In conjunction with the push for education, infrastructure, and equality movements of the late 1920’s came the state-sponsored physical, pro-sport culture in the 1930’s. Physical attractiveness and a healthy lifestyle were only side benefits of a campaign that believed exercise of the body would benefit the socialist mind. Specifically, in a state striving for socialism, the shared discipline of sports propelled the physical accomplishments of collective society as well as the individual. The ideology that the Soviet state preached through sport also carried practical uses: “(1) preparing young people for work; and (2) preparing them for military defense of Soviet power” (O’Mahony, 2006, p. 15). Ultimately, physical culture personally helped citizens as much as it politically legitimized the leaders and economy.
Aside from the domestic improvements physical culture brought, another main aim was showcasing the ability of the Soviet masses on a competitive international stage. In the 1930’s, sports matches became avenues for international respect, and the 1920’s Soviet view that Western sports culture was driven by capitalism was left behind in the midst of the Great Depression. The rule-bound events created an economy of their own,”as major stars developed international reputations, coaches and trainers traded expertise and innovations, and the best teams and athletes ranked their achievements by international standards” (Keys, 2003, p. 414). These athletic reputations filled stadiums, and brought the excitement of Western sport to Russia.
Acceptance of Westernized physical culture at the state level led to the establishment of spectator sports, which desired international audiences, Soviet support of domestic teams, and promoted sports as entertainment. This change created the Soviet “sports fan” as well as a link between state organizations and public entertainment. For example, the Dinamo Football Club was sponsored by the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, the secret police force, but remained a well-supported club throughout the era. To differentiate themselves from the exact Western model, “the Soviet Union attempted to build an alternative international system based on a distinctly ‘proletarian’ brand of sport and physical culture that eschewed individualism and record seeking” (Keys, 2003, p. 414). However, with the nature of competition, the phenomenon of crowd favorites and statistics can never truly be avoided. Commercialization of teams resulted in a predominately masculine stadium culture that encouraged fierce crowd participation, and fostered an undisciplined view of fans that proved to threaten socialist identity. The differences between fan and player suggested that perhaps the Soviet campaign for spectator sports inevitably backfired, creating once again an indirect sense of capitalism in a state that had only recently defeated the tremors of NEP. The physical culture that surrounded Soviet sports put their physical ability as a state on the map, but the following promotion of sport as entertainment undermined the collective discipline of the populous that socialism desired.
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