Weaponization of sports: the battle for world influence through sporting success.

Author:Coates, Dennis C.
Position:Essay
 
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The extent and complexity of the state-sponsored doping of Russian athletes laid bare in the McLaren report to the World Anti-Doping Agency in July 2016 seem to have come as a surprise to many people. The idea that so-called tamper-proof specimen bottles were tampered with to replace incriminating samples with clean ones may have been nearly unbelievable. But other people were amazed that anyone was actually surprised by the allegations in the report. Of course, there is a long hist ory of suspicion about doping of athletes from the countries of the former Warsaw Pact, but the breakup of the Soviet Union and the demise of the Warsaw Pact led some people to believe that governmentally sponsored and organized use of banned performance-enhancing drugs had also come to an end.

One may wonder what performance-enhancing drug use has to do with the centennial anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Put simply, an implication of the Russian Revolution is the weaponization of sports (and of culture more broadly) in the battle for supremacy between the communism practiced in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe in the post-World War II period and the market capitalism practiced in the West, especially the United States. This weaponization or use of sports competitions as a surrogate battlefield not only provided governments with the incentive to help their athletes with performance-enhancing drugs but also may have contributed to the expansion of international competitions to include more countries and more participation from women. One might argue that this weaponization of sport and sport competition is not an outcome of the Russian Revolution. Nazi Germany surely used its hosting of the Summer Olympic Games in 1936 as a tool to aggrandize Nazism to the world. Nationalism was a part of the Olympics from the beginning as competitors represented their respective countries and the medal ceremony involved playing the national anthem and raising the flags of the first three finishers. Moreover, it was not until after World War II, thirty years after the Russian Revolution, that the Soviet Union entered international sporting competitions with the intent of winning them. It might therefore be argued that the weaponization of sport is a product of Stalinism rather than of the revolution. On the other hand, Nikita Khrushchev stated, "Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you." Although he was not referring to sporting competition specifically, policies followed both before and during his leadership of the Soviet Union had the clear intent of winning support for communism and the Soviet Union through sports diplomacy, which relied to a great extent on Soviet athletes outperforming American athletes in international competitions.

Russian Sports Development from the Revolution until World War II

At the time of the Russian Revolution, organized sport in Russia was not highly developed. (1) Robert Edelman (2012) suggests that this lack of development was in part because the Russian working class, unlike its British and American counterparts, had neither the disposable income nor the leisure time to be active in organized sport. In addition, those who organized sporting competitions did not especially want participation by the lower class. The most organized sport, football (soccer), had a heavy British influence. British expatriates and a Frenchman named George Duperont organized a league in St. Petersburg in 1901. Duperont had translated the rules into Russian, and a match between his club, the St. Petersburg Circle of Amateur Sportsmen, and the Vasilostrovskii Football Society in October 1897 is credited with being the start of organized football in Russia. This club format and the participation of the expatriates meant that organized sport was largely an elite activity. At the outbreak of World War I, there were eight thousand registered soccer players in the Russian Empire, around one thousand of them in Moscow. The organized sport tended to divide the population rather than to unite it because while the upper class played soccer in its clubs, the lower or working class created teams spontaneously based on...

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