From cycling priests to the 'sportsman's pope' : Italy, sport and the catholic church
This article surveys the Catholic Church's exploitation of sport in Liberal (1861-1922), Fascist (1922-1943), and post-war Italy. It examines how and why the Church overcame its initial reticence to embrace sport and turn it into a fundamental pillar of an alternative culture that challenged the monopoly of national sporting federations. Following the rise of Fascism, sport became one of the principal means by which the Church resisted a complete takeover by the regime. Analysis of the devout Catholic cyclist Gino Bartali reveals how the Church maintained its identity and tradition of sporting independence despite the inevitable suppression of Catholic sporting organisations. Culminating in an examination of the 'immortalisation' of Bartali after his win in the 1948 Tour De France-a victory popularly credited with saving Italy from civil war-the article illuminates the processes by which sport became a central feature of Catholicism in national life. It highlights the Church's contribution to the development of Italian sport, assesses the wider impact of sport's role in forming alternative cultures, and argues that sport perfectly positioned the Church to respond to the demands of Reconstruction Italy and provided opportunities to secure a post-war Christian Democratic society.
Published inEuropean Review