The French boycott movement was like that. desperate not to find an echo that is organizing a punch action: an incredible attempt to kidnap the coach of the time, Michel Hidalgo, a few days before leaving for Argentina.Dominique Rocheteau, the green angel, will raise the question of denouncing the abuses of the dictatorship but will make him abandon it.

Dutch star Jordan Cruyff was also long thought to have boycotted the World Cup, but in reality he just wanted to stay in Europe. He did not want to leave his family, the victim of an attempted kidnapping.

The competition: “This Mondial has a rather exceptional format. After a first group stage, two more groups of four teams are formed. The first of these two groups will qualify for the final. Brazil plans to validate his ticket because Argentina must win the last game against Peru by more than four goals to overtake them in the standings. In the end he wins 6 to 0. There are strong suspicions about the purchase of this game and about an agreement between the two governments on the elimination of the Peruvian opponents by Argentina.

In the final, Argentina won the tournament against the Netherlands despite arbitration suspicions. This victory has entered the history of Argentine football. “

The budget:This World Cup is a success for Videla. In addition to the sporting victory, the regime’s abuses of him were never brought to light and the international community accepted Argentina’s place. However, he will not take advantage of it. The expansionist project of Videla, particularly in the south, and the failure of the Falklands war will precipitate the fall of the regime “.

>> Also read: Argentina – England 1986: Diego Maradona’s masterpiece

Russia 2018: Putin’s sporting soft power peak

Context: “Russia receives the organization of the World Cup in 2010 at the same time that Qatar receives that of 2022. It is an important decade for Russia’s sports policy. It also organizes the Olympics in Sochi. Not so much a success for Putin. and the Russians, first the choice of the seaside resort of Sochi is criticized, then these Games are entirely aimed at the glory of Russia and Vladimir Putin with the exploitation marked by the Games, and the annexation of Crimea prevented the Russians from capitalizing on the event .

For the 2018 World Cup, Vladimir Putin and Russia decide to change the method. He wants to make it anti-Sochi. Rather than a glorification of the regime, he wants to make it a demonstration of Russia’s openness to the world and the beauty of Russian territories. He sets up visas combining World Cup and tourism, builds modern stadiums.

A boycott? “There are criticisms of respect for human rights in Russia. The opposition is muzzled as the competition approaches, but no protests emerge before the World Cup. Only the UK is carrying out a diplomatic boycott linked to the assassination of the former Russian spy. Sergei Skripal on British territory. But the boycott is not total since the British selection is very present “.

The competition: “The opening match Russia-Saudi Arabia was a triumph. While Russia seemed to be a weak selection before the competition, they inflicted a correction on Saudi Arabia (5-0). They will overtake, expelling the Spanish favorite in eighth, before losing on penalties to future finalist Croatia.

The budget: “For Putin, the competition is a success. The supporters who made the trip maintain a positive image of Russia. The 2018 World Cup represents the apogee of the soft-power strategy through sport organized in the” sportokatura “system described by the researcher Lukas Aubin. However, once again, the country will not benefit: with the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, Russia becomes a pariah of international sport. One of the first symbolic sanctions is the withdrawal of the Champions League final moved from St. . From Petersburg to Paris. ”

The World Cup in Qatar beyond football:

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