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.
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.
1. Siegelbaum, Lewis. The Palace of Sport. Seventeen Moments in Soviet History.
2. Luzhniki Stadium 1957. Sunsite Moscow images.