Control By Sports

One problem that is faced by the leaders of a communist or authoritarian state is what to do with the free time of their citizens. Free time is dangerous to to these types of states as it can lead to various forms of opposition since the citizens have time to form groups and realize that they don’t like the situation that they are living in. This became a matter of concern for the Soviets in the fifties with their labor reforms. For example, the implemented,”the reduction of the work-day from eight to seven hours and (for some) the work week from six to five days meant more leisure time”(1).  One way the Soviets decided to fix this was though the emergence of sports and spectatorship.

They accomplished this task through the building of thousands of stadiums across the Soviet Union. They grew from 1020 stadiums in 1952 to 3065 in 1968(1).  The most notable of all was the Luzhniki Complex, which included various stadiums and fields for an array of different sports. The most notable and prestigious stadium in the Soviet Union, and one of the largest in the world with 103,000 seats was of course the Lenin Stadium.

Luzhniki Complex(2)

Surprisingly, the Lenin Stadium was built for soccer. Soccer was the most popular sport during that era, with the amount of spectators far outnumbering any other sport. The most popular teams were Dinamo and Spartak.  The average citizen looked forward to soccer all year long. They would have been more than ok if all of the stadiums built were for soccer only. It would not be until the next decade that hockey became the go to sport for the Soviets. In fact, the second indoor ice hockey rink in the Union, called the Palace of Sport, was not built until 1956(1). However, Soviet weather probably made indoor/artificial rinks a waste.


This rapid increase of stadiums and therefore sports teams and athletes helped to keep the population occupied and happy. It also helped to foster a growing and ultimately important sense of nationalism within the Soviet Union.


Works Cited:

1. Siegelbaum, Lewis. The Palace of Sport. Seventeen Moments in Soviet History.

2. Luzhniki Stadium 1957. Sunsite Moscow images.


5 thoughts on “Control By Sports

  1. I think it is important for the Soviet Union to use sports as a social control tool and a way to keep citizens involved. I’m surprised hockey wasn’t important from the beginning though.

  2. Good post on Sports in the USSR. On an interesting note, Soccer is still super popular in Russia. On my trip to Moscow, our group usually played soccer almost every day (I didn’t because I have no idea how to play soccer). I was also surprised hockey didn’t become popular until later on.

  3. I think most people today associate sports with the Soviet Union. Every olympic season is highlighted with flashback clips to the various U.S. versus Soviet competitions that took place over the Cold War. I would even say a majority of the exciting events from the Cold War came from sporting events.

    • As a sports lover, I very much enjoyed this post. I’m surprised giving the citizens sports would really deter them away from forming groups against the government. However I do tend to get wrapped up in sports and forget about anything else going on.

  4. Sports were and still are a huge part of Russian society. Not to copy everyone else, but it is surprising hockey took a while. Since it became huge and is still probably the one sport everyone thinks of when they think of russia. Russian hockey became another major way they showed dominance over other countries.

Leave a Reply