England v Germany 1938: Football as Propaganda

In the inter-war years, football was a popular sport which drew huge crowds of spectators. The totalitarian regimes of Germany and Italy, argues Peter J. Beck, were not slow to realise the propaganda, potential of their nations' sporting successes – and soon Britain recognised the value of sport to its own national image.

In John Huston’s recent film 'Escape to Victory' a football field is used as the battleground for a range of political and moral issues, thereby highlighting the manner in which a game can become far more than a mere sporting occasion. The film is centred upon German attempts to prove Hitler's oft-expressed assertions of racial superiority through a football match set in 1943 between a carefully selected German side and a scratch Allied team composed of prisoners of war. Although 'Escape to Victory' deals with a fictional situation, there is evidence during the inter-war period that football, among other forms of sport, was invested with a political significance, especially by regimes like those in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy where sports organisations were incorporated into the governmental system. The resulting politicisation of sport meant that other countries, in which sporting bodies were independent, could not remain untouched by this trend, particularly when involved in matches against either Germany or Italy, or in such events as the Olympic Games and World Cup.

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