Soccer historians tell FIFA 1934, 1978 World Cups were suspicious

A FIFA-hosted conference on World Cup history has been told that football's biggest prize was twice won with the help of dictators fixing matches for the host team.

Italy, Argentina leaders allegedly interfered

Benito Mussolini was involved in making sure Italy got advantages in the 1934 World Cup, an Italian soccer writer alleges. (Associated Press file)

Football's biggest prize has twice been won with the help of dictators fixing matches for the host team, according to a FIFA-hosted conference on World Cup history.

Argentina's triumph in 1978 and Italy's 1934 victory were influenced by military leaders seeking propaganda coups, delegates were told on Thursday at a symposium titled "The Relevance and Impact of FIFA World Cups."

"It's the same old story: Sport and politics are brothers and sometimes sport is under the other brother," Italian writer Marco Impiglia told The Associated Press in an interview.

Impiglia presented a paper suggesting Italy's fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, ensured favourable refereeing decisions which helped the host team win.

Raanan Rein, an Israeli professor of Latin American history, said he was "100 per cent persuaded" that Argentina's military junta influenced a 6-0 win against Peru. The match is a notorious chapter of World Cup lore and ensured Argentina advanced to the final instead of great rival Brazil.

Both Italy and Argentina won a second World Cup — in 1938 and 1986, respectively — soon after their allegedly tainted first titles.

The four-day gathering of academics and historians is studying the political, social and economic impact on nations which have hosted the biggest and most-watched sports event since the World Cup was first played in Uruguay in 1930.

"It's very fitting that we're here in the home of FIFA," conference co-organizer Stefan Rinke said, praising the "hospitable" governing body.

FIFA's choice of Brazil, Russia and Qatar — three countries with growing economies and diplomatic influence — as the next hosts from 2014 to 2022 suggests football and politics will continue to mix.

"It tells me that in terms of the global presence of football since the 1930s, FIFA has made a big step forward," said Rinke, a professor of Latin American history at Free University in Berlin.

Opening the conference on Wednesday, FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke acknowledged that working with democratically elected governments can complicate organizing tournaments which require billions of dollars of investment in stadiums, airports, roads and hotels.

Dictator-led hosts presented a different kind of challenge, delegates were told.

Rein said the generals who seized power in Argentina in 1976 needed a propaganda victory two years later to appease their people and a global community angered by the regime's often brutal treatment of opponents.

They collaborated with "at least one foreign government" to fix the Peru match, which Argentina needed to win by four clear goals, the Tel Aviv University vice-president said.

"According to many people I spoke with in Argentina ... there is in fact no question about it," said Rein, adding that many activists were conflicted by their affection for the players to speak out about the apparent fix.

"It not only stains the military regime but it also stains the national team and they had a great national team. In many ways, they deserved to win the World Cup," he said.