The soccer world cup of 1938: politics, spectacles, and la culture physique in interwar France
French Historical Studies, 31, (1), Winter Issue, . (doi:10.1215/00161071-2007-016).
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I argue that a study of the football World Cup held in stadia throughout France in June 1938 adds to our understanding of the purchase of sport and la culture physique in the late 1930s, showing how far sport had become a commodity integrated into the language and economy of the spectacular. It illuminates the mentalité of late 1930s sportifs as well as that of the intellectuals and politicians who had come to take sport and la culture physique seriously as a source of national salvation, and demonstrates how attitudes towards sport and the male sporting body had become entwined with contemporary concerns about “national decline”. Finally, the tournament reminds us how far the sports stadium functioned as contested political space in inter-war France, even if the World Cup ultimately shows the dominance of the allegedly politically neutral values of sportivité over those of engagement.
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