Sport and social movements: Lilí Álvarez in Franco's Spain

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Leaders and activists of social movements at times have a background of world-class achievements in sport. How does this high-profile sport background affect their activism? This article argues that in both democracies and dictatorships, a personal past of elite sport accomplishments frequently influences activist athletes' consciousness and subsequently the selection of goals to be reached through collective action, and also the very definition of those goals. Such a background often provides their holders with publicity, public stature and social and political connections, which are factors conducive to movement success. To investigate the above propositions, this article presents a case study based on published documents, archival records, interviews and secondary sources: that of Lilí Álvarez (1905&-1998) in Spain during the right-wing dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. Álvarez was a self-proclaimed feminist who individually and together with other women tirelessly advocated for women's rights. However, she was better known for her national and international multi-sport achievement, most notably reaching the Wimbledon singles finals in three consecutive years in the late 1920s. Her sporting background inspired Álvarez to demand that girls and women practise sport. Her athletic experience influenced her social consciousness in unexpected ways and on issues other than sport, such as religion and feminism. She defended a type of Catholicism comprising a positive conception of the body (derived from her sporting past) at a time when negative conceptions of the body (especially of women's bodies) prevailed. This type of thinking led her to ask for respect and autonomy for women within the Church and in society. Álvarez's sport record gave her &- and the causes she fought for &- visibility and respectability.
Gender, Lilí Álvarez, Social Movements, Spain, Sport
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International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 2019, 54(5), 622-646