Serious Fun

Serious Fun : History of Spectator Sport in the USSR

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"The Big Red Machine," an assemblyline of sober, unsmiling Olympic champions--this was the image that dominated Western thinking about Soviet sports. But for Soviet citizens the experience of watching sports in the USSR was always very different. Soviet spectators paid comparatively little attention to most Olympic sports. They flocked instead to the games they really wanted to watch, rooted for teams and heroes of their own choosing, and carried on with a rowdiness typical of sportsfans everywhere. The Communist state sought to use sports and other forms of mass culture to instill values of discipline, order, health, and culture. The fans, however, just wanted to have fun. Official Soviet ideology was never able to control or comprehend the regressed and pleasure-seeking component not only of spectator sport but of all popular culture. In Serious Fun, Robert Edelman provides the first history of any aspect of Soviet sports, covering the most popular spectator attractions from 1917 up to the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. Edelman has used the highly candid sports press, memoirs, instruction books, team yearbooks, and press guides and supplmented them with Soviet television broadcasts and interviews with players, coaches, team officials, television bureaucrats, journalists, and fans to detail how spectator sport withstood the power of the state and became a sphere of life that allowed citizens to resist, deflect, and even modify the actions of the authorities. Focusing on the most popular sports of soccer, hockey, and basketball, Edelman discusses the dominant teams and the biggest stars: the international competitive successes as well as the many failures. He covers a variety of topics familiar to Western sports fans including professionalism, fan violence, corruption, political meddling, the sports press, television, and the effect of big money on competition. More than just a sports book, Serious Fun takes us deep into the social fabric of Soviet life. Edelman shows how the Big Red machine so visible in international competition was much like the giant steel mills and dams of which the Soviets boasted. These were the achievements of a state that put production above all else, but spectator sport was part of a long-suffering consumer sector that the industrial giant would never satisfy. This volume will bring a broader, richer understanding of Soviet life not only to students of popular culture and Russian history but to sports fans everywhere.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 302 pages
  • 152.4 x 236.22 x 27.94mm | 612.35g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • halftones
  • 0195079485
  • 9780195079487

About Robert Edelman

About the Author A former sportswriter and radio announcer, Robert Edelman teaches Russian history at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of numerous books and articles on pre-revolutionary Russian politics and Soviet popular culture. He has been travelling to Russia and watching games there since 1965.show more

Review Text

An agreeable and enlightening overview of spectator sports in the Soviet Union from the 1917 revolution through Communism's collapse. Drawing on personal experience gained during frequent visits to the erstwhile USSR since the 1960's and on contemporary press accounts, Edelman (Russian History/UC at San Diego) focuses on the in-country emergence of soccer, men's basketball, and ice hockey as crowd-pleasing diversions. By contrast, he points out, the more image-conscious Kremlin turned its post-WW II efforts to developing world-class athletes who could win medals in Olympic events and bring glory to Communism. Among other outcomes, the author argues, this diversion of talent cost the national soccer team dearly when it began to compete at the international level. As measured by attendance or attention (via TV), Edelman concludes, showcase sports had little appeal for the Soviet working classes. But although the government disdained any entertainment that diluted the masses' interest in politics, it tolerated the organization of local clubs and leagues in the name of physical culture - and eventually its worst fears were confirmed as corruption, thuggish behavior by fans, and a black market in tickets for major contests became familiar aspects of popular spectator sports. In the meantime, Moscow's so-called "ice militia" began beating Canada at its own game, and the USSR earned a disputed triumph over the US in basketball at the 1972 Olympics. With the advent of perestroika and the subsequent breakup of the Russian empire, there's been a brawn drain, with professional Soviet athletes now playing for capitalist franchises in Europe, North America, and elsewhere. An informed and informative appraisal of what the Western sports community once viewed as the Big Red Machine. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

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