How Sports Affected The Soviet Union

With the transformation of the built environment, the Soviet Union paid more attention about physical fitness, sports, and the upbringing of the youth. Sports were becoming more and more popular across the world and the Olympics began to be seen as a way to show off a nation’s superiority. The Soviet Union wanted to show that its people could compete against other nations and it saw sports as a way to make sure its citizens were physically fir for another war. In order to do this, the Soviet Union began to enforce its citizens and especially the youth, to participate in sports and physical education.

To start things off, sports was a big deal in the interwar period in Europe. Barbara Keys notes in her article that:                                                                                      One of the most popular forms of the new mass culture in interwar                  Europe was modern sport… Measured by popular followings and by its          growing political significance, sport    arguably represented the most              powerful and far-reaching of the period’s vibrant transnational cultural          flows (Pg. 414).                                                                                                                                The Soviet Union left the western system of international sport in the 1920s claiming it was based off of capitalism and exploitation but returned in the 1930s (Keys, pg. 414-415). The reasoning for their return was that the Soviet Union wanted to encourage its citizens to engage in sports and physical activity. The Soviet Union and other European countries encouraged this in order to create effective soldiers and workers (Keys, pg. 415). Seeing as how Russia came out of the First World War barely alive, the Soviet Union wanted to make sure its citizens were ready for another war and would be able to win a war. Another reason why the Soviet Union wanted to excel in sports was to impress Soviet strength to foreign countries and make the Soviet Union attractive to foreign workers (Keys, pg. 419). If the Soviet Union impressed other countries, then they could gain recognition and show that socialism is effective along with attracting foreign workers to live in the USSR, thereby strengthening it.

When the Soviet Union started, it consisted not just of only Russians, but other ethnicities as well. This can be seen where:                                                        The newly born Soviet Union was, at best, a loose federation of diverse nationalities and ethnic minorities. Non-Russians comprised more than half the Soviet population and strongly identified with their own cultures. Obviously, the social and political   ‘upbringing’ of future Soviet generations could not be entrusted to the family and other traditional institutions (Gist, pg. 118).                                                                                                                                                        The Soviet Union wanted to make sure the youth supported the government seeing as how they were the next generation. Thus, the Soviet Union controlled the time and energy of the youth in closely supervised activities. The goal was to create a group ready for mobilization for the military or other national priorities (Gist, pg. 118). While it does seem wise to train a generation in order to strengthen them, it seems like the Soviet Union is robbing them of their childhood. Instead of playing with their friends and being kids, the youth of the Soviet Union are being taught how to be a proper Soviet Union.

Following the First World War, the Soviet Union wanted to make sure its citizens were strong and ready for another war. In order to do that, sports and physical education was stressed and encouraged among the citizens. Along with that, the Soviet Union wanted to be internationally recognized and one way to do that was to excel in international sport competitions such as the Olympics. Doing that would make the Soviet Union equal or better than other competing nations and show off socialism. Finally, the Soviet Union wanted to have more control over the youth. Controlling the youth would decrease the chance of rebellion and make sure the next generation was strong and secure.


Gist, David M. “THE MILITARIZATION OF SOVIET YOUTH.” Naval War College Review,          vol. 30, no. 1, 1977, pp. 115–133. JSTOR, Accessed 6             Apr. 2020.

Keys, Barbara. “Soviet Sport and Transnational Mass Culture in the 1930s.” Journal of      Contemporary History, vol. 38, no. 3, 2003, pp. 413–434. JSTOR, Accessed 6 Apr. 2020.

13 Replies to “How Sports Affected The Soviet Union”

  1. Hey Matt, great post. I was wondering if you knew how if the people took to sports quickly or if it took a while for them to get interested. I know you said they took themselves out of the international sport program in the 20’s and came back in the 30’s. Were the citizens excited to go back to sports or did they not really care?


    1. From my sources, it did not state how the citizens reacted to it. I would guess that they would be excited to join back into the international sports arena since it would be great to compete against other nations. It would also instill national pride in them since they would want to be victorious in the Olympics. I would also guess the children wold get into sports seeing as how that would be a good way to pass the time.

  2. Is that Ivan Drago up top?
    Soviet sport is such an interesting and important topic, and you touch on some important issues that connect the promotion of physical activity and sports to war readiness. Which primary source did you find the most compelling for this post? There’s lots of material in the 17 moments module (Physical Culture) if you want to take a deeper dive at some point.

    1. That is Ivan Drago on top. I Know he is later on in Soviet history but since my topic was on sports in the Soviet Union, I felt it would be fun and appropriate to add him into my blog. Barbara Key’s article was the most compelling to me because she showed how sports played into international politics during the interwar period. If a country did well in the Olympics, then they would be considered the superior nation. I feel that was how the Olympics were viewed as during the Interwar Period and during the Cold War.

  3. great post highlighting the culture of Sports in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. I think its interesting that the Soviet state wanted to promote sports and athletic activities of the Soviet people to showcase to foreign countries the athletic and physical prowess of the Soviet people, not to mention using this opportunity to get the Soviet people ready for another war.

  4. As a huge sports fan, i really enjoyed reading your post. The first thing it made me think of, was the infamous “Miracle on Ice” from the 1980’s. I think a lot of people still see the international sports world as a way to “show off” for the powerhouse countries. It makes sense that they would desire to compete with other nations, especially the USA.

    1. I agree that people still see international sports as a way to show off their country’s superiority and power. With the Soviet Union being a relatively new nation, I assume they would be even more hungry to prove their worth to other nations in international competitions such as the Olympics. If the Soviet Union beat capitalist countries such as the United States in competitions, then they could boast that socialism beat capitalism.

  5. Hi Matt,
    I thought your post did a great job covering how the Soviet Union wanted to use sports as a means of creating good soldiers. I never knew that they left international competition in the 1920s only to join back in the 30s.

  6. Nice blog and what I took away from it was that they not only wanted to be taken seriously but anyone under the banner would represent the USSR regardless of their own beliefs and cultures.

  7. I am always fascinated by how much political weight international sporting has, and how much countries rely on their athletic representation at international competition to advance their public image. Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics is the most well known example from this time period, but nations have been using the Olympics and other events to compete with each other up to the present day.

  8. Hey Matt, this is a super interesting read and I really liked it a lot. Your description of how important the Soviet Union strength was to other countries and they truly wanted to be at the top of the totem pole was very eye opening, especially in the Olympic sports. I find it super ironic as well because even today Russia is caught for doping among their athletes all the time. So I guess that quest for strength still has not been satisfied in their eyes.

  9. Matt, it was very interesting reading more about sports in the Soviet Union. I was wondering what sports the Soviet state encouraged its citizens to play? From what I have seen, the countries in the former Soviet bloc always seem to dominate individual sports such as weightlifting and gymnastics. Is there a reason for this that can be traced to early Soviet policies surrounding athletics? Great post!

  10. Great post Matt. As we know as Americans from Olympic history, the Soviets really had three main sports they ruled in: gymnastics, basketball, and hockey. Which of these had most impact on Soviet culture? Did they have their own decades of popularity, like basketball in the 70s and 80s or hockey prior to the “Miracle on Ice”?

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