Authoritarian regimes often used sports, especially football, for propaganda. For example, Mussolini did it in the 1934 World Cup, and was “copied” by Brazil in 1950 – except they lost the final match. Hitler did the same for the 1936 Olympics Games in Berlin, but also smaller events had been exploited for political purposes. Syria almost got qualified to the 2018 World Cup in Russia – accidentally hosted by Assad‘s allied, Putin – with a selection of players close to the Government’s ideals.
Other times the kermesse is created out of nothing
The Seventies aren’t a good decade for South America. Brazil, Argentina, Chile ends up under the rule of the army and even in Uruguay, in 1973, there’s a golpe. Under the pretext of stopping the Tupamaros guerrilla, the elected president Juan Maria Bordaberry takes control of the military junta. Another golpe in 1976 establish the rise of Aparicio Mendez, a civilian supported by the army.
Over there, they say that if England is the mother of football, Uruguay is the father. They won two Olympics in 1924 (Antwerp) and 1928 (Amsterdam), then the first World Cup in 1930 (at home) and they succeed at their second appearance, in 1950 (Brazil) – they refused to participate in 1934 (Italy) and 1938 (France).
But in 1978 they see their historic rivals, Argentina, winning the first World Cup. The Argentinian triumvirate, Jorge Rafael Videla, Emilio Eduardo Massera, Orland Ramon Agosti, appeals to all the possible rhetoric to involve a population that is having much worse problems to deal with. The priority is to understand what happened to the thousands of young people, students, workers picked up from their homes and mysteriously disappeared. The regime is trying to pretend that everything is normal, abroad something is known, something else is just imagined.
There are polemics, it’s inevitable due to the political situation, but the World Cup is played anyway
Argentina will win that World Cup, but is not a good memory for them. Not much because of few controversial episodes – a very likely fixed match with Peru (“marmelada peruana”) and an unbalanced refereeing in the final with Holland, nothing new, after all. The National team is very strong, anyway. The problem is the atmosphere the country is living.
In Uruguay they take notes, but the next World Cup, in 1982, is already assigned to Spain
So, between December 1980 and January 1981, they organize the World Champions’ Gold Cup, a sort of small World Cup, in fact is popularly known as mundialito, to which only the teams with at least a World Cup are invited. Italy, West Germany, Brazil and Argentina accept, England refuses. The reasons are unclear, officially it’s for the busy winter schedule but it may had been a veiled protest. England is replaced by Holland, second place in the last two competitions (1974 and 1978).
In the Netherlands, the news is not taken well. There is even a parliamentary inquiry, but in the end they will go. Also in Italy, 40 players sign a paper against this propagandistic competition, but the document will be censored by the main newspaper, Corriere della Sera, which invites the readers to spent their Christmas holidays in Uruguay.
The reasons why such a prestigious newspaper had been so silent will be clear in 1981. The publisher, Angelo Rizzoli, is affiliated to the deviated Masonic Lodge P2 (Propaganda 2), card n. 532. And P2 is very influential among the military in Argentina and Uruguay – Massera has the card n.478. Less important, but P2 has infiltrated in the Italian Football Federation, more than happy to collect the attendance fee.
Licio Gelli, Venerable Master of P2, has strong economic and bank interests along the Plate
He even owns a luxurious mansion in Montevideo, Uruguay, where he will hide from the law, for a while. In 1978 he is the guest of honour of the Argentinian junta for the World Cup celebrations. Not bad, for a humble mattress seller. Italy plays a shady part during the rounding up of those who will become desaparecidos, more or less 40 thousand people: the Italian Embassy, connected to P2, has precise orders to reject political asylum seekers. Enrico Calamai, the “Schindler of Buenos Aires”, exposes the plan, therefore he is transferred.
Only one thing is missing, in Europe, before the mundialito can start. Visibility
Strasad, an agency based in Panama but owned by a Greek entrepreneur, Angelo Vulgaris, negotiates the broadcast rights with Europe. Eurovision, the continental institution which mediates on behalf of national broadcasting stations, is defeated by an ambition Italian businessman, Silvio Berlusconi (P2 card n. 1816): he offers 900 thousand dollars.
It could look like a normal auction, but: first, the price of a single match is disproportionated, 7.5 times more than a 1978 World Cup game; second, RAI, the Italian public broadcast, will complain the lack of a regular auction; third, Fininvest, owned by Berlusconi, can’t broadcast live, because the satellites in use at that time are for the exclusive use of RAI.
Fininvest strategy was successful
Berlusconi sold back the rights to RAI, at a higher price, of course. Plus, he obtained the possibility to broadcast all the matches that Italy doesn’t play, but not the final, benefiting from commercials. And he (and Fininvest) gained in reputation. They send a message to RAI, their monopoly isn’t standing any more. And they make look the national television like the “bad guys”, they don’t want the audience and supporters to enjoy football.
In the end, football wasn’t essential for Mundialito, more like a game of powers
In fact, it was the first and last edition, for the record won by Uruguay. In 1997 FIFA will come up with the idea of a Confederations Cup, to be played a year before the World Cup with all the teams who won their continental championships. But this competition will never have a real appeal.
Licio Gelli was arrested in 1982, same year when the Argentinian dictatorship fell, defeated by the British navy offshore the Malvinas (or Falklands). Gelli will escape for a few years in South America, before turning himself to the Swiss authorities in 1987. Uruguay will be a democracy again in 1985. Berlusconi and Fininvest (in 1993 it will change name to Mediaset) are the only ones in this story who actually had longevity.
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