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Spartakiads


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Forms of mass activity that were promoted in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s, combining competitive athletics and gymnastics and public pageants in cultural spectacles driven by particular political principles and goals. The multi-sport event enabled messages and slogans embracing the new revolutionary values to be conveyed to large gatherings of young people, and combined forms of sport and political parade and display were held from 1919. By the 1930s there were All-Union Spartakiads complemented by Spartakiads for different work-based groupings, including trade unions, collective farms, medical workers, the police, and the army. The first such event was held in 1928, named after Spartacus, the rebel slave of ancient Rome. Seven thousand male and female athletes from throughout the USSR competed, along with six hundred foreign guests. Organized by the communist Red Sport International, they were intended as a direct challenge to the Amsterdam—seen by the USSR as the bourgeois—Olympics of the same year, and to complement the Workers' Olympics held in Frankfurt in 1925. The emphasis on mass participation included non-competitive hikes, and reproductions of historical revolutionary events. But it also included military-based events such as tossing the grenade, and swimming underwater clothed in full battle dress. Less than half the participants were from the working class, and virtually no peasants participated. The majority of participants were from the category of employee/white-collar worker. This first Spartakiad was staged in 1928, the key year in the consolidation of Stalin's power, and served important internal ideological purposes in legitimating and profiling the new regime.

By the mid to late 1930s, the Red Sport International was urging communists in capitalist countries to join National Olympic Committees. Robert Edelman notes that though the Spartakiad arose as a direct alternative to the Olympic Games, its success within the USSR provided a basis for the Soviet impact at the country's first Olympics at Helsinki in 1952: ‘the “system” that emerged so surprisingly’ in Helsinki ‘had first been put into place much earlier. It developed through the 1930s as an elitist and a statist version of competitive but non-commercial sport’ (‘Moscow 1980: Stalinism or Good, Clean Fun?’ in Alan Tomlinson and Christopher Young, eds, National Identity and Global Sports Events: Culture, Politics, and Spectacle in the Olympics and the Football World Cup, 2006).

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.


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