Sport and Fascism

Authored by: Daphné Bolz

Routledge Handbook of Sport and Politics

Print publication date:  October  2016
Online publication date:  October  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138792548
eBook ISBN: 9781315761930
Adobe ISBN: 9781317646679


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In the humanities and social sciences, few concepts are as difficult to define as “fascism”, the term having been used for various political, social or cultural systems in both the past and present. As George L. Mosse has written, there is no workable definition of fascism that can suit all historical experiences and analyses (Mosse 1999). In modern times, the expression was first used in Italy after World War I, when a group of political activists created a “fascist” movement and eventually founded the Fascist National Party (PNF) in 1921. Their leader, Benito Mussolini, seized power in 1922. From the 1930s, the significance of the concept was extended and more widely used to characterise a specific political form that included German National Socialism, whose leader Adolf Hitler ruled Germany from 1933 to the end of World War II in 1945 (Kershaw 1985). The holistic vision of society, the objective to breed a New Man and the idea of a Third-Way state are considered as the core components of fascist ideology (Eatwell 2013). However, the concept itself has a turbulent history as an interpretation tool (Musiedlak 2010). It is closely related to other concepts such as “totalitarianism”, which was much used in the first post-war interpretations of the interwar dictatorships (Arendt 1951). From the 1970s, the coming of a generation of historians who developed new ways of writing history allowed daily life under fascism to be considered in a different way. This was a significant turn in historiography, because researchers questioned the role of the masses. The reference to terror now seemed insufficient to explain the success of fascism. Scholars rather focused on the way the regimes sought the populations’ consent (De Grazia 1981). Given the strong importance of emotion in sport and sport’s extraordinary development in the interwar years, it is not surprising that the new “social” approach to fascism examined the specific role of sport. This chapter aims at giving an overview of the place of sport in fascist regimes and relies on historical examples taken mainly from Italy and Germany.

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