Sport and physical culture in Occupied France

Authoritarianism, agency, and everyday life

Author: Keith Rathbone

Wartime physical culture in France encompasses two complementary phenomena: a massive State investment in national regeneration, best exemplified by the creation of a sports bureaucracy (the Commissariat général à l'éducation générale et aux sports) and a concomitant rise in participation among ordinary people who during the wartime joined local sporting associations in greater numbers than ever before. Why did popular participation in sports explode during the wartime and how much did the Government’s programmes succeed in using the popularity of athletics to promote their conservative ideology?

This book sets out to explore the interplay between these two circumstances. The first two chapters examine the French State’s role in the development of sports during the interwar period through to the Occupation. The second half of the book centres on popular participation in sports. Chapter 3 deals with physical education in State schools while chapter 4 investigates how the largest professional clubs survived the Vichy State’s attempt to deprofessionalise sports. Chapter 5 looks at a dozen local sporting associations to better understand how ordinary French people used their clubs to overcome the hardships imposed by the Germans and the Vichy Government. Each of these chapters emphasises the power of everyday French men and women to frustrate the Government’s physical cultural agenda. A final chapter provides a finale to the book, examining what happened to sports after the Liberation of France, and how sporting organisations reshaped their institutional memory of the wartime through the lens of collaboration and resistance.

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