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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.

Abstract only
Keith Rathbone

This introductory chapter lays out the aims and methods of the book. While there are many studies of life in Occupied France, for the most part they focus on the hardships, thereby missing some of the opportunities people discovered during the emergence of the Vichy State. An example of this is physical culture. The Vichy Government placed physical culture at the centre of their National Revolution, but rather than passively accept the Government’s dictates, French athletes contested them, reshaping their local and regional sporting life from the bottom up. These sportsmen and women’s innovative wartime agency contributes to our understanding of power under authoritarian regimes and occupations. As the book shows, the power of individuals and organisations to reshape the authoritarian French State’s athletic ideology provides an opportunity to revise both our historical understandings of the Vichy era and the work of power in authoritarian regimes in other places.

in Sport and physical culture in Occupied France
The use of physical education and sports by the French left and right
Keith Rathbone

This chapter provides an overview of sports in interwar France and presents a novel analytical framework for understanding the divisions in French sporting life. Through a close examination of the policies of left-wing and right-wing sporting organisations, including the Fédération sportive et gymnique du travail and the Parti social français, it is argued that the conflict between fascists and anti-fascists, so prevalent in the historiography on sport in the 1930s, is overstated and misshapes our understanding of European athletics. This chapter provides a counter-narrative centred on a conflict between proponents of amateurism – a bogeyman to both the political left and right, especially in Paris – and supporters of professionalism, more common in the professional classes and working classes in the provinces. A focus on professionalism and amateurism illuminates the connections between the French left and right built during the Popular Front years and points to a continuity of thinking about athletics in the Vichy period.

in Sport and physical culture in Occupied France
Bureaucrats, teachers, and athletic fields in Vichy
Keith Rathbone

In this chapter it is argued that instead of conceiving of a completely radical new physical education programme, Vichy officials doubled down on the athletic policies of the charismatic Third Republic Sports Minister, Léo Lagrange. Vichy officials mirrored Lagrange’s methods when they turned to local stakeholders to encourage the successful federal–local partnerships that enabled the construction of new athletic facilities and the hiring of more physical education instructors. Vichy’s reliance on local partners opened spaces of liberty that many athletes used to manipulate the State’s investment in sports towards their own ends.

in Sport and physical culture in Occupied France
Keith Rathbone

This chapter examines Vichy's physical educational practices in order to understand how the State instituted programmes to encourage physical and moral regeneration through sport; how the State's agents monitored the development of those ideals; and how young people undermined the State through individual and collective disobedience. It is argued that physical education teachers used French gymnastics exercises to encourage athletic progress as measured in categories such as increased stamina, dexterity, strength, perseverance, mental toughness, and team spirit. However, students preferred team sports to other types of physical activities such as running, weight training, and exercising. The chapter shows how educators faced significant difficulties in encouraging their pupils to participate in the ‘correct’ exercises and accept the link between physical education and moral education. Instead, students sought their own athletic fulfilment, fought with bureaucrats and teachers, and ultimately significantly undermined the physical educational goals of the State.

in Sport and physical culture in Occupied France
Keith Rathbone

The fourth chapter investigates the responses of French sports journals, the French Football Federation, and the top clubs in Paris to the deprofessionalisation efforts of the Vichy State. Vichy’s Sports Ministers attacked professional sports. In 1944, all professional football in France ended thanks to a heavy-handed policy that replaced professional clubs with a number of Government-controlled regional teams. The anti-professional efforts of the State, especially the move in 1943/44 to a completely federalised professional football, engendered considerable and ultimately successful resistance from the French Football Federation, the grand clubs, national newspapers, local associations, and even local fans who resisted Government directives to halt professionalism. The opposition to Vichy's programmes assumed a regional character as clubs in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais proved exceptionally resistant to Vichy's anti-professional objectives. The anti-professional policies also embarrassed the Government. Anti-professionalism eroded the quality of French players and caused a failure of the French national football team on the international stage.

in Sport and physical culture in Occupied France
Agency and autonomy in wartime sporting associations
Keith Rathbone

The fifth chapter poses the question of how small, local omnisports clubs survived the war despite the hardships of food shortages, insufficient transportation, and a lack of proper materials. It is argued that sporting associations remained relevant by developing new connections with their communities, specifically by making use of resources distributed for physical education and sports by the Vichy regime. Clubs interacted with the State in different ways, seeking to take advantage of their association’s relationship with State power to improve the lives of their members. The ways in which sporting associations dealt with the Vichy State explain how and in what circumstances public associations could challenge the State and the German Occupation.

in Sport and physical culture in Occupied France
Keith Rathbone

In the final chapter, sports clubs are situated within the discourse on wartime resistance. It is argued that resistance within athletic associations was rare because public associations with open memberships made poor nexuses for clandestine armies. The clear majority of sporting associations were not 'clubs of the Resistance', but many claimed to be so after the war. In unpacking why and how some clubs became sites of active or passive resistance or collaboration, and why all clubs later sought out such designations, this chapter contributes to the already rich literature on resistance and provides insight into how resistance organisations formed and how post-hoc resistance reputations were created.

in Sport and physical culture in Occupied France
Abstract only
Keith Rathbone

The concluding chapter offers some final reflections on sport and physical culture in Occupied France. As the book has shown, during the Occupation the French public did not generally consider physical education and sports to be problematic. While the Vichy regime supported the physical education of young men and women to revitalise the State, individual athletes and sporting organisations also pursued their own agendas which often conflicted with the State’s desires. The accounts of wartime athletes illustrate a way of thinking about occupation that does not only conjure images of vast power dichotomies and tanks rumbling down narrow streets. Investigating this less well known aspect of the German Occupation of France shows how an officially promoted physical education programme was implicitly turned against the regime and became a vehicle for a politics of civil disobedience.

in Sport and physical culture in Occupied France