The Soviet Union and Football

Stalin only used football to promote the Soviet Union when he knew that his team was going to claim victory.  Stalin did not want to face the similar embarrassment that Hitler felt after Jesse Owen’s victory in the 1936 Olympics. Stalin needed assurance that his team would be the best.

Stalin had that chance, when the English team, Arsenal, played Moscow Dynamo.  On October 5, 1952, the two teams played each other in Moscow, with Stalin using the game as an opportunity to highlight friendship between the two nations.  The top English dignitaries in Russia were all in attendance and the stadium was filled to capacity.  Signs in the stadium read, “Long live friendship between the people of Britain and the Soviet Union.[1]”  While it was likely that the Soviet government planted these types of signs, the atmosphere was quite amicable.  Not only did the game instigate good relations with Britain for a time, but also Moscow Dynamo dominated Arsenal in a 5 to 0 victory.

Later, in 1955, the Soviet Union used football to start a dialogue between East and West Germany.  West Germany played Russia in a football game, which jumpstarted the conversation between the three nations[1].  1500 Germans from both the East and West were granted visas to travel to the Soviet Union to see the game.  The Soviet Union defeated West Germany 2 to 1 with over 80,000 people in attendance[2].  The Soviet Union used the game to their promote Germany policy—a united Germany under Communist rule.  Although the Soviets were unable to push their agenda through, football still provided an amicable context to debate policy issues.

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[1] Daniel, Clifton. “Soviet Stresses Germans’ Amity.” The New York Times, 1955.

[2] “80,000 See Russia Top West German Eleven, 3-2.” The New York TImes, 1955.

[1] ARSENAL OUTPLAYED: A Football Lesson in Moscow. 1954. The Manchester Guardian (1828-1959), October 6, (accessed November 24, 2009).

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