Marco Tardelli

“Sport marks a nation’s history indelibly, and every generation has its own memories of it.” Italian Prime Minister

Mario Draghi made some examples, when he received the Italian national soccer team the day after its victory in the European Cup: “The Davis Cup in 1976. Marco Tardelli’s scream at the World Cup final of 1982. Pietro Mennea’s 200 meters’ world record in Mexico City. Francesca Schiavone and Flavia Pennetta winning on the courts of Roland Garros and Flushing Meadows. The second places of our national soccer team at the 1994 World Cup and 2000 European Cup, all the way to our triumph in Berlin,” in 2006: Italy champion of the world, one of the most beautiful moments in the history of Italian soccer.

We could mention many more athletes, many more memories that marked us as a people. Without a doubt, every victory has a different meaning when, behind the feelings of the single individual and the personal success or the record of the athlete, lie the emotions of a nation that supports and loves as if it had one heart. If, then, victory comes after months of pain, fear, restrictions and labor, it tastes even better. It tastes of redemption, it is almost a payback.

Our “divina” Federica Pellegrini is competing at the Tokyo Olympics. Photo: Miqu77/Dreamstime

It happened in

1936, in Berlin, when the young Italian team of

Vittorio Pozzo – with him as a coach, we won two World Cups, in 1934 and 1938, as well as two International Cups, the precursors of today’s European Cup – won the first (and only) Olympic gold medal in the history of Italian soccer. We beat Austria, an historical rival. Hitler wanted to use the Olympics as a form of propaganda. Monumental organization and monumental structures. A triumph of power. But

Jesse Owens, 23, from Alabama and as dark as ebony, won the gold in the 100 and 200 meters, long jump and relay: a proud slap in the face of Hitler’s notorious Arian theories.

It was the same 53 years ago.

1968 was a turning point everywhere in the world. A cultural revolution that brought together desire and necessity for change, a pressure cooker filled with hopes, dreams, illusions, social tragedies like the assassination of

Martin Luther King

— symbol of racial integration in American society — and collective triumphs like the first space trip to the Moon with a human crew, the Apollo 8, that launched on the 21st of December 1968,  and toured around the Moon for 10 times in 20 hours.

Soccer-wise, Italy’s greatest victories always came after difficult times. That in the 1982 World Cup symbolized, for many, the end of the Anni di Piombo, after fifteen years of bombs, shootings,  kidnappings that brought our nation to its knees. Twenty four years later, that cup risen to the Berlin sky wanted to erase the scandals that, only a handful of months before, had hit Italian soccer.

In this sense, Tokyo could be the ideal continuation of the notti magiche the Azzurri of soccer gave us last week. A beautiful window, but on TV and online only, as Japan has been struggling more than others to get rid of Covid-19, and the rise of infections in the Olympic village shed a dark light on the future of the games.

But if everything goes as it should, these Olympics could be a moment of success, at least in terms of visibility, for those athletes who put all themselves in sports not as popular and wealth-driven as soccer, and seek glory only here, every four years. Just like our fencers who, in the 125 years of the modern Olympic games gave us, incidentally, 125 medals, 49 of which gold (much more than soccer, by the way, that only won a gold and two bronze medals at the Olympics).  Or like the cyclists, the clay shooting athletes and the volleyball players led by


Egonu (child of Nigerian immigrants, symbol of diversity and voice of Dreamerwind in Disney-Pixar’s

Soul), who will carry the Italian flag during the opening ceremony. Or our basket team that, after 17 years and many a disappointment, return to the games; our gymnasts, who are always a beautiful surprise; our young, multicultural athletics team, that won 13 – never so many–  medals at the Tallinn European championships, and are the symbol of a changing country that wants to use all of its best energies.

Paola Egonu, symbol of Italy’s young, fresh multiculturalism. Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons license. Author: Osvaldo Telese/Flickr. License: Public Domain.

Today, we are on the eve of a revolution, too, because after Covid-19, the world will no longer be the same. The way we move will change and so will the way we exchange goods. We won’t communicate nor spend time together the same way. As hard as it is to contain and limit our natural need to socialize, things are bound to change. Just like in 1968, the year we won the European Cup for the last time before the triumph of Wembley. The world was changing under the eyes of people, children of an economic boom that was about to end and that, within a short time, were to experience the bitterness of Austerity. It was the same year of the Olympics in Mexico City, and of the violent repression of students revolts  where our Oriana Fallaci almost lost her life. They were the Olympics of Tommy Smith and John Carlos’s fists risen to the sky, after the 200 meters final, in the year when the African-American struggle for equality finally gained international interest. They were expelled from the Olympic village, they compromised their career, but their gesture made history. Today, 53 years later, it almost feels like we are back to square one.

But the ideals that stemmed from that year, 1968, when many Italians decided to take once more the way to America, are the very root of a world that learned to communicate, to dialogue, to speak with the aim of valuing differences and overcoming barriers. In the end, when

Pierre de Coubertin inaugurated the first modern Olympics in Athens, in 1896, it was this he had in mind. It could be the right occasion to make sure his teachings don’t get lost.

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