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Training the people. A transnational history of sport in interwar Europe.

Project description

How European sport changed in the interwar period

In the European interwar period, sport was impacted by considerable changes. In fact, this period is particularly important for the history of sports. For instance, amateurism gave way to national and social ideals. The world of sport also became highly politicised. To date, this change process has been studied on a national historical basis. As such, it remains unexplored in its transnational dimension. The EU-funded Training People project will investigate the changing nature of European sport from a transnational perspective, revealing similarities and national differences. The project will focus on three main aspects of European sport related to the perception of hygiene and health campaigns, the politicisation of sports events and the growing replacement of amateurism by professionalism.


This project will explore the changing nature of European sport in the interwar period from a transnational perspective, combining cultural, political and social history. Based on the German, French, Italian and British cases but with reference to other countries, this innovative work will permit the writing of a standard work to fill a major gap in the subject which has been dominated by national histories.
The interwar years were a critical period for the development of sport in Europe: the traditional ‘amateur ideal’ gave way to athletes who embodied new national and social causes. The flourishing development of physical culture (German Turnen and games, Swedish/Danish gymnastics, ‘English’ sports…) was marked by the powerful politicising of sport as well as the expansion of the press and broadcast media, which influenced people and governments to an unprecedented degree. The ideal of the ‘New Man’ best exemplified this change. This research will bring to the fore the similarities that have been obscured as well as striking national differences. In taking Europe as a point of departure, this work will focus on three areas. (1) Hygiene: how the post-war body was to be (re)educated: (1.1) national health campaigns and (1.2) new school curricula. (2) The politics of sport: as expressed through (2.1) the nature and extent of institutionalisation and (2.2) the growing importance of ‘mega events’, especially the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup. (3) The increasing specialisation of sport: (3.1) how amateurism came under threat from professionalism and (3.2) how scientific research into physical culture was expanded.
The researcher brings all the necessary qualities and maturity to realise this highly ambitious project. She will be hosted in a major German university by a world-leading professor recognised for his scientific excellence and dynamism in the field. The project’s sources are held in various European libraries and institutions already known to the researcher.


Net EU contribution
€ 174 806,40

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Nordrhein-Westfalen Münster Münster, Kreisfreie Stadt
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 174 806,40