In 2000, an article by the great American writer Paul Auster reminded readers of how much the history of football was associated with warfare. He noted that: “Countries now wage their battle on the soccer field with surrogate armies in short pants”, going on to write that he understood while watching the World Cup that “Europeans had finally found a substitute for war”. Paul Auster thus saw sport as “the continuation of war by other means”, to parody General von Clausewitz.
Things have not always been so straightforward, as demonstrated in our spotlight selection this year. In the inter-war period, the Olympic Games of 1924 and 1936, portrayed respectively in Hugh Hudson’s Chariots of Fire and Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefensthal’s Olympia, aggravated the political, racial and indeed religious tensions that were to lead to the atrocities of the Second World War. Far from bringing people together, sport intensified and rekindled differences ultimately resolved on the battlefield. Physical strength is replaced by the violence of weaponry. In both Peter Solan’s The Boxer and Death, an extremely fine and little known Czech film from 1962 taking place in a concentration camp, and in John Huston’s Escape to Victory (1981), sport is the symbolic medium through which the Nazis seek to establish their victory over a Jewish or Allied enemy once and for all. For the Palestinian terrorists of the Black September organisation, in taking hostage and slaughtering the Israeli delegation, the 1972 Olympics are simply a means of raising awareness of their cause. This is the story told by Spieberg’s Munich, which follows the Mossad agents determined, independently of any judiciary, to avenge the deaths of the Israeli victims. Like Paul Aurer, we may welcome the fact that, through football, military conflict has ceased between European nations. Nonetheless, it is but a sad affair that international sport has become increasingly reduced to that other form of warfare, economic rivalry.
OLYMPIA (1938), Leni Riefenstahl - Germany
THE BOXER AND DEATH (1962), Peter Solan - Slovakia
ESCAPE TO VICTORY (1981), John Huston - USA
CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981), Hugh Hudson - USA
MUNICH (2006), de Steven Spielberg - USA
INVICTUS (2010), de Clint Eastwood - USA