While sport history has experienced substantial growth over the last decade, it has been largely ignored in the scholarship on the political, diplomatic, and military aspects of the Cold War, as well as the flourishing subfield that studies the cultural Cold War. This essay outlines the contours of the cultural Cold War and lays out how sport both fits with its major findings and offers additional specificities. It presents the themes of the book's individual essays and draws out six distinctive areas for future work in the field: fans, media, the false binary of state versus independence, the inadequacy of bipolarity, race, and gender.
During the early Cold War years, the US government created a sprawling propaganda machinery that developed along overt and covert lines. This essay focuses on the sporting dimension of this propaganda offensive. In particular, it explores how US strategists used sport in an overt global information campaign to advertise American culture and also how covert operators helped Hungarian athletes defect to America after the 1956 Olympic Games.
When Cassius Clay became heavyweight boxing champion in 1964, no one expected him to take political stands. Yet he joined the controversial Nation of Islam and, within a few years, refused to be drafted into the US Army, for which he was convicted in federal court. Ali's opposition to the Vietnam War grew out of his acute awareness of American racism and his support for decolonization movements overseas. He was stripped of his title and barred from the prize ring for four years, until the US Supreme Court unanimously overturned his conviction.
One of the most iconic intersections of sports and the Cold War came in September 1972, when Canada and the Soviet Union met in the "Summit Series," pitting the world's two top ice hockey superpowers. This essay reveals the importance of an October 1971 trip to Canada by Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin. His conversations and experiences during that week—especially a National Hockey League game in Vancouver that almost fell off his schedule—paved the way for a breakthrough to surmount the ingrained dispute over "professional" versus "amateur" players that had long blocked direct competition.
After the Soviet Union's successful second-place result in the 1952 Olympic Summer Games, its sports officials began to dream of hosting the great mega-event in Moscow. Able leaders like Konstantin Andrianov and Nikolai Romanov repeatedly pushed the party leadership to go along with their plans but to no avail. Joseph Stalin, who departed the world in 1953, had little interest in sport, and his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, was hostile. Everything changed when Leonid Brezhnev came to power. He was an ardent fan of sport who had supported teams and clubs in all the localities through which he passed on the way to the top of the Soviet hierarchy in 1964. Ten years later, after numerous false starts, the Soviet capital was awarded the Games. In this case, a single individual in an authoritarian state had a profound effect.
Among Soviet footballers, Georgians were known to represent a flamboyant, artistic, and ethnic style likened to the "beautiful game" played by successful South American teams. Georgian football and the mythology surrounding it emerged from the encounter between a centralizing imperial Soviet state and an assertive Georgian republic. The republic's footballers gained global recognition during the Cold War, both as stars of the Soviet national team and the dominant Dinamo Tbilisi side that defeated top European clubs. Moscow sought to ensure that Georgian difference on the pitch served the needs of the state by showcasing multiethnic Socialist harmony for international audiences. Simultaneously, the Soviet promotion of Georgian soccer backfired, as supporters in Georgia claimed its successes as evidence of their own national triumph.
The essay explores the development of informal fan groups in the context of the late Soviet Union. It argues that despite being influenced by Western fandom, the countercultural potential of its actions led to specifically Soviet meanings of fandom. With a constant influx of images of fan practices around the world since the 1960s, a minority of young Muscovites had begun to imitate these since the early 1970s. The developing fan movement, however, combined violent behavior with a sense of cultural superiority. To belong to an almost global fan movement meant to trump fans from other Soviet republics that had not yet introduced such practices. The big movements in Moscow especially elevated themselves above others—thereby reproducing earlier hierarchies of the multinational Soviet Union.
One club towered above all others in the final decade of East German football. Berliner FC Dynamo (BFC), the team sponsored by the secret police (Stasi), won the league title for ten straight seasons between 1979 and 1988, often in highly controversial circumstances. BFC's success triggered unprecedented nationwide protests. This essay examines these protests, situating BFC's hegemony in the complex web of domestic club rivalries and the transnational framework of Cold War sport. The BFC problem symbolized a deep popular disillusionment with "existing socialism" and ultimately prefaced the demise of Communist rule in 1989.
Although the German Democratic Republic is well known for its highly centralized and clandestine doping program, the elite sports edifice was not the orderly mechanism associated with the Communist dictatorship. Recent research has uncovered intrinsic operational malfunctions, divergent group interests, and rivalries as clubs and national associations pursued status and material rewards. Despite elaborate internal controls, one of the outcomes was widespread "wild doping," exceeding officially prescribed norms on the level and types of dosages administered to athletes who received unauthorized experimental steroid substances by coaches and physicians, posing potentially serious health threats to both youngsters and adults.
East German figure skater Katarina Witt's enormously successful career included gold-medal performances at the 1984 and 1988 Olympics, turning her into an ambassador for her country and a worldwide media star. Backed by a regime that saw sport as a form of soft politics, Witt and her coach consciously cultivated her fame by increasing the sexual tension of her performances. Timm provides cultural context for the resulting collision between politics, sex, and sport. While certainly not a dupe of her handlers, relaxed East German attitudes toward nudity likely left Witt unable to appreciate how her image intertwined with popular culture images of the Cold War "honey pot."
When the peasant army of Mao Zedong's Communists took power in 1949, the new nation was isolated and destroyed. Despite its doubts about Stalin, the People's Republic of China (PRC) cast its lot with the growing Soviet Bloc and sought aid from Moscow. This took the form of thousands of specialists in the widest possible range of fields taking up residence to help their comrades. Sports were not excluded. Coaches, trainers, and officials began to establish a state-run system along Soviet lines. Athletes from many Communist nations toured the PRC to great acclaim. Tensions soon emerged between the urban character of modern sport and the overwhelmingly rural new nation. When relations soured in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Soviet sports figures were sent home along with thousands of their countrymen.
In Taiwan, international sport during the 1950s–1970s centered on the war with the People's Republic of China's "Communist bandits" to represent China and achieve recognition from worldwide sporting bodies. Sport was meant to buttress the Republic of China's legitimacy, to demonstrate the centrality of Chinese culture on this small island "province," and to establish Taiwan's teams and athletes as representative of a "Free China" regime and populace that could inspire a recovery of the mainland. The Nationalists and Communists both used sport to establish their own regime as the rightful modern revolutionary government of China and to end long-standing assumptions of Chinese weakness and degeneracy.
Despite being minnows on the world stage, Thailand and the newly independent countries of Southeast Asia embraced sport during the Cold War as a means of nation and region building. This essay examines the political dimensions of the South East Asia Peninsular Games—the precursor of today's Southeast Asian Games—founded in 1959 by US ally Thailand. This event reflected and reinforced the Cold War culture of Thailand and Southeast Asia. The games embodied motifs of regional friendship and antagonism between the "free" anti-Communist and neutralist nations of peninsular Southeast Asia; domestically, they embodied key themes in the domestic Cold War culture of Thailand, including nationalism, developmentalism, the revival of the monarchy, and militarization. This essay examines the Thai military junta's objectives in founding the event, the effectiveness of the inaugural South East Asia Peninsular (SEAP) Games, and the cultural and semiotic features that reinforced the games' major themes.
The political dimensions of African soccer players' immigration to dictatorial Portugal came under increasing pressure from Socialist nations and newly independent African states. Even the United States privately implored Lisbon to relax controls in the empire. This pressure prompted Portugal to waive a host of travel and labor restrictions to facilitate the employment and relocation of African soccer players and showcase them as part of a multiracial national team. African players were able to ply their skills in the metropole, while the regime's revised policies remained highly restrictive. The unflinching apoliticism of the vast majority of these players limited their political utility for both the regime and for the liberation movements in its colonies.
Though the Cold War ripped apart the almost century-long sporting connection between Cuba and the United States, Major League Baseball's (MLB) color line and interference in Cuban and Mexican baseball had already stressed this relationship to the breaking point. The Cuban Revolution triggered the island nation's final departure from the sporting empire that MLB had created and opened the way for the Dominican Republic to become the most important source of talent in professional baseball. Cuba, however, set its own course, building a noncommercial alternative in which sport became a right of the people and a means of statecraft.
This essay examines the way in which the Cold War shaped the use of sport as a tool of diplomacy in Latin America during the 1950s. It focuses on the Pan American Games in Argentina, Mexico, and the United States. Cultural exchanges failed to dispel suspicion of US intervention; however, athletes shared experiences beyond diplomatic agendas. Recent research has examined how international events shaped participants' understanding of national, racial, and gender identities. By focusing on women athletes, who historically occupied precarious positions as representatives of the nation, and examining interactions among Latin American delegations, we can understand the Pan American Games as a site of grassroots diplomacy.