More Than a Game

Following Stalin’s death in 1953, the country begins down a path of “De-Stalinization” and the landscape of the Russian culture is shifting once again. When looking at the 1956 module on “Seventeen Moments”, I discovered an interesting change occurring among the masses of Russian civilians. A massive shift of culture took over Russia following the death of Stalin. The “expansion of higher education and technical training had created a more complex and articulated society“. Russian culture was evolving and growing. The work day was reduced from eight hours to seven hours, and the work week was reduced from six days to five. The people were gaining freedom and with that freedom were gaining a cultural identity. One of the biggest parts of this culture growth was sports. With people gaining free time, they began to spend time and energy watching and supporting Russian sports. Soccer and Hockey rose to prominence in Russian culture, as citizens rallied around local and national teams. Watching sports is a leisure activity, but it has never been just a game to any sports fan. Whether it’s hockey or soccer, to be a fan of a team is to have an identity. For the Russian citizen’s that spend their free time watching sports, their team is an identity, a cultural identifier of who they are as a person and as a Russian. It’s a freedom of expression to support a sports team and is an invitation to socialize with other supporters. The support of sports teams after the death of Stalin was the “symbolic culmination of the massive transformations undergone by the entire country“. Below is a picture of a Russian stamp commemorating their national soccer team:File:The Soviet Union 1968 CPA 3643 stamp (Football (70th Anniversary of Russian Soccer) and Cup).png

On a larger scale, national sports are a means to show the outside world how strong and unified Russia still is. Cheering on the Russian national team in soccer or hockey gives the citizens of Russia something to rally around, something to identify with, and something to believe in. It’s a unifying experience for the people. The growth of sports stadiums proves the importance and power that sports have in culture. In 1952, Russia had more than 1,000 stadiums which could seat at least 1,500 spectators. By 1960, the number of stadiums that size grew by more than 1,400. And by 1968, the number of stadiums at that size grew again by almost 700 stadiums. The increase from 1,000 stadiums to 3,000 shows the surge and growth of Russian culture and the role that sports played in the culture shift.

In 1957, Russia invited numerous countries to compete in the World Ice Hockey Championships that were hosted in Moscow. The massive hockey event hosted in Russia, allowed the Russians to display their support as a nation to opposing countries and “show off” their nation by hosting the teams in their capital city. All countries accepted their invitations to the tournament, except for the United States. The United States State Department refused to issue visas to the hockey team to attend the event in Moscow, stopping them from travelling to the tournament. I honestly believe that this is because the United States knew that the hockey tournament in Moscow was more than a hockey tournament. It really is more than a game; this tournament was a display of nationalism and patriotism. Hosting the event against the Americans in this time period was a symbolic and monumental event that the U.S was safer avoiding. Winning a game over a rival country was a symbolic display of power and control. Had the Americans gone and lost this hockey game in Moscow, they would look weaker and lesser, and would have had to “retreat” back to the United States. That may sound childish and unbelievable, but in any form of match up between the United States and Russia, whether in war or in hockey, neither side will want to lose or look weak in any way. It really is more than just a game to both countries. Besides the 1980 ‘Miracle on Ice’ sports moments like these are often lost in history and undervalued when looking at countries’ cultures. I believe that this is important to Russian culture, and was extremely valuable in shaping and molding the post-Stalin culture in Russia.

2 Replies to “More Than a Game”

  1. Dylan, nice analysis of sports on both a macro and micro-level! It’s great that you emphasized both the way that international sports can serve as proxy struggles as well as how they bring about community – great post!

  2. Nice post! I think you address a topic (sports) which is relatively understudied in Soviet history. Have you ever seen the movie “The Death of Stalin”? It’s an interesting movie about the sequence of events that occurred following Stalin’s death.

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