Dictators who used football as a propaganda tool. Part 1: Hitler

Germany lost 2-0 against Norway in the second round of the 1936 Berlin Olympics and that too in presence of Adolf Hitler. It was a major blow to the ego and prestige of the Nazis and immense embarrassment for the regime looking to use football as their propaganda tool.

Nazi philosophy believed in the superiority of the Aryan race including all the athletic competitions. Hitler’s infamous distaste at the 1936 Olympics was a result of victories of the non-Aryans such as American runner, Jesse Owens. After the tournament as stated in Albert Speer’s Inside the Third Reich, Hitler was furious and said,

“Their physiques were stronger than those of civilized whites and hence should be excluded from future games.”

Jessi Owens wins 100m in 1936 Olympics in Hitler’s presence. Video credits: Sporting History

Football was always a working man’s sport and Europe’s right-wing dictatorships knew they could attract and influence people using it. When Hitler came in to full power in 1933, all the owners, players, sponsors and journalists that were Jewish were excluded. An approx. 40,000 Jewish German people lost their job as a consequence, which is 1/10th of their total population before the war. By 1945, a very few Jews were left in Germany, let alone football. Thus, DFB, the German Football Federation, helped in stabilizing the influence of Nazi regime. Hitler spread his politics via soccer.

It was also a long-standing rumor that Hitler was a Schalke 04 fan as the club enjoyed a lot of success in his tenure and it was under his influence that the club won 6 German championships. Gerd Voss, Head of Media & PR at Schalke, comprehensively destroyed The Times for the false rumors. In a sarcastic letter he proved his point by saying, “To conclude Hitler was a fan of Schalke 04 because they won most of the titles during his regime must make Margaret Thatcher a Liverpool fan. Funnily enough she didn’t make the list [Time’s Worst Football Fans List]”.

The German Football Federation put into practice various rules in order to spread the Nazi philosophy. One of the most hated one was that the participants were ordered to perform the Nazi salute before the match. It caused problems at various instances.

In 1938 Germany lost to England (6-3). English FA decided that the English players should give Nazi salute during the German national anthem. This gesture didn’t fit in with the players and was criticized by the British press. Legendary Stanley Matthews won the game for England in front of the Swastika-waving crowd.

Another incident that didn’t sit well with Hitler happened in 1942, as prior to a match against the Germans, FC Start refused to do a Nazi salute and instead did a Soviet one.

Hitler’s Germany annexed Austria and the Austrian team was dissolved and players were forced to play for Germany. Matthias Sindelar refused to play for Germany and purchased a café to earn his livelihood.  Sindelar is famous for scoring a wonder goal against England in 1932. It was quite similar to the one which Maradona scored in 1986 and is regarded as one of the best goals ever. At the age of 35, Sindelar was found dead in his apartment and the Gestapo file on him marked him as pro-Jewish. This incident also symbolizes Hitler held a personal vendetta against the players who didn’t play for them.