The Francoist Mirage at the University of Barcelona: Sports Facilities (1954-1958)

Raquel Mirabet

Xavier Pujadas

*Corresponding author: Raquel Mirabet

Original Language Spanish

Cite this article

Mirabet, R., & Pujadas, X. (2020). The Francoist Mirage at the University of Barcelona: Sports Facilities (1954-1958). Apunts. Educación Física y Deportes, 140, 8-14.



Starting in 1944, the Francoist dictatorship promoted physical education as a compulsory university subject controlled by the Falange to furnish it with ideological content. However, this political decision clashed with the reality of the harsh post-Civil War period. The University of Barcelona is a case in point, since it did not have its own sports facilities until 1957. The purpose of this study is to explain the circumstances in which these facilities were built against the background of the transformation of sports policies under the dictatorship between 1954 and 1958, and also to analyse the extent to which these infrastructures enabled more far-reaching change in the teaching objectives and methods of university physical education. To this end, documentation in the University of Barcelona’s Historical Archive (the University’s Sports Committee and physical education activity reports), documentation in the city’s Historical Archive (the University of Barcelona’s Board of Works and the Municipal Sports Committee) and newspaper library documentation from the period were examined in order to reconstruct the situation at the time. The results evince the connection between changes in the political situation and infrastructural transformations, although there is little correlation between these changes and the resistance to change of university physical education. This perspective demonstrates the clear asymmetry in sport and physical education during Franco’s dictatorship between the ideological resolve of the State apparatus and the determination of local organisations committed to modernisation and which were closer to the public’s needs.

Keywords: Facilities, Francoism, Sport, University of Barcelona, Youth.

Introduction and Objectives

During the 1950s, the tenets of Franco’s regime changed progressively with regard to physical education and sports policies. Like the actual dictatorship, the organisation and objectives of the regime’s sports policy were tailored to a modest political openness resulting from the international scenario and domestic needs. The generational changeover in its leaders (General Moscardo died in 1956), coupled with a strong interest in the internationalisation and the propagandistic use of sport, especially football (Viuda-Serrano, 2013), spawned the first attempt to modernise sports structures. This took shape particularly from the 1960s onwards, coinciding with the period of economic “developmentalism” (Santacana, 2011). This attempt at modernisation was expressed in law by the Physical Education and Sports Act of 1961, although it was most essentially embodied in a renewed vision for which the regime’s leaders coined the “sport, public need” slogan, far removed from the militaristic creed of the early years (Quiroga Fernández de Soto, 2014). Against this backdrop, university physical education, which had been taught since 1944 as a compulsory subject with a strategic role in conveying the values of Falangism to young people, would also be adapted as new facilities were built to deliver a marked improvement compared to the patently inadequate early stage (La Vanguardia, 10.11.1944). These improvements, which in the case of Barcelona’s university district took the form of the construction of the University of Barcelona’s sports facilities in 1957, were not matched by any updating of the content, methods and objectives of physical education as a subject, which remained under the control of the Spanish University Student Union (Sindicato Español Universitario or SEU) run by the Falange (Ruiz Carnicer, 1996), and aroused scant interest among young Catalan university students. Hence, in reality, and at universities, in this case the University of Barcelona, the infrastructural changes which brought about unquestionable improvements in sports facilities (Rivero, 2008) do not seem to be actually correlated to the updating of physical education as a subject at the university, which continued to be compulsory, imparted in line with traditional attitudes and by teachers with little training and a militaristic profile.

Given the dearth of specific studies on university sport during the dictatorship in Spain as a whole and in the case of Catalonia, the main aim of this research was to explain the circumstances in which the University of Barcelona’s sports facilities were created as part of the process of change in sports policies under the dictatorship in the second half of the 1950s. Alongside this general objective, two more specific objectives were pursued: a) to contextualise the correlation between this process and the period of early international opening up of sports events in the Catalonian capital, and b) to analyse to what extent building sports infrastructure was related to a more far-reaching transformation in teaching objectives and methods in the compulsory subject of physical education at the university.


In order to accomplish these objectives, this research was addressed as a historiographic study embedded in the social sciences, given that researching the past involves investigating a dimension of society, as the historiographic method is a methodological practice in itself. Therefore, the distinctive techniques of the historical method were employed, which in this case involved finding, analysing and gathering data from documents for subsequent interpretation of the archive sources, which were triangulated with other newspaper library and published literature sources.

Three different types of documentary sources were explored in this research. Firstly, the documentation in the University of Barcelona’s Historical Archive concerning the viewpoint of the University’s Sports Committee and in the activity reports which provided information about university physical education and its content in the period prior to 1957. Secondly, the municipal perspective was factored in, leveraging documentation from the University of Barcelona’s Board of Works (crucial for analysing the infrastructure plan and its predecessors) and from the Municipal Sports Committee, set up in 1952, kept in the city’s Historical Archive. Finally, data were gathered from documentation in the newspaper libraries of the period and other Falange-related activities in order to analyse the sociopolitical and ideological framework associated with sport and the university.

By making physical education compulsory at university in March 1944 (Official State Gazette of 10.04.1944), together with political and religious education, the Francoist regime provided legal coverage for its purpose of indoctrinating young people through university teaching. Nonetheless, the means required to accomplish this purpose had to be furnished, starting with the appointment of the lecturers who would deliver the appropriate instruction, as well as the equipment and infrastructure required to do sports. Most universities had major shortcomings in these aspects, and the University of Barcelona (UB) was no exception.

As for faculty, some leaders (Gastesi, 1943) suggested as early as 1943 setting up a National School of Physical Education to deliver specialised training for these lecturers to ensure that the people who were to teach university physical education classes would have sufficient resources. Until this school could be founded, the instructors came from the San Carlos School, as a department in the Faculty of Medicine in Madrid, or from the Central Gymnastics School in Toledo, which explains why health and military aspects prevailed in teaching, which also evidently catered to the Movement’s doctrinal interests. The first National Institute of Physical Education (INEF) was created following the Physical Education Act of 1961, known as the Elola-Olaso Act, because José Antonio Elola-Olaso was the national head of physical education at that time and hitherto university teachers in the subject had little specific training and were also appointed on the strength of their ideological affinity with the regime.

Sports facilities were perhaps even in shorter sup- ply than faculty, given that the UB at that time did not have its own facilities and had to make arrangements with private organisations (such as Real Club Deport- ivo Español and the Baños de Barcelona company) or use the facilities of the Youth Front or the Wom- en’s Section of the Falange, namely, and by way of example, those available in the Industrial School and in some student halls of residence. The University’s Board of Works was not set up until 1950. Building the university’s own sports facilities had to wait until July 1952, when the Board, at a plenary session, expressed its interest in:

“[…] the availability of land near the university complex suitable for the establishment of the university sports area envisaged in the general building plan, and it was agreed that this objective would be pursued until the land with the best technical and financial conditions was found.” (UB Board of Works, 1952-53)

This was a highly unstable situation which was gradually turned around using existing resources and resulted in the construction of the university sports area on what is now Avinguda Diagonal between 1954 and 1958. It coincided with the hosting of many other sports events in the course of the decade in Barcelona, which in turn helped to further the city’s international sports and tourism appeal, coinciding with the regime’s greater political openness.

The sports setting in Barcelona

During the 1950s, over twenty sports events were hosted in the city, even though it had few major facilities. In fact, in 1952 only the Montjuïc Stadium and Swimming Pool and the basketball and tennis courts in the same area were regarded as being municipal-owned (Municipal Sports Committee, 1952). The lack of sports facilities meant that many of the events had to be held in private venues (Table 1).

Table 1
Spanish and international sports events in Barcelona during the 1950s 

See table

The shortage of sports facilities was obvious, yet social circumstances forced the public authorities to allocate funding to other priorities directly tied to survival. The post-Civil War period was a time of famine in which basic foodstuffs were rationed, compounded by numerous other hardships which meant that people were hardly inclined to do sport (Pujadas & Santacana, 1997).

Nevertheless, as of the 1950s, and with the regime’s gradual international opening, the socio-political situation slowly changed, also translating into a certain generational shift in government, with the emergence of leaders closer to Catholic liberalism. Examples of this are Fernando María Castiella (who sponsored adding the right of association to the 1945 Fuero de los Españoles if the objectives were legal, and a timid move towards freedom of speech, as long as it did not conflict with the fundamental principles of the State), and Alberto Martín Artajo (who contributed to the signing of the Concordat with the Holy See in 1953), also in view of the power wielded by the Church in the regime, and which led to the International Eucharistic Congress being hosted by Barcelona in 1952 (Colomer & Calsina, 1978). Similarly, some ministries were infused with new ideas, especially by Joaquín Ruiz Giménez as head of Education (1951-1956). These were all signs of inevitable change in the system and sports could not be left out of the equation.

Although physical education had been made a compulsory university subject in 1944, and for a few years was imparted in borrowed and rented venues in Barcelona, it was now becoming essential to build proprietary facilities to accommodate it. This was due to the numerous domestic and international sports events held in the city in the course of that decade and which additionally afforded the city greater exposure beyond its borders.

The City Council of Barcelona was also aware of the recognition that sport was bringing to the city, prompting it to set up the Municipal Sports Office in 1948, together with its first set of regulations:

“[…] for the successful expansion of Sport in Barcelona […] capable of coordinating, encouraging, managing and fostering the expansion of Sport by all means, extending it to all social classes and channelling the performance of Sport in such a way that it is not the exclusive privilege of the few or the livelihood of many others.” (Municipal Sports Office, 1948)

Its first head was Epifani de Fortuny, Baron of Esponellà, who had been a director of FC Barcelona before the Civil War and promoted school swimming courses at the municipal pool on Montjuïc and also the holding of the Mediterranean Games in the city in 1955 as an event which would help to transform and modernise Barcelona (he held the post at the Office from 1948 to 1951). He was followed by Lluís de Caralt (from 1951 to 1952), Carlos Pena Cardenal (from 1952 to 1955 who went on to become Cabinet Officer for Sport on the City Council in 1963), and finally Joan Antoni Samaranch (from 1955 to 1961).

Accordingly, given the local authority’s keen interest in promoting sport, and bearing in mind the shortcomings both in general and at the university in terms of venues, the call to build facilities gradually gelled. In fact, for years the university faculty teaching the subject had been singling out “[…] the deficiencies occasioned by the dearth of sports facilities and insufficient equipment”, calling for permanent venues, or at least a satisfactory stopgap solution:

“[…] it should be stressed that the main difficulty lies in the lack of adequate university-owned pitches and facilities, and while this main problem is being resolved, hiring a sufficient number of adequate pitches and facilities provisionally may offset the evident shortage.” (UB End of Academic Year Report, 1947-48)

Thus, the UB Board of Works, constituted in 1950 “[…] to effectively and quickly implement the plan to expand the Schools of the University of Barcelona […]” (Official State Gazette of 16 February 1951), explicitly stated this interest in sports matters in its 1952 and 1953 Reports in terms of the possible site of the facilities, actually the same location as the one that FC Barcelona was considering for its new Camp Nou football stadium, although it would ultimately be reserved for the university. This document devoted an entire chapter to university sports facilities and, acknowledging their importance, it established that:

“[…] on the land acquired by the Board and in the southern sector of Avenida del Generalísimo Franco adjacent to the municipalities of Hospitalet and Esplugas, it is planned to build the university sports facilities, a compulsory addition to the teaching facilities.” (UB Board of Works, 1952-53)

Another example of the growing attraction of university sport for the regime was the 1953 National University Games in Barcelona. Franco himself stressed this in comments to La Vanguardia on 24 March of that year in terms of the “political importance of sports instruction, one of the surest ways of contributing to the greatness of Spain”, since in the dictator’s view “the mission of university students [which] does not end at the walls of the university but rather extends to all areas of national life.” Accordingly, he added that “the Movement must be nurtured by this eagerness to excel in sports, since physical training contributes to the strength of Spanish youth and thus prepares them physically to render the most effective service to the Nation.” Two days later, the same newspaper reported a conversation with the National Head of the Spanish University Student Union (Sindicato Español Universitario or SEU) Jorge Jordana Fuentes, who referred to “their [the National University Games] impact on the life of the city and also about the imminent plans for university sports facilities” (La Vanguardia, 26.03.1953).

This apparent consistency between the remarks by the SEU leader and the head of state himself in relation to university sport and the need for new infrastructure was reaffirmed some days later by the Minister of National Education, Ruiz Giménez. Linking the National University Games to the lack of university sports venues in the city, he confirmed the importance that had been attached to sports facilities in the planning of new university buildings, while also applauding the organisational success and results of the National University Games held in Barcelona, because they were “[…] a celebration of how all the educational power of sport has been fully integrated into the ideals of the Movement and balances and harmonises it […]” (La Vanguardia, 31.03.1953).

This demand had already been legally formalised through the publication in the Official State Gazette no. 314 of 09.11.1952 of the Decree of 24 October 1952 on the acquisition of land to complete the Barcelona University Zone, which stated, in Article 2, “the pressing need for the work for the construction of sports pitches in the Avenida del Generalísimo Franco in the city of Barcelona”.

Siting and building university sports facilities

FC Barcelona planned to build a new stadium, as approved by its Assembly in July 1948 (Santacana, 2007). With this in mind, in November 1950 the club said it was particularly keen on acquiring the land at the end of what is now Avinguda Diagonal and on which it had taken out a purchase option before the University also considered acquiring it.
In fact, the UB Board of Works was fully aware of the Club’s intention and referred to the negotiations conducted in its Annual Report for the 1952-53 academic year:

[…] the Board was informed that FC Barcelona was planning to build a stadium in an adjacent area. The Board of Works got in touch with the Chairman of the Club and has been in constant contact with him since then to coordinate and align the interests of the University with the Club’s plans, insofar as the latter, once completed, might affect part of the land acquired.

In lockstep, these negotiations were also recorded in the minutes of Futbol Club Barcelona’s Board of Directors meetings in 1952-54, such as those dating from 26 February 1953 which state that: “Mr Vallés reported to the Board on the most recent meetings held with the Board of Works of the University of Barcelona concerning the final site of our new stadium and the agreements reached in principle.”

The disputes between both organisations coursed for more than three years and were ultimately settled in the University’s favour in 1954 in a scenario in which its shortcomings in sports infrastructure were made patent once again:

“As FC Barcelona has resolved the problem of the building of its stadium on the land it owns between the Maternity Hospital and the Las Corts Cemetery, a problem which for so long had thwarted the construction of the sports facilities planned by this Board, whose completion will cater to a most pressing need, since it will not only allow students to do sport but will also be used for physical education, for which there are currently no adequate facilities, to be taught, the Plenary Meeting held on 26 February agreed to immediately take over the plots of land to complete the sports area […].” (UB Board of Works, 1954)

The UB’s ownership of the land was thus finally acknowledged, and work on building the facilities had to begin. Before that, however, it was thought expedient to set up a ‘University Sports Committee’ to provide the University with the technical advice it needed and to produce regulations governing the future use of the facilities. The Committee was set up on 26 March 1954, and had seven members: the Rector, a professor representing the faculty, the Director of Physical Education Teaching at the University, the two Heads of Sports of the men’s and women’s sections of the SEU, a representative of the University Sports Club and a specialist adviser.

One year later, the Decree of 18 March 1955 (Official State Gazette of 01.04.1955) approved the City University of Barcelona Sports Facilities plan, assigning a budget of more than 15 million pesetas (currently equivalent to more than €90,000) which was to be put out to tender.

Between 20 April and 19 May 1955, seven companies submitted bids for the building work, reducing the final cost by between 2% and 19.2%. On 25 May, the plenary meeting of the UB Board of Works awarded the commission to the company that had tendered the lowest bid, namely Construcciones Sulleva, S.A. (UB Board of Works, 1955).

Although the work was completed in little more than a year (December 1956), the UB Sports Committee refused to accept it on the grounds that it was defective. As a result, and following an exchange of several letters which led the cost of the repairs to be passed on to the University and to the builder in turn, the official ceremony for the provisional acceptance of the work was finally held on 12 March 1957.

However, when the University’s Governing Board decided to entrust the management of the operation and the administration of the facilities to the Sports Committee, the latter made a “lengthy visit to the site to check the state of the pitches and courts”. In the course of this visit, major defects were identified, which the builder would have to remedy, since some areas, including the rugby pitch, the football training field, the large concrete track, the fronton court, the volleyball court and some tennis courts were found to be unusable. They also emphasised the poor quality of the changing rooms and the incorrect layout of the Olympic rings at the entrance to the facilities (UB University Sports Committee, 25.05.1957).

Although La Vanguardia reported on 12 June 1957 that “the sports facilities have already been built at the end of the Avenida del Generalísimo Franco and are about to be opened”, the official opening actually took place more than one year later due to all the repairs required on the original construction work.

With all these setbacks, and the raft of add-ons subsequently called for to render the infrastructure as complete as possible (for example, metal fences, furniture, lighting, etc.), it was not until October 1958 that the official opening took place. This was despite the fact that the facilities had been in use for university sports for some time, as reported in the press at the time: “the facilities have been in use for some time now, but they have not yet been officially opened, which means that this is a new event” (La Vanguardia, 18.10.1958).


This article has described the background to the construction of the UB’s sports facilities, which the different stakeholders at the time had long since been claiming.

However, notwithstanding the formal appearance of the regime’s accomplishment of objectives related to the university, the existence of the new facilities was little more than a cosmetic touch-up for the physical education subject, a subject not highly rated by students, who perceived it as a burden devoid of any real and meaningful content for their intellectual training (the statistical table for PE in the 1950-51 academic year shows attendance rates of 50% for the subject), or by its faculty, who felt they were undervalued.

Indeed, the Secretariat General of the Movement placed PE teachers within the “special lecturers” category, and therefore belittled in comparison with the lecturers of other university subjects, and also shorter in number and in specific training. In actual fact, neither did the actual system seem to regard it as efficient (the university district’s SEU failed to assign all the students), given that it failed to invest sufficient resources to make it a real tool for indoctrinating young people, and was unable to make its syllabus more attractive. As a result, students were apathetic towards it and they continued to regard it as a “Mickey Mouse” subject.

With an evident rift between university students and Franco’s regime, which was especially repressive in Barcelona through faculty purges and the persecution of the Catalan language, the students’ attitude was a sign of the paradigm shift taking place in society in politics and sports alike.


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[13] Condiciones generales que, además de las facultativas del proyecto, de las generales aprobadas por Decreto de 4 de septiembre de 1908 y de las indicadas en el anuncio de la subasta, han de regir en la Contrata de las obras de construcción de las “Instalaciones deportivas del núcleo universitario de Barcelona”. Archivo Histórico de la UB, topográfico 02_236_1.1_01.

[14] Decreto de 29 de marzo de 1944 por el que se establecen en las Universidades Cursos de Educación Física para los escolares, BOE de 10 de abril de 1944, núm. 101, 2845.

[15] Decreto de 22 de diciembre de 1950 por el que se crea la Junta de Obras de la Universidad de Barcelona. BOE núm. 47 de 16 de febrero de 1951, 708.

[16] Decreto de 24 de octubre de 1952 sobre la adquisición de terrenos para completar la Zona Universitaria de Barcelona, BOE núm. 314 de 9 de noviembre de 1952.

[17] Decreto de 18 de marzo de 1955 por el que se aprueba el proyecto de Instalaciones Deportivas en la Ciudad Universitaria de Barcelona, BOE núm. 91 de 1 de abril de 1955, 2144.

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[22] La Vanguardia. (12 de junio de 1957). Las autoridades visitaron ayer las obras del nuevo núcleo universitario. La Vanguardia, 4.

[23] La Vanguardia. (18 de octubre de 1958). La Educación Física en la formación de la juventud. La Vanguardia, 28.

[24] Ley de 9 de julio de 1943 sobre Ordenación de la Universidad Española, BOE de 31 de julio de 1943, 7406, Preámbulo.

[25] Ley 77/1961, de 23 de diciembre, sobre Educación Física, BOE de 27 de diciembre de 1961, 18125.

[26] Memoria de las actividades desarrolladas durante el curso 1947-48 en el Primer Curso de la Facultad de Medicina de la UB firmada por el profesor de EF (sin identificar), 28 de junio de 1948. Topográfico 3505_1.1.

[27] Memoria de fin de curso 1947-48 firmada por Agustín Albarrán, Jefe del Servicio de EF de la UB, 3 de julio de 1948. Topográfico 3505_1.1.

[28] Memoria de la Junta de Obras de la Universidad de Barcelona de los años 1952, 1953, 1954 y 1955, Archivo Histórico de la Ciudad de Barcelona, Firma Ent. 10-3.

[29] Reglamento de la Delegación Municipal de Deportes de 14 de noviembre de 1948.

[30] Reglamento de la Comisión Municipal de Deportes, aprobado por acuerdo del Excmo. Ayuntamiento de Barcelona en Pleno de 8 de mayo de 1952, Archivo Histórico de la Ciudad de Barcelona, Firma Ent. 1-41, caixa 1, 24.

[31] Resumen de las gestiones relativas a la terminación y recepción de las obras de las Instalaciones Deportivas. Archivo Histórico de la UB, Topográfico 02_236_1.2_01.

ISSN: 2014-0983

Received: 19 de marzo de 2019

Accepted: 27 de julio de 2019

Published: 1 de abril de 2020