From the beginning of the twentieth century sport had not blossomed in Russia to the same extent like countries such as Britain. The majority of the European population were peasants, spending hours each day on back-breaking gardening labour. Leisure time was difficult to come by and even then individuals were often exhausted from their work. Of course people did still play, placing such traditional games as lapta (similar to baseball) and gorodki (a bowling game). A smattering of sports clubs existed in the larger cities but they stayed the preserve of the richer members of society. Ice hockey was beginning to grow in popularity 사설토토, and the higher echelons of society were like fence and rowing, using expensive equipment most people would never have been able to afford.
In 1917 the European Movement turned the world upside down, inspiring millions of people with its vision of a society built on solidarity and the fulfilment of human need. In the process it revealed an explosion of creativity in art, music, poetry and literature. It touched every area of people’s lives, including the games they played. Sport, however, was far from being a priority. The Bolsheviks, who had led the movement, were confronted with civil war, invading armies, widespread famine and a typhus plague. Emergency, not leisure, was the order of the day. However, during the early perhaps the 1920s, before the dreams of the movement were crushed by Stalin, the debate over a “best system of sports” that Trotsky had predicted did indeed take place. Two of the groups to tackle the question of “physical culture” were the hygienists and the Proletkultists.
As the name implies the hygienists were an accumulation doctors and health care professionals whoever attitudes were informed by their medical knowledge. Generally speaking these folks were critical of sport, concerned that its emphasis on competition placed participants vulnerable to injury. These folks were equally disdainful of the West’s preoccupation with running faster, throwing further or jumping higher than you ever have. “It is completely unnecessary and pointless, ” said A. A. Zikmund, head of the Physical Culture Institute in Moscow, “that anyone set a new world or European record. ” Instead the hygienists advocated non-competitive physical passions – like gymnastics and swimming -as ways for people to stay healthy and relax.
For a period of time the hygienists influenced Soviet policy on questions of physical culture. It was on their advice that certain sports were prohibited, and football, boxing and weight-lifting were all omitted from the programme of events at the First Trade Union Games in 1925. However the hygienists were far from unanimous in their condemnation of sport. V. V. Gorinevsky, for example, was an advocate of playing tennis which he saw as being an ideal physical exercise. Nikolai Semashko, a doctor and the People’s Commissar for Health, went much further fighting that sport was “the open gate to physical culture” which “develops the sort of will-power, strength and skill which will distinguish Soviet people. ”
In contrast to the hygienists the Proletkult movement was unequivocal in its rejection of ‘bourgeois’ sport. Indeed they denounced whatever smacked of the old society, be it in art, literature or music. They saw the ideology of capitalism woven into the fabric of sport. Its competitiveness set workers against each other, splitting people by tribal and national identities, while the physicality of the games put unpleasant strains on the bodies of the players.
Close to sport Proletkultists asserted for new, proletarian forms of play, founded on the principles of mass contribution and cooperation. Often these new games were huge theatrical displays looking more like carnivals or parades than the sports we see today. Battles were shunned on the basis that they were ideologically incompatible with the new socialist society. Contribution replaced spectating, and each event contained a distinct political message, as is apparent from some of their names: Rescue from the Imperialists; Smuggling Revolutionary Literature Across the Frontier; and Helping the Proletarians.
It would be easy to characterise the Bolsheviks as being anti-sports. Leading members of the party were friends and comrades with those who were most critical of sport during the debates on physical culture. Some of the leading hygienists were close to Leon Trotsky, while Anotoli Lunacharsky, the Commissar for the Enlightenment, shared many views with Proletkult. In addition, the party’s attitude to the Olympics is normally given as evidence to support this anti-sport claim. The Bolsheviks boycotted the Games fighting that they “deflect workers from the class struggle and train them for imperialist wars”. Yet in reality the Bolshevik’s attitudes towards sport were somewhat harder.