First Stop: The Young Pioneers Stadium

The Young Pioneers Stadium in Moscow.

We begin the tour of Moscow and its sports culture through the decades at the Young Pioneers Stadium. Completed in 1934, the stadium was constructed principally for Soviet youth to hone their athletic abilities and for rising sports stars to train[1]. The purpose of such a complex was essential to the Soviet philosophy: To complement the spiritual well-being of a citizen that abides by the communist concept of collectivism there must physical well-being. In the Soviet Union, people were touted as the very best alive, in principle and in body, and so were expected to maintain the appearance of dominance and keep an athletic build. More so, young Soviets were introduced to sports to make them more fit for their future roles as laborers or as soldiers[2]; whether they were to contribute to the industrial economy or actively assert international dominance, physical might was essential. These were values similarly upheld by the namesake organization of the stadium, the Young Pioneers, a youth organization in which the Soviet essence was instilled via after-school programs and summer camps[3].

A ceremony to induct Young Pioneers in a revived chapter of the organization in the Red Square of Moscow, 2015.

It can therefore be said that the fundamentals of sports culture in Soviet Moscow were characterized as political and social devices, and so all governmental operations concerning sports in the Soviet Union had in mind a specific purpose, which was very rarely as simple as recreation. The government expected that citizens approach sports as a means of encouraging discipline, unity, and obedience, and so athletic competition was not well-endorsed[2], for it was believed to reinforce capitalistic principles of individual achievement and striving beyond the lot. Nonetheless, spectator sports developed from popular interest, against government preference, and Soviet athletes saw enormous international success when competition against other nations was given a political spin.