Jenifer Parks

The Olympic Games, the Soviet Sport Bureaucracy, and the Cold War

Red Sport, Red Tape

Lexington Books 2016

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Today we are joined by Jenifer Parks, Associate Professor of History at Rocky Mountain College. Parks is the author of The Olympic Games, the...

Today we are joined by Jenifer Parks, Associate Professor of History at Rocky Mountain College. Parks is the author of The Olympic Games, the Soviet Sport Bureaucracy, and the Cold War: Red Sport, Red Tape (Lexington Books, 2016), which asks how Soviet bureaucrats maneuvered the USSR into the Olympic movement and used the discourses of Olympism to promote athletic democratization, anti-colonialism, and socialism in the context of the Cold War.

In The Olympic Games, the Soviet Sport Bureaucracy, and the Cold War, Parks assesses the growth of Soviet Olympism from the Second World War until the 1980 Moscow Games.  Her first chapters highlights the difficulties Soviet sports bureaucrats faced in their efforts to join the international Olympic movement. These bureaucrats needed to convince the IOC of the Soviet Union’s worthiness, in the face of persistent anti-communism from IOC president Avery Brundage. They also needed to win over Soviet politician who feared that any Olympic failure would embarrass the state in front of an international audience.

In spite of these early misgivings and misstarts, the Soviet Union largely succeeded in their first Olympics, the 1952 Helsinki Games. The next three decades were an almost uninterrupted era of Soviet athletic dominance. In the 1970s, confident Soviet sports bureaucrats sought to bring the Olympics to Moscow. After losing the 1976 Games to Montreal, Moscow won the right to host the 1980s Olympics. A herculean effort ensued to make Moscow hospitable for the expected tens of thousands of athletes, international journalists, and one million tourists. The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, which set off an international boycott of the Games, marred their extensive achievements which included the biggest Games to date, the largest number of female Olympians, and dozens of new World Records.

Through a close reading of the archives of the Soviet Union’s main sporting agencies, including the State Committee for Sports and Physical Education, and an analysis of the key figures in the Soviet sports bureaucracy, Parks also reshapes our understanding of Soviet bureaucracy. The historiography of the USSR emphasizes stagnation in post-Brezhnev Soviet government agencies as a way to explain the state’s inability to deal with the challenges of the 1970s. However, the men of the Sports Committee were not just staid functionaries, but a cadre of professional, effective, pragmatic men driven to use Olympism to promote socialism abroad and at home.

The Olympic Games, the Soviet Sport Bureaucracy, and the Cold War will interest scholars broadly concerned with the Soviet Union, the Cold War, and the international Olympic movement.

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