December 3, 2018

Soviet football: The era of ideology-driven sports


Football and Soviet Society

After the Russian October Revolution in 1917, the new Russian state promoted the advancement of sports clubs as patterned to the communist vision of society. Football clubs such as Lokomotiv were founded, and are mostly composed of workers and tied to trade unions.

The early Russian football clubs were each founded to represent a sector. In case of the club Lokomotiv, most of the members were railway workers, while Torpedo represented the workers of automobile factories.

Other footclubs in the new Russian society were directly backed by the Kremlin government. FC Dynamo Kyiv, for instance, represented the Minister of Interior and secret services in its early history, while CSKA is for the foremost Soviet Red Army.

However, the football club Spartak represented no sector, and was tagged as the people’s club.

Football and the State Ideology

As the sports clubs are mostly state funded, they also became subject to the state’s ideology. Football was lightly criticized as ‘bourgeois,’ especially during the Great Purge era of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.

The so-called ‘capitalist’ countries who opposed the Soviet Union’s communist ideals had imposed political and economic blockade on the country. FIFA also opposed to matches held with the Soviet football team. This policy was only uplifted as the USSR was finally accepted to FIFA in 1947.

Prior to the 1947 FIFA membership, the Soviet team rarely had matches with other countries, the most noteworthy of which is their game with Turkey back in 1924. With the approval from FIFA, the Turks sent an official proposal to the Soviet Union for an international friendly match. The Soviet Supreme Council of Physical Culture accepted the invitation and prepared a national team to represent the country. The game resulted in a 3-0 Soviet win. It was Soviet football’s most notable triumph during those times.

Soviet state ideology was a clear factor when the USSR refused to play the second-leg play-off qualifying game in the National Stadium in Chile back in 1973. The reason was the massacre of thousands of socialists that took place in the venue earlier that year.

The Football Gulag

In the USSR, the people also seemed to be fond of working in camps, and football is not an exception. Soviet players were cursed to possibly the strictest training regime in the globe. At the close of seasons, players are forced to train in camps called ‘sbori’ for two to six weeks away from their home. While in the Sbori, the athlete is subjected to almost military conditions with strict diets and heavy training sessions.

A Golden Age

Football, nevertheless, flourished in the Soviet Union. The sport was in a golden age during the Soviet era compared to the state of football in Russia after the Union’s fall in the early 1990s.

Back in the USSR, foreign athletes were rarely accepted to local football clubs. Thus, home-grown players were given much priority.

Soviet football clubs were also state-funded, meaning they could spend much of their time focused on sports rather than worrying about funds.

The Soviet team was also one of the most respected teams in European and World football scene. The country was a football powerhouse during those days.

After the Second World War, football club Dinamo made a historic tour in the United Kingdom, competing against the finest British clubs such as Chelsea and Arsenal. Out of four matches, the Soviets won two, and shared draws with the English players in the other two.

The Soviet team was also a World Cup legend, making it to three World Cup quarterfinals and one semifinal.


The collapse of the Berlin Wall also became the mark of the fall of domestic football in the Eastern European country.

Russian football joined the fall of USSR as the football clubs were deeply tied to state institutions. The once richly funded teams had found themselves struggling to avoid dissolution in the time of hard financial problems.

The post-Soviet era also saw a large influx of foreign athletes to local clubs, leaving the local players unprioritized.

During the immediate period after the Soviet collapse, most Russian players only desire to sign with a foreign club that would pay them more.

Without the funds granted by the state, most of Russian football clubs today were only standing one piece thanks to patronage of wealthy individuals and huge companies such as Gazprom.

Nowadays, Russian football is slowly regaining its prowess as the country undergoes economic and political recovery.

By @FitsEly

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