In the last fifty years Russian sport has risen to world domination, especially in the Olympic Games, where Soviet athletes were preeminent in so many areas (and where the Cold-War rivalry of the USSR and the USA effectively made the Olympic Games the global spectacle they are today), then fallen into apparently terminal decline, and, after that, risen again. Thus, following a decade of decline and failure, Russian professional sports and Russian athletes are again prominent and successful (Russia hosted the Olympic Games two years ago and will host the World Cup in 2018). Yet Russia continues to play by its own rules, as this year’s massive scandal over what appears to be government-supported doping in Olympic sports reveals. So what is the story of sport in Russia; what was there before the word спорт entered the Russian vocabulary; what was the role of foreign influence (as indicated by the introduction of that word); what was the relationship between the Soviet state and sport; what is the role of spectator sport and what of participant sports today; do sports in Russia simply reflect social processes or do they contribute to determining them; indeed, what can sport tell us about Russia today? These and many other questions will be addressed by a new course, Russian 333—Sport in Russia—to be taught in the Winter Term.
It emerges from a one-credit mini-course I have taught several times to large enrollments. That mini-course seemed generally popular with students and produced some excellent written work, but I was often struck by responses such as “I’d never thought about looking at sport and society before” or “I never thought you could learn so much about a country from sport”. Personally, as a life-long sports fan (and wretchedly poor athlete…), I’ve always been intrigued by how much sport tells us about nations and cultures – American sports culture, so different from everywhere else, is an excellent example, and one I will use repeatedly in this new course. No wonder it is said that to understand a people you should look at the games they play. And that is exactly what we will be doing in Russian 333 next term.