Background and History of the Soviets in the Olympics

Russia became the Soviet Union after the revolution, which coincided with the events of the First World War, and since that time the nation had been isolated from all the events concerned with the Olympics. Within the period between the two wars, relations between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Soviet government were strained. The IOC displayed no interest in the Soviets’ participation in the games, while the Soviets themselves were highly critical of the celebrated event. They criticized the Games as being representative of the despised capitalistic societies of the West. The Soviet Union also described the Olympics as showing out-of-date idealism toward a British gentleman and amateur who no longer existed to any great measure in modern society (Senn, 84). The IOC rarely answered such attacks or even acknowledged the Soviets, whom they considered unable to contribute much athleticism to the Olympic events.

However, the events of World War II acted as a catalyst beginning the series of events that threw the Soviets into the center of the Olympic Games. The War proved very destructive to the European states, and led to a rise in the status of the Soviet Union as an international power. This status was also accorded to the United States during this period, and a heightened sense of rivalry attended the two emergent super powers. Furthermore, the war had itself prevented the IOC from convening its traditional games, causing an eleven year span in which no Olympic Games at all were held. By the 1950’s, things began to change in the IOC. This organization had up to this point been one that was dedicated to serving North America and the western region of Europe, but had been in the habit of periodically granting the entrance of new countries and territories into the competition. However, since World War II had led to a new international balance of power, the IOC became persuaded to adjust its policies to fit the new state of things (Senn, 84). The Soviet Union would therefore need to be approached and negotiations carried out in order to achieve an agreement between them.

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Sigfrid Edstrom and Avery Brundage were instrumental in the negotiations that led to the inclusion of the Soviet Union in the Olympic Games. This president and future president (respectively) of the IOC were in charge of the directions taken by the organization regarding its policies toward the Soviets. These two leaders were by no means completely trusting of the policies and motives of the Soviet Union, but because of the place to which that nation had risen on the international scene, Edstrom and Brundage were aware that it was no longer prudent to keep that country on the fringes of the organization. Edstrom himself was under the impression that the army commanded by the Soviet Union posed a threat to the international security, and he concluded that such a threat could neither be ignored nor encouraged. Brundage too was inclined to agree with Edstrom’s decision, though he still held a grudge against the Soviets for their actions during the Olympic Games held in Berlin and Los Angeles. Both these leaders therefore advocated the decision of opening the ranks of the IOC and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to the Soviet Union.

Effect on Organization and Development of Modern Olympic Games

The invitation to join the IAAF sent by Edstrom and Brundage to the Soviet Union constituted a momentous event because the IAAF itself represented the strongest and largest of the sports organizations that were members of the IOC (Senn, 84). The event was remarkable too in that the IAAF was always open to considering applications to its ranks, but it had never before solicited membership itself by sending out invitations. The invitation was subsequently accepted by the Soviets, who made efforts at complying with IOC rules by revoking monetary rewards given to professional athletes in order that they may retain the amateur status necessary for participation in the Olympics (Riordan, 248). The Soviets were, through these and other measures, finally allowed to compete in the 1952 Olympic Games. This represented the first time since 1912 that the region (then Russia) was allowed to compete in these games.

This inclusion of the Soviet Union in the Olympics began an IOC trend of acceptance and tolerance that culminated in the 1996 admission of all the nations of the world into the Olympic Games. Within the same year that the Soviets were included after a 40-year hiatus (1952), the German and Japanese teams also saw their re-entry into the Olympics—though the German team excluded all members of East Germany, who were denied entry. Despite this, Cold War tensions remained throughout the decades up to the 1990’s, as “the IOC became a Cold War arena in which the superpowers competed directly (Senn, 98).

Policies concerning drug abuse during the Games had to be enacted and strengthened by the IOC largely as a result of the actions of the Soviets following their 1952 induction into the IOC. The Cold War mentality that infiltrated the as a result of the Soviets’ entry also led to the necessity of these nationals to win against the West (especially the United States) at any cost. The abuse of anabolic steroids as a method of enhancing performance became widespread in the Soviet camp, and the effect of this on the Olympic Planning Committee was to lead eventually to the stringent implementation of testing methods and the enforcement of anti-drug rules. In fact, the Soviet also reports a legacy of falsifying the ages of athletes (especially female gymnasts) so that they might be allowed to enter the competition (Riordan, 257). In regard to this, policies have been changed regarding the ages at which athletes may compete. Problems regarding amateurism (by no means restricted to the Soviet Union) led the IOC to relax and finally to abandon its regulation concerning amateur status in the 1990’s.

Impact on International Community

As the two major super powers of the era, the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union set the atmosphere for the rest of the world, and the Olympic Games heightened the sense of competition felt be the two nations and their allies. The initial sentiments that were evident during these games were those characteristic of the Cold War. The Soviet Union, for example, declined to house its athletes within the Helsinki Olympic village in 1952, electing instead to house them in the separately created Soviet village in Otaniemi. Though the Soviet Union did end up opening its village to all participants by the end of the 1952 Games, the Olympics became another field upon which the Cold War could and would be fought for decades to come (Senn, 98).

The Soviet inclusion in the Olympics also became a catalyst to schools of thought concerning the equality of and respect for the various political regimes that exist on the planet. Countries went from having to apply to(and risk being denied by)  the IOC for entry into the Olympic Games, to the previously mentioned landmark moment in which tolerance for all regimes, races, genders, and cultures prevailed. The Soviet entrance into the Olympics also served to garner for the Soviets a certain level of respect for the athletic and sporting abilities by the Western Allies during the years of the Cold War. After the breakup of the Eastern Bloc and the fall of the Soviet Union, international sympathies for these former Soviet citizens were heightened and this was evident during their admission to the 1992 Olympics as the Unified Team.

Effects on Society

The Soviet Olympiads have had a tremendous effect on our international society, especially in the sporting world. Their involvement in the Olympics opened doors toward tolerance of communists (if not wholly of communism) within democratic societies of the world. However, one major impact that Soviet Olympics has had is to provide many nations’ teams with highly experienced and qualified coaches once the Soviet Union experienced dissolution. In fact, according to Lev Rossoshik (who serves the Moscow Sports-Express as deputy editor), “Ninety percent of all sportsmen going to Athens are brought up by trainers of the Soviet sport schools – in fact, they are still a product of old Soviet times” (Peterson). This has occurred because of the openness to and respect for the Soviets that has been granted to the world following the acceptance of the Soviets into the Olympics. This has facilitated the entrance of these well-respected trainers into the athletic houses of many countries (including the United States) for the purpose of training athletes around the world to achieve accomplishments similar to those obtained by the Soviets since they returned to the Olympics in 1952. The continued success of these teams made up of or coached by former Soviets is likely to continue to have a unifying effect on the world.