The Whole World Was Watching
Sport in the Cold War
Edited by Robert Edelman and Christopher Young



Explaining Cold War Sport

Robert Edelman and Christopher Young

Sport was undeniably a major cultural phenomenon of the Cold War period. A fundamentally urban pastime and passion, its stock rose inevitably as migration from the countryside increased in the wake of World War II, with city populations doubling worldwide by 1970.1 It was a constant source of innovation as the new medium of television spread and developed, from its household arrival in the 1950s through the advent of color in the 1960s and the cable and satellite revolution that followed in the 1980s. It played a significant role in the growth of leisure and health-related activities, particularly in the West, from the 1960s onward.2 But crucially, the Cold War also changed sport.

More states than ever craved symbolic capital through athletic endeavor. Vast sums of money were poured into gaining it through fair and foul means; and the whole world, as the title of our book suggests, was watching. What its citizens—spectators, stalwarts, occasional viewers—were thinking, believing, hoping, and dreaming is a matter of rich potential for our understanding of the time. In every sense then, sport was a major phenomenon not just of the Cold War period but more specifically of the cultural Cold War. Given that subtle but important change in emphasis, it is surprising that the subject has been largely neglected in the impressive new field of Cold War studies that has emerged since the end of the conflict.

The fall of Communism coincided with the historical profession’s “cultural turn,” which began in the early 1980s. Topics once deemed marginal now assumed greater importance. As David Caute noted in his seminal The Dancer Defects, the Cold War “was simultaneously a traditional political-military confrontation . . . and . . . [a] cultural contest on a global scale and without historical precedent.”3 Writers, dancers, musicians, filmmakers, artists, and playwrights were mobilized by the great powers to win favor with their own people and with the rest of the world. The goal of “victory by other means” was influenced by Joseph Nye’s concept of “soft power.”4 Accordingly, scholars took the study of the Cold War beyond the purview of traditional military, diplomatic, and political history and established a broad context that looked at the mass reception and political meaning of cultural production.

This cultural Cold War has been a highly fertile area of research.5 Students of the media have excavated the political in US entertainment films and the entertaining in their politicized Soviet counterparts and revealed how television on each side of the Cold War divide both created and challenged stereotypes.6 Others have examined the successes and failures of international exhibitions of consumer goods and discussed the two systems’ very different approaches to home design.7 Scholars have also explored the open and secret roles of government in the production and dissemination of cultural products and shown how the American government conveyed the impression that pro-capitalist and pro-American arts and letters were the result of independent thought, when they were often heavily financed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).8 Many others went beyond high culture to reveal the broad extent of the covert actions of US intelligence agencies in a much wider range of activities and media.9 Exhibitions of abstract Western art had a subversive effect in Communist states,10 and government-sponsored jazz tours by African Americans failed to change postcolonial states’ perceptions of racism in the United States because of statements made by the musicians themselves.11 There was a profound interconnectedness between international and domestic politics in the United States.12 Government and society actors came together to form a state-private network through which Western governments were able to pursue their soft-power goals.13

Concomitantly, the growing body of scholarship on the postwar USSR has gone far beyond the view that cultural production in the Soviet Union could be reduced to a binary between an official, philistine, and false art and a true, morally pure, and fully artistic dissident art. Instead, ambiguity features in a broad range of studies.14 Soviet popular and middlebrow cultures were always torn between the conflicting needs of didacticism and entertainment. The result was a constantly evolving menu the public was free to ignore without serious penalty. The pioneering Russian historian Elena Zubkova focused on the enormous majority of ordinary Soviets who were neither jailers nor jailed,15 while a large cohort of Western researchers bear the influence of Alexei Yurchak’s pathbreaking Everything Was Forever Until It Was No More, which embraced the many uncertainties and contingencies of late Communism.16

Such work does not treat culture as an autonomous realm but rather connects it to the political. While studies of diplomacy and politics covered the circumscribed interactions of competing elites, the cultural Cold War literature expanded the terrain to include the societies that did or did not support them. This has undermined clichés about the independence of the arts and focused attention on the battle for the sympathies of the world’s citizens. As this book demonstrates, the site at which this battle was most powerfully articulated is sport.

The very liminality of sport makes it both the hardest form of soft power and the softest form of hard power. In the Cold War, sport had many hard, tangible, and corporeal qualities: It produced easily measured results from which governments and their citizens could draw rapid conclusions; different kinds of states produced different kinds of sporting systems, which in turn reflected and influenced the development of those same states in different ways. More instrumentally, sport was used almost universally to inspire the fitness needed for military readiness, serving on both sides of the ideological divide the overtly political purpose of convincing citizens to become fitter workers, better soldiers, and loyal servants of one kind of political system or another. At the same time, ministries of defense deployed the ideas of many thinkers to inspire citizens to join armed forces and vote for politicians who supported spending on weaponry. Sport also has many soft qualities within and beyond the matrix of state ideologies. Sport operates through local and commercial enterprise; global media; and individual, group, urban, regional, national, and transnational identities. It feeds off deep personal and collective loyalties and fascinations; and as unscripted, unpredictable drama, more than any other social, political, or cultural entity, it is also innately subject to the strength and frailty of human performance as well as to the role of chance.

Surprisingly, sport has attracted only minimal attention from scholars of the Cold War, whether they study international relations or elite and popular culture. Despite its unrivaled visibility to billions across the globe and its inherent intricacy as an object of historical analysis, sport is all but absent from the mainstream historiography of the Cold War. Caute’s Dancer Defects has but two cameos (Dinamo Moscow’s British tour of 1945 and the diplomatic brouhaha surrounding the arrest of the Soviet discus thrower Nina Ponomareva on charges of shoplifting on London’s Oxford Street in 1956);17 compendious overviews such as Mervyn P. Leffler and Odd Arne Westad’s Cambridge History of the Cold War and Richard Immerman and Petra Goedde’s Oxford Handbook of the Cold War barely touch on it;18 the journal Cold War History passed it over in its recent twenty-five-year retrospective special issue; and edited collections habitually overlook it.19 Family, gender, sexuality, politics, mobility, race, film, literature, television, and poetry all feature, but sport is missing. If it is mentioned at all in serious literature, it is done so glibly, all too often portrayed as an alternative locus of the US-Soviet rivalry, with the rest of the world left watching from the stands. Or it is reduced to snapshots of such climactic moments as the Western boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics and the Eastern Bloc’s decision to stay home four years later from Los Angeles—two connected dots seen from on high. This is no longer adequate. As Giles Scott-Smith and Joes Segal observe, “The narrative of absolute Cold War antagonism is looking increasingly misleading and disingenuous, to be replaced by a more differentiated and intellectually compelling interpretation.”20

In the Cold War, “virtually everything, from sport to ballet to comic books to space travel, assumed political significance.”21 Virtually everything in that span has also received the serious attention of Cold War scholars. It is now commonly accepted that the international system cannot be fully understood without the inclusion of culture.22 And it is equally compelling that Cold War culture cannot be understood without the inclusion of sport. Sport expands the cultural and connects it with the diplomatic. It also hits the sweet spot between “high culture,” as favored by the Soviet Union, and “popular culture,” as pushed by the United States.23 The limited scholarly coverage of sport is not simply a gap that needs to be filled. Rather, the shape and contours of that gap need to be properly understood.

One reason, perhaps, for the time lag of sport within the study of the cultural Cold War is that there is as yet no authoritative account or collection that connects it to the big questions of the field. But sports history has been growing steadily over the last forty years,24 and within it the literature on which such works could be based has gradually been accumulating.25 This includes excellent foundational studies by individuals working in specific geographic areas—predominantly the Soviet Union,26 the United States,27 and East and West Germany,28 but also in China,29 as well as other countries in Europe.30 New scholarship is appearing all the time, including diplomatic history,31 and the field is reaching critical mass. For this book, we have been able to assemble a group of young and more experienced scholars from all over the world, from both strands of mainstream Cold War history as well as sports history. Although sports in Asia, Latin America, and Africa are still vastly understudied, we have elicited contributions from leading authorities in these respective fields.

Working closely with a vast array of sources, our contributors have produced authentic breakthroughs in many areas. Vitally, their scholarship respects the peculiarity of sporting systems while bringing their study into dialogue with mainstream scholarship. They are alive to the important dynamic between the specific and the general, which is sometimes missing in writing on sport, as scholars have been overreliant on the low-hanging fruit of bureaucratic paper, such as that preserved in archives and libraries. As proposed by the Italian scholar Mario del Pero in his recent commentary on sport and US diplomatic relations, “The real contribution that the study of sport can offer to our understanding of . . . the Cold War depends primarily on our ability to examine and highlight forms of interaction and exchange in which multiple players were involved, retrieving (and fully considering) the agency of all the parties and the complex connections they catalyzed.”32 This relational dimension of power—its forms, mutations, and contradictions—is precisely what our contributors have captured. Delving into the “extraordinary corpus of cultural production of the twentieth century,” they know, as Caute noted, that Cold War culture “can be properly explored and understood only from multiple viewpoints.”33 This multiperspective approach applies both to the content of individual essays and to the range of the book as a whole.

As editors, we have been greatly influenced by the imperative of recent years to treat the Cold War as a global and variegated, rather than a binary and monochrome, phenomenon.34 Our contributors range far and wide, in geography and in focus. In selecting them, we were ideologically agnostic about the recent debates for and against a broad conception of the (cultural) Cold War. Here we merely argue, on pragmatic grounds, that historians of sport should continue to cast their net as wide as possible since so much in the field is yet to be gathered.35 Grouped according to significant geographic areas, our contributions reexamine critical issues of familiar players—the United States, USSR, and German Democratic Republic (GDR)—and open out to new ones, such as Asia and the postcolonial world. We have made a conscious decision to set aside for now the Olympic Games: these have received considerable scrutiny and thus have somewhat skewed perceptions of the field.36 Instead, we consider lesser-studied but no less important regional games as well as quotidian sports with massive transnational fan bases (soccer, hockey, baseball); examine the global and local dynamics of drug abuse; and interrogate the social and political impact of celebrity. Many contributions extend beyond a single theme.

As the following brief descriptions demonstrate, individually these chapters deliver new—and often counterintuitive—insights that illuminate the multifaceted significance of sport for nations, groups, and individuals in the Cold War. Together, as our conclusion sets out, they allow us to distill the fundamental aspects of sport and the cultural Cold War on which future work in the field can build.

The United States

In the first half of the twentieth century, international competition gave the United States a platform to demonstrate its power and attractiveness to the rest of the world, and American sporting dominance seemed natural and normal, at least to Americans. But this changed with the Cold War. As the superpower rivalry that congealed into nuclear confrontation and proxy wars raised the political stakes of what was supposed to be friendly competition, sporting defeat at Soviet hands had to be explained and contested. This was a task the US government could not leave to the volunteer officials of the many national and international sports federations, and early on, American state actors became involved in the world of sport, as a private-state network emerged that simultaneously waged psychological warfare and turned profits for media conglomerates.

Looming all over this activity was the matter of race. As the empires of US allies crumbled and scores of new nations emerged into a postcolonial world, race became America’s great handicap in the struggle for the sympathies of the world’s citizens. It came up constantly in sporting encounters that went beyond the boundaries and limits of American domestic politics. Our essays shed light on the measures taken by the US government to control the sports world, the ways US media industries displayed it, and the problems raised internationally when African American athletes came to contest discrimination.

The cultural Cold War was quickly joined in the late 1940s. Both sides financed front groups, and in the West, a broad array of cultural organizations emerged to portray the greater attractiveness of capitalism and liberal democracy. Writers, dancers, artists, filmmakers, musicians, academics, and scientists were said to have made their choice of sides independently, free of state interference. But in 1967, the world learned that much of this activity was secretly financed by the CIA. Toby C. Rider has sought to find out if something similar happened in the world of sport, and his excavation of government, private, and Olympic documents reveals overt propaganda and covert control. The most salient moment of this process came in 1956 after the Melbourne Olympics, which had witnessed a particularly brutal water polo match between the USSR and the favorite Hungary in the wake of the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian uprising. When the Games ended, thirty-eight Hungarian athletes and officials chose to defect, mainly to the United States. These events were organized by the American weekly Sports Illustrated, a part of the Time-Life publishing empire of the powerful and well-connected anti-Communist Henry Luce. Rider shows that this intervention in sporting cultural diplomacy, still denied by the magazine, was funded by the CIA.

African American performers were always a conspicuous part of US sporting events and, in particular, of delegations abroad. Their presence was intended to demonstrate that the violence and disorder associated with the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s were only part of the American story. Sporting ambassadors admitted problems but offered an account of anticipated improvement. Elliott J. Gorn’s account of the troubles of heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali with the US government and his subsequent campaign against the Vietnam War presents a more complex and realistic picture of race relations in the United States. Throughout the twentieth century, boxing was a culturally hegemonic sport, and its heavyweight champion was seen as the world’s toughest man. The polite and deferent Joe Louis was the sort of “Negro” white people could live with after the sexually threatening pre–World War I figure of Jack Johnson. The brash Ali won Olympic gold in 1960 followed by the heavyweight crown in 1965, announced his membership in the Nation of Islam, and a few years later refused conscription to fight in Vietnam. He had he said no quarrel with the Vietcong. If Ali did not initially see himself as a Cold War figure (and is often overlooked as such in scholarship), the Cold War certainly found him. He was stripped of his title, which he regained through court order and ring prowess, and his story dramatizes the centrality of racial politics nationally and internationally in the era.

The Soviet Union

Americans believed US sport operated autonomously, independent of government and detached from politics, while Communist sport was a realm of totalitarian control. But this is a classic false binary, and today it is hard to find students of the USSR who accept the concept of totalitarianism that so dominated academic and popular postwar thinking. Scholars now understand the Soviet party-state did more than simply deploy fear and terror. While repression did not disappear, the Gulag was abandoned by the mid-1950s, to be replaced by hegemonic strategies that could gain the consent of a population capable of exhibiting agency, autonomy, transgression, and careful resistance. Soviet domination of the Olympics might have seemed an expression of strong state power, but we have now moved well beyond the cliché of the “Big Red Machine.” The pioneering research in this section deals with enlightened officials, fan groups, national republics, and international competition. Each essay points to a new way of understanding how Soviet sport worked in historical practice.

From the start of Soviet power in 1917, leaders, athletes, and officials had been ambivalent about the two sporting forms inherited from capitalism—Olympian amateurism and entertainment-oriented professionalism. Both approaches raised problems that could be sidestepped when the USSR operated in a situation of diplomatic and sporting isolation. After the war, however, elite Soviet athletes faced profound changes when the USSR elected to play by capitalism’s rules. They accepted membership in the United Nations and began joining the many international sports federations, culminating in Olympic membership in 1951. While virtually all these organizations followed amateur codes, it was no secret that Soviet performers were well paid. Olympic officials knew this, and the Western press reported it.

Maintaining the fig leaf of amateurism proved a shrewd choice, enabling Soviet Olympians to dominate what was just a segment of the West’s sporting talents. But this strategy also caused frustration, since under capitalism the top athletes were drawn away to the more remunerative sports and Soviet amateurs could not always test themselves against the best competition. In time a particular void opened up in the popular sport of hockey, which was habitually dominated by the professional stars of the North American National Hockey League. After decades of trampling their fellow “amateurs,” the Soviets longed to compete against Canada, which originated the sport. This desire was eventually fulfilled in 1972, with an eight-game “Summit Series” that has gone down in the annals of the sport and is vividly remembered by all who witnessed it.37 The Soviets’ shock win in the opening encounter, the sharp contrast in styles between the “brutish” Western professionals and the “cultured” Eastern “amateurs,” and the Canadians’ dramatic victory in the dying embers in Moscow created a canvas on which the Cold War imaginary was played out for, and partly renegotiated by, millions of television viewers worldwide.

Yet, as James Hershberg has uncovered, this seminal event might never have happened but for the high-level negotiations and agile diplomacy of the talented Soviet prime minister Alexei Kosygin. Traveling to Canada to expand Soviet influence at a time of US troubles in Vietnam, Kosygin himself came under physical attack from demonstrators in Ottawa. It was only the generosity of a Vancouver crowd’s welcome at a later hockey game—an event he almost skipped—that turned the trip into a success and led to both nations negotiating directly over the ultimate test of the world’s best. As the forensic detail of Hershberg’s essay shows, chance and personal inclination played a key role in the unfolding of one of the landmark events in the cultural Cold War.

While the Summit Series was abetted by Kosygin, it had the warm support of the Communist Party general secretary Leonid Brezhnev. If Stalin had been completely indifferent to sport and Nikita Khrushchev downright hostile to it, this changed in 1964 when Brezhnev became party leader. In contrast to his predecessors, Brezhnev had long loved sport and supported national teams and regional clubs at the many stops he made on his rise to the top. While the Brezhnev period in general has been described as an era of stagnation, the man himself took a keen interest in athletes’ well-being and fostered success in the most popular pastimes of football and hockey.

Most important, he shared the dream of many sports officials from the mid-1950s of hosting the Olympic Games in the USSR and was a dynamic force in finally bringing the Games to Moscow. He championed this cause through thick and thin—riling his erstwhile advocate Khrushchev with Olympic visions at times of economic crisis and, once in power, playing the long game both internally and externally in regard to the politics of international sport. At various times, the Soviets trod a thin line between choleric allies (the GDR) and awkward allegiances (Franco’s Spain, Israel, and South Korea) to gain mastery of the protocols that governed international sport. This paid off in 1974, when they were able to win the bid for the 1980 Olympic Games. In Mikhail Prozumenshikov’s account, the leadership of a single man over several decades made a real difference, so much so that it is entirely plausible that the Eastern Bloc would not have boycotted the Los Angeles Games had Brezhnev not died in 1982.

Despite the boycott, the 1980 Games brought pleasure to Muscovites and the republics alike. What worked for the event of a lifetime, however, was more complicated in everyday practice. The center constantly sought to control centrifugal manifestations of nationalism, and open defiance could lead to severe penalties. Over the previous thirty years, the Soviet Union had wrestled with football’s role as an engine for international success and social cohesion in the multiethnic Socialist state. While the capital’s major clubs nurtured strong institutional identities, their leading provincial rivals such as Dinamo Kiev and Dinamo Tbilisi each effectively stood as its respective republic’s national team. Georgian football developed a distinctive trickster style that set it apart from that of the rest of the Soviet Union. Likened to its dynamic national dance, this southern football, with its characteristics of beauty, ingenuity, and agility, was perceived as an alternative to that in the rest of the USSR—an idea that blossomed through association with the Argentinian and Brazilian game. Football allowed Georgians to consider themselves modern and to enjoy an identity that transcended Soviet borders. At the same time, as Erik R. Scott shows in his chapter, Georgian football allowed the Soviets to promote the multiethnic state—either by including players on the national team or by sending their club sides abroad, where they proved particularly flamboyant ambassadors to the postcolonial world and undermined stereotypes of the dour, physical Soviet. This was not always without tension. For while Georgian flair could promote Pan-Soviet as well as national success, the government’s sponsorship also led to the advancement of the republic in its own right. Most astonishingly, Dinamo Tbilisi originally flourished under the patronage of Lavrentii Beria, survived his execution in 1953, and established itself as a model for post-Stalinist masculinity. With the spread of television, its reputation for playing the beautiful game became recognized and appreciated across the Soviet Union, even if resentment grew with Tbilisi’s increasing success and its fans’ aggressive ebullience.

Thus, while the various institutional structures of the USSR aspired to control independent activity, football was a blunt instrument in the hands of authoritarian rulers. While Soviet Communism privileged conscious control, citizens never relinquished the spontaneity that could lead to unintended consequences. Working in central and regional archives and conducting numerous interviews, Manfred Zeller is able to depict the complex and variegated world in which the authority of dominant political groups in the USSR was simultaneously accepted and contested by ordinary citizens in their complex roles as supporters. In Moscow as well as the republics, sport provided liminal spaces in which meanings were produced, digested, and changed. The regime and its press organs had exercised some measure of control over supporters in the 1960s and 1970s. And the dominant discourse had depicted fans as rational Soviet consumers, along with their extrovert behavior and more exuberant supporters described as “feverish fans.” On the whole, however, this never reached fever pitch. For most of those two decades, it was difficult to tell who was supporting whom within Moscow stadiums. Things changed, though, in the late 1970s, by which time sport had increasingly globalized, with television transmitting images of youth behaviors from the West. Young Soviet fans followed suit, donning (hand-knitted) scarves in their team’s colors, formulating partisan chants, and moving together en masse. But what was normal in the West was unusual in the East. While these fans saw themselves as part of a transnational youth movement, their articulation of it simultaneously expressed deeply Soviet messages. Appropriating state symbols from club badges for subgroup identity was a direct challenge to Soviet public life. It was also a means by which Muscovites, in whose city the scene developed with particular zeal, could express superiority over regional rivals. As the Cold War neared its end, it is little wonder that clashes between fans and police became ever more violent.

The German Democratic Republic

Much of what emerges from the Soviet case holds true for the GDR: the influence of strong individuals in high office; tensions and complications between center and periphery; sport as an arena for identity formation and a vehicle for protest of varying degrees; and the peculiarities of a sporting system that required considerable management and negotiation of local interests to produce the exceptional results it did. GDR sport is synonymous with Olympic success and doping. With a population of just seventeen million, the GDR ranked in the top three at every Summer Olympics at which it competed independently from 1972, defeating the United States in 1976 and coming in a close second to its Soviet ally as the Cold War reached its conclusion. Much, though not all, of this success was due to an extensive doping program, which the openness and volume of German archives have revealed more fully than for any other nation. Yet, as the three essays in this section show, there is more to tell. The quirky world of football gives a clearer sense of East German society and the breakdown of consensus within it than did any of the Olympic triumphs; rivalries, abuse, and naked ambition created an even darker side to doping than previously imagined; and a rare examination of ice-skater Katarina Witt shows the complex production of image and reception for domestic and international audiences. Like the image of Witt that emerges here, that of the GDR sport system as a whole appears more nuanced and complicated than usually assumed.

The GDR was not known as a football nation and was always in the shadow of Poland, Czechoslovakia, the USSR, and West Germany. In international competition, it qualified for only one World Cup (1974) and produced just a single winner of a European club competition (FC Magdeburg, Cup Winners’ Cup 1974). But as elsewhere in Eastern Europe, football sustained a well-supported league, which rooted fans in national networks but connected them to transnational discourses and influences as well. As the Cold War reached its conclusion, it also provided citizens with an exceptional space in which to articulate discontent. Alan McDougall’s essay, which focuses on the Stasi-sponsored Berliner FC Dynamo (BFC), explores “football’s role as a political lightning rod,” which “channel[ed] antiregime sentiment into areas that were not always as safe or sealed off as they seemed to be.”

If an outlet for public frustration was ever needed, the state could not have created a better solution than BFC. With the personal support of Erich Mielke and constant pressure on match officials, the club broke the dominance of Magdeburg and Dresden and, starting in 1978–1979, brought the East German league title to the capital for ten successive seasons. In what is an important story for the final decade of the GDR, this stranglehold did not go unchallenged. Journalists lobbied members of the Socialist United Party of the GDR (SED); fans booed the club’s players when they appeared for the national team; and the volume of petitions, to which the government always paid attention, grew exponentially. Fans drew unflattering comparisons with foreign leagues and vented their anger in the stadium. Eventually, the East German Football Association was forced to take action, and it is no coincidence that BFC’s winning streak ended before November 1989. As McDougall notes, the sustained protest did not bring down the Berlin Wall, but it was a significant expression of dissatisfaction in the country, one that extended beyond all others in publicity and reach. That fans could challenge the regime so successfully says much about the dying days of the GDR, and that they could do it so visibly tells us something about the power of sport as a means of political engagement.

While BFC’s ignominy was plain to see, the country’s drug program lived in a netherworld that the public often suspected but never quite dared to mention; by the time the regime entered its final decade, though, parents had begun dissuading their children from engaging with serious sport. One thing the program shared with football, however, was the strong vested interests and disruptive effects of industry- and military-based clubs. Doping began in earnest in the GDR after the Munich Olympics in 1972. A report from 1974 outlined the need to keep up with the competition from the leading sports nations of the West—a claim that recent research on the Federal Republic has partly vindicated—as well as from the USSR. As Mike Dennis shows, the reason for central action had as much to do with wresting control from powerful national societies as it did with trumping international rivals. Vorwärts and Dynamo (the army and police organizations) went to particular lengths to defeat each other, competing between them for the best athletes, trainers, and medical facilities. Curbing the selfish and destructive drive of the clubs became a priority for sports officials as they sought to consolidate their own role within the country’s hierarchy.

Despite central initiatives, “wild doping” became endemic to the system. This included wanton disregard for officially prescribed norms and the development of experimental steroid substances. Levels of dosage, bitter rivalries, and the right to ultimate control were recurring motifs in a circular battle between clubs, doctors, sports functionaries, and political leaders. Dissenting voices aside, it is clear that risks to human life were secondary to the imperative of success. Young female athletes were particularly vulnerable (many were doped without their knowledge or through coercion), while others, such as body builders, threatened the system with overt illegal consumption. Behind the “GDR machine” stood a system in disarray, one that damaged athletes and that even the Stasi could not monitor and control completely.

Katarina Witt, who dominated the sport of figure skating in the 1980s, was a conspicuous exception to the dreary world of most GDR athletes. While they were many, she was singular; while they had the brawn, she had the looks. Dubbed “the most beautiful face of Socialism,” she presented the regime with an opportunity to counter the message that only hardened, muscular sportswomen had any chance of success in the East. The government took particular interest in Witt, monitoring her press contacts and promoting her image in the West, a process in which she herself was willingly compliant. Regime and athlete exploited the alignment of sporting talent and feminine allure—an aspect that was pushed to the limits with daring costumes and sensual routines—for political purposes. Witt talked often and openly about the benefits of the Socialist system and in 1988 became a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).

But as Annette F. Timm argues, this process involved more than simply selling sex to the West. In fact, the whole Witt phenomenon turns precisely on the different ways sex was coded in the capitalist and Socialist worlds. Witt was always surprised at the uptight nature of sexual relations in the West: as an athlete, she claimed to have a more natural relationship to her own body; she felt completely at home in the nudist scene, a movement with a long German tradition that had emerged as a form of overt protest in the GDR but had quickly become part of mainstream culture; and argued that the absence of economic dependency liberated sexual mores in Socialism. Witt’s own self-understanding was distinctly at odds with Western tropes, which depicted attractive Eastern women as honey traps in the employ of the state and, more generally, as sadomasochistic and deviant products of totalitarianism. This fantasy both scared and soothed citizens in the West—they could sleep safe at night knowing what their governments were protecting them from. But for Witt, eventually, the tension proved too much, and her image began to fray even before the fall of the wall.


The Cold War played out quite differently in Asia than in Europe: the superpowers were caught in a quadrangular relationship with China and Japan, and two hot wars (Korea and Vietnam) ensued. Decolonization unfolded, and internal conflicts left many countries in the balance. In this complicated mix, sport might seem irrelevant. Yet, as Tsuyoshi Hasegawa has argued, the “domestic politics of each nation developed in close connection with the external Cold War, and the Cold War profoundly influenced the media, sports, and people’s consciousness.”38 Just as the conflict was configured differently in the region, so too was sport. A Western import, transported by imperial administrators, the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), and adherents of Muscular Christianity, it had largely remained the preserve of elites and educated male urbanites until the end of World War II. But in the wake of the Chinese Civil War and in the midst of newly emerging nations, sport became a critical tool for governments to boost legitimacy, secure a place on the international stage, and stake a claim for modernity. The three essays in this section address these themes in relation to China, Taiwan, and Thailand. Taken together, they show how, more than in any other region, political circumstances and sport’s status as a relative cultural newcomer combined to project the Cold War as a shared and imagined reality containing both the threat of destruction and the promise of a better future.39

Before and after 1949, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) cast its lot with the world Communist movement and looked to the Soviet Union for support and guidance. War weary and laden with embargoes, Mao Zedong adopted a “lean to one side” policy and accepted the Soviets as international Socialist leaders. Thousands of Soviet specialists in many different areas took up residence to help with the construction of Communism and drive forward the struggle for Socialist modernity. Sport was no exception. Facilities were constructed, scouts sent out to scour the mainland for talent, and athletes dispatched for long periods of time to the USSR. Coaches and athletic delegations also arrived in China from other Communist states, some of them—such as the Soviet gymnastics squad, fresh from Olympic triumph, and the superlative Hungarian national football team—of the highest international standing. As Amanda Shuman explains for the first time, Mao’s embrace of sport had multiple, interlocking motivations.

Sport’s previously close association with the Nationalists, who had just been driven into Taiwanese exile, allowed the new regime to connect with people not necessarily disposed to it. It also promised a way to capitalize on its most precious asset, the masses, by transforming the proverbial (and actual) “sick man” of previous decades into the healthy citizen of the one to come. The alignment with the Soviet Union enabled China to build legitimacy from the bottom up. The Soviet model, despite well-established indigenous practices, was taken over comprehensively; Soviet stars adorned the pages of Chinese magazines; and the USSR’s preeminence in the international sphere was championed. The adoption of Soviet methods and the foreign recognition that sport brought with it formed an important part of the regime’s strategy to increase support for the new Chinese state. Aspiration was vital: the improvised facilities and untapped talents of today would change tomorrow and propel China forward as it had the USSR. But for the Cultural Revolution and the radical change of course in the 1960s and 1970s, the successes of the 1980s would doubtless have come earlier.

For most of that period, the PRC was in dispute with Chiang Kai-shek’s Republic of China (ROC), which enjoyed American support and occupied an inaugural seat at the United Nations. As the Olympic Games continued to grow in stature, they offered immense symbolic capital to both sides. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) sought naïvely to bring political enemies together, but—as in the case of divided Germany—a litany of petty point scoring ensued. Teams arrived late after others had withdrawn, banners were brandished at opening ceremonies, and host nations were placed in awkward situations they would rather have avoided. Even after the PRC abandoned the field to the ROC in 1958, the struggle continued. Most dramatically, decathlete and darling of Taiwanese sport C. K. Yang crashed at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, as treacherous teammates turned by PRC agents robbed him of gold by spiking his morning glass of orange juice. In Montreal in 1976, the ROC came unstuck when the Canadian government, which had recognized the legitimacy of the PRC six years earlier, insisted it compete as “Taiwan.” The ROC’s subsequent boycott denied it the final opportunity to be the sole representative of China, as the PRC returned to the fold in 1979 and the ROC’s fate as “Chinese Taipei” was sealed by Olympic formula.

Such high-profile politics were part and parcel of sporting encounter in the Cold War and have attracted considerable attention from sports historians. But as Andrew D. Morris shows, they were only part of the story. In the case of Taiwan, sporting developments were much more complex than a mere “two-dimensional, cross-strait struggle.” The status of team sports on the island, for instance, was particularly nuanced. Basketball, an American sport that had taken root early in China, appealed to mainlanders in exile who yearned to return home, while baseball was the sport of choice of the native Taiwanese. Despite its association with the recent Japanese occupiers and failed attempts by the Nationalists to sinicize it, baseball became increasingly important as it gained in international reputation. Annual displays of massed physical prowess also assumed inordinate significance for the Nationalist cause. Drawing on thousands of participants, these aimed to buttress the regime’s authority and inculcate a sense of discipline and devotion in its citizens. As hopes of renewed military action were fading, the events reminded citizens of their role in a future world when the promised land would be regained.

Mass events were important across East and Southeast Asia. The first Asian Games took place at New Delhi in 1951, providing a sporting terrain for the struggle between capitalism and Communism. Yet this event was but one of several regional competitions that simultaneously supported and challenged the work of the Olympic Movement. In the wake of decolonization in the southeastern part of the continent, governments and market economies surrounding North Vietnam organized their own games to help counter the spread of Communism. Alongside the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) nations, this much smaller competition became a sporting pillar of the US doctrine of containment. But as Simon Creak shows, it is important to transcend divisions between the diplomatic and cultural history of the Cold War and to highlight the national, regional, and international factors that simultaneously shaped this period of Southeast Asian history.

The authoritarian, US-allied military junta of Thailand took the lead by hosting the first Southeast Asian Peninsular Games in Bangkok in 1959. US diplomats with sports backgrounds at the Bangkok embassy played fully overt roles in organizing the movement and preparing the host’s athletes; and Burma, Malaysia, Singapore, and South Vietnam participated. While the games had an obvious regional importance, they were equally significant for Thailand. In a postcolonial era, it shored up its previous special status as a noncolonialized nation by defining itself in close relation to the United States and its fight against Communism. Concomitantly, the games served distinctly local purposes by displaying the paternalistic intent of the military and its growing cult of the monarchy. Twenty thousand attended an opening ceremony in a brand-new stadium that drew heavily on Olympic ritual and included an address by the Thai king. While it would be a stretch to call the Peninsular Games a mega-event, the competition proved an effective vehicle for generating domestic support for regimes in the participating nations. The Philippines, Indonesia, and Cambodia joined later, and having outlived their Cold War purpose, the games continue to prosper today.

The Postcolonial World

Europe was the earliest theater of the Cold War, but its spread to Asia with the outbreak of war in Korea completely changed the terrain on which the larger conflict was contested. By the mid-1950s, a certain modus vivendi had emerged in the Old World, and the decisive struggles of the Cold War shifted to the rest of the world, where empires crumbled and new nations emerged. Latin America and Africa joined Asia as part of a global Cold War that others have even called an international civil war. Each side vied for the loyalty, support, and emulation of these new governments, most of which sought to be nonaligned. Led initially by Josip Broz Tito in Yugoslavia but, more important, by Jawaharlal Nehru in India and Sukarno in Indonesia, this postcolonial world witnessed a series of brutal proxy wars in which tens of millions lost their lives. If the nuclear stalemate minimized loss of life in the Northern Hemisphere, the Global South experienced carnage. It cannot be ignored.

As in mainstream history, scholars of sport must turn their attention to the new nations that emerged from the dying empires of US allies. Much like the proxy wars, sport in the postcolonial world can also be understood as classic contested terrain. This was not simply a story of the United States and USSR using athletes to deploy soft power to gain the sympathies of the citizens of the Third World. Even in the midst of the surrogate wars, nonaligned nations succeeded in developing sporting practices that afforded them a considerable measure of agency in relations with the Capitalist and Communist Blocs. New intercontinental formations were organized, and new regional events were created. The three essays in this section embrace the complexity and multidirectionality of these Cold War cultural flows. Africa, Asia, and Latin America had different relationships with the various empires that sought to control and exploit them, and the various empires deployed different strategies in ruling them, ranging from the formal to the informal and the neocolonial.

The harshest, most exploitative, and tenacious of the European empires was arguably that of Portugal. Yet in sporting terms, the country is recalled for its beautiful football and in particular for Benfica, the European Cup–winning club side of the 1960s with its star player, Eusébio, from Mozambique. As Todd Cleveland argues, the success of the game had distinct Cold War origins and indeed complications. Football in Portugal enjoyed little success in the 1950s, until it was greatly buoyed by a stream of players from its African colonies. Their arrival was part of the right-wing dictatorship’s strategy for resisting calls to decolonize. Under pressure from both superpowers to grant its colonies liberty, the regime embarked on a program of integration to assuage internal and external critics. Treating the colonies as provinces, it changed its labor laws to increase the flow of overseas players and began to fete the successes of its club and national sides as a triumph of multiethnic tolerance.

With their potential to serve as symbols for both the left-wing African independence movements and a Portuguese regime that needed them desperately to justify its empire, the players had to adopt an unflinching apoliticism to protect their professional development and meager but meaningful earning power. Throughout, they trod a thin line but managed to alienate neither side. This was far from straightforward in the febrile atmosphere of 1960s Portugal, particularly after the outbreak of war in three of the five colonies. Radicalization occurred in university towns where many players studied while they trained and where they were enlightened about the exploitation of the countries they had left behind. Despite significant flashpoints when insurgent supporters exploited key sporting events, the players themselves opted for calm. And in opening up a gap between the fervor of their fans and their own actions, they kept a lid on a situation that would soon find resolution during the 1970s.

Rob Ruck’s account of baseball in the Caribbean shows how formal and informal empire could lead to complex sporting patterns across large regional spaces. The spread of the US “national pastime” was largely accomplished by businesses and industries, with Cuba, emerging from Spanish domination, playing a central role in the diffusion of the game to the rest of the Caribbean basin from Mexico to Venezuela. Ties between the two countries were tight: a number of light-skinned Cubans found their way to Major League Baseball in the United States, while American players of African descent who were restricted to the Negro League found winter employment on the island. After World War II, however, concerns raised by the Cold War impinged on the sport.

The Brooklyn Dodgers’ signing Jackie Robinson in 1945 and the subsequent integration of the major leagues might have portrayed some progress, but it hardly made the lives of Afro-Cuban players any easier when they came north and were confronted by a range of discrimination. The terms of this sporting trade in athletic bodies remained very much on the side of the US clubs. This held until the Cuban Revolution in 1959 began a process of moving away from the old relationship. By 1961, Cubans were no longer permitted to take up contracts in the north, and the openly professional structure of the island’s elite league was transformed to conform to Soviet practices of paid amateurism. As the flow of Cubans dried up, Major League Baseball deeply mined the talents of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela, signing scores of teenagers and establishing academies that attracted thousands of young men who pursued the elusive dream of big-time contracts. The Dominicans came to dominate the post-1961 flow of Caribbean talent in a minimally controlled process that replicated the primitive accumulation of capital. As a result, a Cold War–inflected rivalry between Communist Cuba and the capitalist Dominicans never emerged. The collapse of the USSR again changed Cuba’s relationship with professional baseball, precipitating a wave of defections that often proved difficult for the players who came to the United States and trying for those they left behind.

The US relationship with the nations of South America can properly be described as neocolonial. In the twentieth century, the Monroe Doctrine, which had defined the US policy of limiting Old World power in the region for almost a hundred years, was replaced by a looser Pan-Americanism that sought to foster trade and influence. In this context, the Pan American Games might seem like a perfect vehicle for the United States: the possibility of a Western Hemispheric event was first raised during the 1930s, and Avery Brundage, then head of the US Olympic Committee and later president of the IOC, played a central role. But as Brenda Elsey points out, there are different lenses through which to view these acts of cultural diplomacy. The games failed to dispel doubts about US intentions, and far from a festival of “good neighborism,” the quadrennial events proved to be yet another site of contested Cold War terrain.

The first games took place in Buenos Aires in 1951, as South American countries were realizing the adverse effects of the Marshall Plan on their access to European markets and Juan Perón was seeking to foster a South American third way between US imperialism and Soviet Communism. While the games gave the Peróns an obvious opportunity to push domestic and international agendas—encouraging workers to participate in traditional elitist sports, championing women’s sports at a time when suffrage had been secured—they also heightened tensions with neighbors sympathetic to political dissenters. Yet the United States hardly covered itself in glory: The New York Times compared Perón with Adolf Hitler; a largely second-string team failed to triumph; and American officials and journalists complained about food, facilities, and judging. However, the hosts dominated in a potent display of Argentinian modernity. Mexico, four years later, impressed even more with its technological expertise, and while English-speaking athletes were segregated at their own request, South American solidarity grew. By the time the games arrived in Chicago in 1959, the disdain of the organizers, who wasted little effort in putting them on, and the public, which expended even less in watching them, was plain to see. In such settings, the games cemented south-south ties while eroding north-south relationships.


When one goes beyond the few highly visible mega-events, it is clear that Cold War sport was implicated with what Michel de Certeau called “the practice of everyday life.”40 In this book we place the emphasis on the quotidian and ongoing character of sport to find the nuance and ambiguity that are obscured by the blinding quadrennial glare of the Olympics and the soccer World Cup. These essays are a first step toward broadening historians’ concerns and changing the ways sport is implicated in the larger events of the era. Our project seeks to show that sport is both integral to the study of the cultural Cold War and works out its difference from other forms of culture. Drawing the threads together now, we conclude by asking what our contributors reveal about a series of fundamental issues. What are sport’s specificities? How are sports different from other cultural forms? And what false assumptions about sport in the Cold War need to be overturned? In answering these questions, we identify six key areas.


In sport, fans can have an impact on the outcome of the spectacle in ways consumers of other cultural forms rarely, if ever, can. With the audience part of the show, sport was capable of powerfully and swiftly projecting meanings with serious political implications, whether Georgian nationalism (Scott), opposition to the Vietnam War (Gorn), or anti-Communism in Southeast Asia (Creak). Despite the many successes of the historical profession’s cultural turn, students of popular culture continue to struggle with the matter of reception. Texts and documents are easier to retrieve and analyze than more amorphous popular responses. Yet that task is more central and, thankfully, easier in regard to sport. We know how many watched and what they watched; we can make educated guesses about why they watched and how they understood what they had witnessed; the politics of the neighborhood or courtyard, pub or café, church or factory can be studied as part of ordinary people’s daily lives. In making these their emphases, our contributors show how sport can provide a way out of what is too often a methodological cul-de-sac. In doing this, they examine how sport has informed identity formation and with it the world of mass politics within which modern sport evolved. In the Cold War, sport was a place for individuals and groups to think about who they were and make political choices based on that understanding. It was also a place for fans to revel in the fact that sport could slip through the hands of authoritarian regimes. Unjust and unpredictable, sport—particularly a team sport such as soccer—often defied logical, scientific, and rational attempts to control outcomes.


Without the media and the public’s attention to them, the resonance of Cold War sport would have been severely diminished. Its early stages corresponded to the arrival of television, a medium that quickly rivaled all others. In the United States, for instance, half of all households owned a set by the early 1950s; the number of regular moviegoers more than halved by the decade’s end; and listening figures of popular radio shows collapsed in a matter of years.41 In the Soviet Union, a similar development ensued with about a decade’s delay.42 Television played an increasingly important role in sport, particularly in the era of détente. In the 1960s, the IOC warmed to the idea of selling media rights,43 with live, rather than limited, delayed coverage beginning in Tokyo in 1964 and ensuring such globally shared experiences of events as the 1968 Black Power salute of John Carlos and Tommie Smith and the 1972 terrorist siege in Munich.

Television had various effects on sport: its commercial hunger created competition that contributed to peace as much as it compromised it;44 international coverage produced live shared experiences that drew on the fascination of difference but pulled the world together (Hershberg); pictures from afar gave fans novel modes of behavior and new measures to judge domestic offerings (Zeller, McDougall); and the visuality of the medium overlaid drab reality with pictures of grace and beauty (Timm). It would be a lazy assumption to imagine that all these effects were new. Many were evident in the interwar period, simply in different media that television would eventually oust. After all, as Peter J. Kuznick and James Gilbert observed, television was “only one of a series of dramatic changes in communications marking almost every decade of the century.”45 Future work in the field should, therefore, follow the example of our authors and ask what is specifically new or distinctive about television’s contribution to sport in the Cold War. And researchers should pay specific attention to cable and satellite providers—the real revolution in broadcasting—which began toward the end of the period and quickly threw the delicate balance of viewing habits near the Iron Curtain out of kilter (Timm).

The False Binary of State Versus Independence

Any notion of a clear contrast between state-sponsored and independent sport is a false binary. Prozumenshikov, Rider, Zeller, Dennis, and Timm all tackle this matter in different ways. Indeed, the very variety of their essays undermines the argument that there was a clear distinction between capitalist and Communist elite, high-performance sport. The literature on Cold War culture has revealed that both superpowers used the camouflage of independence to hide state involvement. Few were fooled by Soviet efforts to create front groups, but global publics throughout the world were led to believe that pro-capitalist, pro-American sentiments were the result of free choices by individuals up until the 1967 revelations of CIA involvement. This was as true in the field of sport as it was in other arenas of cultural competition. The evolution of state-private networks assured that capitalist states were not asleep at the wheel.

The Communist side of the coin reveals the converse. Within the edifice of state-sponsored and controlled sport there were numerous areas of autonomy in which athletes, officials, journalists, and ordinary citizens could resist and negotiate the demands of authorities who were not always sure of what they were doing. The essays by Timm, Scott, McDougall, Zeller, and Dennis track well with the growing literature on late Communism, in which the binary of evil officials and good dissidents has been rejected in favor of complexity, nuance, ambiguity, and multiple shades of gray. How could it be that the leaders of the Communist Youth League loved Pink Floyd and Deep Purple? Yet they did.

The Inadequacy of Bipolarity

To the extent there is a master narrative of Cold War sport, it has been constructed more by journalists and politicians than by scholars. It describes a bipolar struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union played out in the distorting arena of the Olympic Games to convince the citizens of the nonaligned, postcolonial worlds to adopt one or another globalization project. Yet neither bloc was monolithic. While the Olympic Games may have been the most obvious site for an athletic proxy war, the essays in this book demonstrate how much more broadly and deeply sport was implicated in domestic political struggles. The competition between capitalism and Communism took place not simply between nations but within them as well. The essays of Prozumenshikov, Scott, McDougall, Rider, Gorn, and Zeller, in different ways, emphasize the Cold War’s complex impact on what can be called the local.

Moreover, the Global South did not sit by passively while Communists and capitalists peddled their ideological and geopolitical wares. As the essays by Morris, Shuman, Ruck, Creak, and Elsey demonstrate, the new nations of Latin America, Africa, and Asia were able, through careful negotiation and cooperation among themselves and with nations of the East and West, to deploy sport to carve out institutions and movements of their own. The Pan American Games, the Caribbean baseball diamond, the Games of the New Emerging Forces, and the Portuguese football field were all sites at which the so-called periphery engaged a self-identified center. It is all the more remarkable that the postcolonial world was able to achieve these successes while it was the site of a series of proxy wars that cost tens of millions of lives.


Race was an ineluctable element of the Cold War, one that was created, ironically, by the collapse of the very European empires (formal and informal) that had spread the practices of modern sport throughout the world. Race, and the racism it inspired, was an inescapable part of empire: the populations of the colonies were almost universally people of color, and whites justified their rule by claims of superiority to people who were black, brown, yellow, and red. When colonies became independent nations, the United States, with its history of slavery and continuing racism, faced huge obstacles in gaining the sympathies of the citizens and governments of nonaligned states (Gorn). While it peopled its international teams with African Americans and other minorities to create an impression of racial progress, this was a weakness the USSR was able to exploit in Africa, Asia, and even Latin America.

Racism had consequences that went far beyond mere external representation. The integration of Major League Baseball in the United States had deep resonance throughout the multiracial societies of the Caribbean and Latin America, and what was called “Organized Baseball” in the United States sought to reinforce a neocolonial relationship with the game to the south, until it was severely challenged in 1959 with the Cuban Revolution (Ruck). Even black athletes from other nations could have their natural antipathies to Soviet sport severely turned when they encountered discrimination while in the United States (Elsey). And at the same time, as Rita Liberti and Maureen M. Smith have shown in their recent award-winning book on Wilma Rudolph, the triple Olympic gold-medal winner in Rome, the challenge posed by the Soviets created an opportunity for poor African American women from the south—even if they did return from Olympic glory to decades of racial strife at home.46 Race is a vital element to understanding the period, and its myriad patterns in sport should be traced with care.


When modern sport emerged in Great Britain during the nineteenth century, the popular and not altogether inaccurate narrative goes, it was constructed as a male bastion. If masculinity in the premodern world had been measured in terms of military service, the rise of capitalism created new elites who created wealth and power while sitting behind desks. To demonstrate their physical strength and its attendant privilege, they were drawn to pastimes that allowed them to perform their manhood. These should not be viewed reductively as a single expression of masculine identity but rather as a range of different articulations. From the beginning, men performed and projected themselves differently according to the sport they chose. Football was not rugby; nor was it cricket, tennis, or boxing. Later in the century, millions of workingmen were drawn to sport and, like their middle- and upper-class compatriots, had a range of forms (if somewhat more restricted) at their disposal. Football, in particular, came to occupy a leading position, while boxing remained a popular pursuit, both for spectators and participants. As the essays by Scott, Zeller, Gorn, Ruck, and McDougall show, sport continued to be a place “men could be men” even in the Cold War or, more accurately, a place where men could be different sorts of men. If one thing emerges across these essays, it is the nuanced ways in which men in different social and political contexts chose to articulate identities through sporting endeavor and spectatorship.

By the early twentieth century, women had come to contest the argument that sport was fundamentally male, and during the Cold War, the matter of gender produced great anxiety in the West. Women’s sport was not a large part of capitalism’s late 1940s and 1950s, but it most definitely was under Communism. During World War II, women had been massively employed in a variety of forms of physical and mental labor previously performed by men, but they were soon forced to revert to the private spheres of hearth and home when the “boys” returned and expected their jobs back. Such was not the case in the nations of Eastern Europe, which had lost millions of young men—a demographic disaster that hardly put an end to patriarchy in the USSR but nonetheless created opportunities for women. Throughout the first decades of the Cold War, up until 1972 and the enactment of laws calling for gender equality in the United States, Communist women held sway over their capitalist counterparts. Their success was dismissed as the work of lesbians or men dressing up as women.

With notable exceptions—such as gymnasts Olga Korbut and Ludmilla Turishcheva—these were long-held stereotypes. It would take until the 1980s for different versions of women’s sport to gain acceptance in the wake of second-wave feminism and the early Cold War images of womanly Western athletes and asexual Communist ones to be challenged (Shuman). Even then matters were complicated, as was the aggressively sexualized figure skater Katerina Witt, whose image meant different things to different Cold War audiences (Timm). The challenge for future research will be to interrogate the production and reception of such images, explore their tenacity, and uncover the reality that lay beneath. It will also be to look beyond the headline figures to discover the ways in which women played key and all-too-often overlooked roles as popular diplomatic ambassadors, such as at the Pan American Games, where their presence in numbers altered the tone and outcomes of a pro-female Peronist soft diplomacy that challenged reigning conceptions of bipolarity (Elsey).

As these key findings bear out, wherever sporting encounters took place, their impact and import were far from set. The aims of a state could be immaterial to its subjects; diplomatic priorities, irrelevant to friends and foe; the concern of one sport, the preserve of it alone. Sport has a deceptive simplicity, but in truth it is highly liminal and inescapably nuanced. There is no single point on a spectrum where its power can or should be isolated. Sport’s fundamental elasticity is what sets it apart from other forms of culture that have attracted the attention of Cold War historians to date. To that one could add, of course, its unique range and visibility.

We are conscious of Thomas Lindenberger’s caution that “the ways to live the Cold War predicament varied greatly depending on the place. . . . There were periods and places in which the Cold War was ‘lived’ in an acute and existential manner, in contrast to others in which it was only present as something rather remote, in the background rather than the foreground.”47 This is a useful reminder that Cold War sport did not always play out as intensely as it appears in the pages of this book. Like many other aspects of the Cold War—from missiles to box-office hits—the ideological implications of sport could be both intensely present and oddly absent from general consciousness. That said, we believe that sport, as much as—arguably more than—any other form of culture can take us to the “subjectivities, values, beliefs, and mentalities” of Cold War citizens, societies, and governments, to the “intangibles” that illuminate how people experienced the Cold War.48 The job for historians is to trace these themes across a wide range of topics, where possible and appropriate, in granular detail. For Cold War sport, this book represents the first concerted effort to do so.49


1. Keith Lowe, The Fear and the Freedom: How the Second World War Changed Us (London: Viking, 2017), 479.

2. See Richard Holt, Alan Tomlinson, and Christopher Young, “Sport in Modern Europe, 1950–2010: Transformation and Trends,” in Sport and the Transformation of Modern Europe: States, Media and Markets, 1950–2010, ed. Alan Tomlinson, Christopher Young, and Richard Holt (London: Routledge, 2011), 1–17.

3. David Caute, The Dancer Defects: The Struggle for Cultural Supremacy During the Cold War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 1.

4. Joseph Nye, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (New York: Public-Affairs, 2004), 5.

5. The following is an illustrative path through the US- and USSR-related literature. Alternative (and partly overlapping) routes can be found in Giles Scott-Smith and Joes Segal, “Introduction,” in Divided Dreamworlds? The Cultural Cold War in East and West, ed. Peter Romijn, Giles Scott-Smith, and Joes Segal (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2012), 3–4n3; and Annette Vowinckel, Marcus Payk, and Thomas Lindenberger, “European Cold War Culture(s): An Introduction,” in Cold War Cultures: Perspectives on Eastern and Western European Societies, ed. Annette Vowinckel, Marcus Payk, and Thomas Lindenberger (New York: Berghahn, 2012), 2–5. The German experience can be read in David F. Crew, ed., Consuming Germany in the Cold War: Leisure, Consumption and Culture (Oxford, UK: Berg, 2003); and Tobias Hochscherf, Christoph Laucht, and Andrew Plowman, eds., Divided but Not Disconnected: German Experiences of the Cold War (New York: Berghahn, 2010).

6. Tony Shaw and Denise Youngblood, Cinematic Cold War: The American and Soviet Struggle for Hearts and Minds (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2010); Christine Evans, Between Truth and Time: A History of Soviet Central Television (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016); and Travis Vogan, ABC Sports: The Rise and Fall of Network Sports Television (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2018).

7. Greg Castillo, Cold War on the Home Front: The Soft Power of Midcentury Design (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010).

8. Walter Hixson, Parting the Curtain: Propaganda, Culture, and the Cold War (New York: St. Martin’s Griffen, 1998); Frances Saunders, Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (London: Granta Books, 1999); Giles Scott-Smith, The Politics of Apolitical Culture: The Congress for Cultural Freedom, the CIA, and the Post-war American Hegemony (London: Routledge, 2002); Nicholas Cull, The Cold War and the US Information Agency: American Propaganda and Public Diplomacy, 1945–1989 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009); Kenneth Osgood, Total Cold War: Eisenhower’s Secret Propaganda Battle at Home and Abroad (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2006).

9. Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008).

10. Yale Richmond, Cultural Exchange and the Cold War: Raising the Iron Curtain (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003).

11. Penny M. von Eschen, Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004).

12. Campbell Craig and Frederik Logevall, America’s Cold War: The Politics of Insecurity (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2012).

13. Scott Lucas, Freedom’s War: The American Crusade Against the Soviet Union (New York: New York University Press, 1999).

14. For instance, see the pioneering work by Richard Stites, Russian Popular Culture: Entertainment and Society Since 1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

15. Elena Zubkova, Russia After the War: Hopes, Illusions, and Disappointments, 1945–1957 (Armonk, NY: Sharpe, 1998).

16. Ethan Pollock, Stalin and the Soviet Science Wars (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006); Juliane Fürst, Stalin’s Last Generation: Soviet Post-war Youth and the Emergence of Mature Socialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010); Muriel Dobson, Khrushchev’s Cold Summer: Gulag Returnees, Crime, and the Fate of Reform After Stalin (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009); Steven V. Bittner, The Many Lives of Khrushchev’s Thaw: Experience and Memory in Moscow’s Arbat (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008); Alexei Yurchak, Everything Was Forever Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005).

17. Caute, The Dancer Defects, 20–22, 472–473.

18. Mervyn P. Leffler and Odd Arne Westad, eds., The Cambridge History of the Cold War, 3 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010); Richard Immerman and Petra Goedde, eds., Oxford Handbook of the Cold War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

19. See, for example, David Crowley and Susan Reid, eds., Style and Socialism: Modernity and Material Culture (Oxford: Berg, 2000); David Crowley and Susan Reid, eds., Socialist Spaces: Sites of Everyday Life in the Eastern Bloc (Oxford, UK: Berg, 2002); and Douglas Field, ed., American Cold War Culture (Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press, 2005).

20. Scott-Smith and Segal, “Introduction,” 3.

21. Tony Shaw, “The Politics of Cold War Culture,” Journal of Cold War Studies 3, no. 3 (2001): 59.

22. This widespread view is put most succinctly by Patrick Major and Rana Mitter in three publications: Patrick Major and Rana Mitter, “East Is East and West Is West? Towards a Comparative Socio-cultural History of the Cold War,” Cold War History 4, no. 1 (2003): 1–22; Patrick Major and Rana Mitter, Across the Blocs: Exploring Comparative Cold War Cultural and Social History (London: Frank Cass, 2004); and Patrick Major and Rana Mitter, “Culture,” in Palgrave Advances in Cold War History, ed. Saki R. Dokrill and Geraint Hughes (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 240–262.

23. For more on this helpful difference in emphasis, see Jessica Gienow-Hecht, “Culture and the Cold War in Europe,” in The Cambridge History of the Cold War, vol. 1, Origins, ed. Melvyn P. Leffler and Odd Arne Westad (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 398–419.

24. See Christopher Young, Anke Hilbrenner, and Alan Tomlinson, eds., “Forum: European Sport and the Challenges of Its Recent Historiography,” Journal of Sport History 38, no. 2 (2011): 181–236, and Journal of Sport History 38, no. 3 (2011): 349–405; S. W. Pope and John Nauright, eds., Routledge Companion to Sports History (London: Routledge, 2013); Amy Bass, “State of the Field: Sports History and the ‘Cultural Turn,’Journal of American History 101, no. 1 (2014): 148–172; Richard Holt, “Historians and the History of Sport,” Sport in History 34, no. 1 (2014): 1–33; and Robert Edelman and Wayne Wilson, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Sports History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).

25. Ten years have elapsed since the appearance of the only collection on the subject in English: Steven Wagg and David Andrews, eds., East Plays West: Sport and the Cold War (London: Routledge, 2007), which has a narrower focus on mega-events.

26. James Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society: Development of Sport and Physical Education in Russia and the USSR (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), is the foundational work in English; based on a reading of published documents and secondary literature, it covers the pre–Cold War eras and then lays out the structure of the Soviet sport system in well-organized detail. The only academically engaged work on Cold War Soviet sport in Russian is Mikhail Prozumenshikov, Bol’shoi sport i bol’shaya politika (Moscow: Rosspen, 2004), which makes ample use of documentary materials in the archive of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR. The collection devoted to Soviet sport edited by Nikolaus Katzer, Euphoria and Exhaustion: Modern Sport in Soviet Culture and Society (Frankfurt am Main: Campus, 2010), contains several excellent essays on the Cold War period. Two works show how sport was both a blunt instrument in the hands of an authoritarian regime and a site of resistance to Soviet power: Robert Edelman, Serious Fun: A History of Spectator Sports in the USSR (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); and Robert Edelman, Spartak Moscow: A History of the People’s Team in the Worker’s State (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009).

27. John Turrini undertook a pioneering study of “shamateurism” in US track and field during the 1950s and 1960s: The End of Amateurism in American Track and Field (Urbana: Illinois University Press, 2010). Kathryn Jay, More than Just a Game: Sports in American Life Since 1945 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), shows how US sports in the postwar era were enmeshed with domestic and international politics. Susan Cahn, Coming on Strong: Gender and Sexuality in Twentieth-Century Women’s Sport (New York: Free Press, 1998), also devotes much attention to the postwar period. Michael Oriard, Brand NFL: Making and Selling America’s Favorite Sport (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), studies the role of US professional football during the Vietnam War and the National Football League’s interventions in the American political process. Two works analyze the struggle of African American athletes during the 1960s: Amy Bass, Not the Triumph but the Struggle: The 1968 Olympics and the Making of the Black Athlete (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002); and Douglas Hartmann, Race, Culture, and the Revolt of the Black Athlete: The 1968 Olympic Protests and Their Aftermath (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003).

28. Two decades after reunification, details of the GDR’s talent spotting, training methods, drug programs, and ideological manipulation of athletes have now been well established on the basis of a series of large-scale, archive-intensive studies financed by central government sources. The main works are Hans-Joachim Teichler, Klaus Reinartz, and Anke Delow, eds., Das Leistungssportsystem in der DDR in den 80er Jahren und im Prozess der Wende (Schorndorf: Hofmann, 1999); Wolfgang Buss and Christian Becker, eds., Der Sport in der SBZ und frühen DDR: Genese, Strukturen, Bedingungen (Schorndorf: Hofmann, 2001); Hans Joachim Teichler, ed., Die Sportbeschlüsse des Politbüros: Eine Studie zum Verhältnis von SED und Sport mit einem Gesamtverzeichnis und einer Dokumentation ausgewählter Beschlüsse (Cologne: Sport und Buch Strauß, 2002); and Giselher Spitzer, Doping in der DDR: Ein historischer Überblick zu einer konspirativen Praxis—Genese, Verantwortung, Gefahren, 4th ed. (Cologne: Sport und Buch Strauß, 2012). An extensive bibliography is listed in Lorenz Peiffer and Matthias Fink, Zum aktuellen Forschungsstand der Geschichte von Körperkultur und Sport in der DDR: Eine kommentierte Bibliographie (Cologne: Sport und Buch Strauß, 2003); and an English-language synthesis appears in Mike Dennis and Jonathan Grix, Sport Under Communism: Behind the East German “Miracle” (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). While highly valuable for their empirical strength, these works, with the exception of the latter, rarely stray from their narrow institutional focus and remain locked within the national framework. Uta Balbier, Kalter Krieg auf der Aschenbahn: Der deutsch-deutsche Sport, 1950–1972eine politische Geschichte (Paderborn: Schöningh, 2007), goes further to reveal the considerable influence that this success exerted on structures and tactics in the Federal Republic. There is also a growing literature on East German soccer, with easiest access to non-German specialists found in Alan McDougall, The People’s Game: Football, State and Society in East Germany (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

29. Chinese sport in the era has received comparatively less coverage but has been subject nonetheless to some excellent treatment. Andrew Morris, Marrow of the Nation: A History of Sport and Physical Culture in Republican China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), provides essential background to the pre–Cold War era. Xu Guoqi, Olympic Dreams: China and Sports, 1895–2008 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008), has produced a wide-ranging general history of Chinese sport with special emphasis on the postrevolutionary period. A book by anthropologist Susan Brownell, Training the Body for China: Sports in the Moral Order of the People’s Republic (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), stresses body culture, covers the Communist period, and includes a historical chapter. Andrew Morris, Colonial Project, National Game: A History of Baseball in Taiwan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), is the first major English-language work on sport in the Republic of China.

30. Laurent Dubois, Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010), explores race and national identity in France’s imperial project. Lindsay Krasnoff, The Making of Les Bleus: Sport in France, 1958–2010 (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013), studies the French attempt to formulate a “Third Way” for organizing sport that featured state involvement without the authoritarian overtones of Communist sport. Fabien Archambault, Le contrôle du ballon: Les catholiques, les communistes et le football en Italie de 1943 au tournant des années 1980 (Rome: École française de Rome, 2012), gives an extensive account of the struggle between Catholics and Communists for the control of Italian football in the early phase of the Cold War. Excellent biographies are beginning to emerge—for example, Rick Broadbent, Endurance: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Emil Zátopek (London: John Wisden, 2016); and David Bolchover, The Story of Béla Guttmann: The Greatest Comeback—from Genocide to Football Glory (London: Biteback, 2017).

31. See Hallvard Notaker, Giles Scott-Smith, and David J. Snyder, eds., “Sports Diplomacy Forum,” Diplomatic History 40, no. 5 (2016): 807–892; and J. Simon Rofe, “Sport and Diplomacy: A Global Diplomacy Framework,” Diplomacy and Statecraft 27, no. 2 (2016): 212–230.

32. Mario del Pero, “Commentary,” Diplomatic History 40, no. 5 (2016): 887.

33. Caute, The Dancer Defects, 617.

34. Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

35. For an argument advocating a broad approach to the study of the Cold War, see Pierre Grosser, “Looking for the Core of the Cold War, and Finding a Mirage?,” Cold War History 15, no. 2 (2015): 245–252. For greater focus, see Frederico Romero, “Cold War History at the Crossroads,” Cold War History 14, no. 4 (2014): 683–703, which builds on Holger Nehring, “What Was the Cold War?,” English Historical Review 127, no. 537 (2012): 920–949; Lawrence Freedman, “Frostbitten: Decoding the Cold War 20 Years Later,” Foreign Affairs 89, no. 2 (2010): 136–144; and David Caute, “Foreword,” in “The Cultural Cold War in Western Europe 1945–1960,” ed. Giles Scott-Smith and Hans Krabbendam, special issue, Intelligence and National Security 18, no. 2 (2003): n.p. For an argument that is skeptical of a broader approach to the Cold War and in favor of greater disaggregation, see Peter J. Kuznick and James Gilbert, “U.S. Culture and the Cold War,” in Rethinking Cold War Culture, ed. Peter J. Kuznick and James Gilbert (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001), 1–13.

36. Allen Guttmann, The Olympics: A History of the Modern Games (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992), devotes considerable space to International Olympic Committee politics in the Cold War period. Richard Espy, The Politics of the Olympic Games (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979); and Christopher R. Hill, Olympic Politics (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1992), have also produced useful, if hermetic, discussions of politics within the movement. David B. Kanin, A Political History of the Olympic Games (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1981), studied the Olympics from the viewpoint of a CIA analyst. Using new material and an additional two decades of history, Alfred Senn, a specialist on Lithuania, took on the same subject in Power, Politics and the Olympic Games (Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1999). Most recently, Erin Elizabeth Redihan, The Olympics and the Cold War: Sport as a Battleground in the U.S.-Soviet Rivalry (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2017), looked at the Olympics specifically through a Cold War lens. Book-length studies of individual Olympic Games also provide a lens onto Cold War issues at significant junctures. See, for instance, David Maraniss, Rome 1960: The Summer Olympics That Stirred the World (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008); Christian Tagsold, Die Inszenierung der kulturellen Identität in Japan: Das Beispiel der Olympischen Spiele Tokyo 1964 (Munich: Iudicium, 2002); Keith Brewster and Claire Brewster, Representing the Nation: Sport and Spectacle in Post-revolutionary Mexico (London: Routledge, 2010); Kay Schiller and Christopher Young, The 1972 Munich Olympics and the Making of Modern Germany (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010); Paul Charles Howell, The Montreal Olympics: An Insider’s View of Organizing a Self-Financing Games (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009); Jenifer Parks, The Olympic Games, the Soviet Sports Bureaucracy, and the Cold War: Red Sport, Red Tape (New York: Lexington Books, 2016); Nicholas Saran-takes, Dropping the Torch: Jimmy Carter, the Olympic Boycott, and the Cold War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010); and Matthew Llewellyn, John Gleaves, and Wayne Wilson, eds., “The 1984 Olympic Games: Assessing the 30-Year Legacy,” special issue, International Journal of the History of Sport 32, no. 1 (2015).

37. See David McDonald and James G. Hershberg, “1972 Summit Series,” Sport in the Cold War podcast, episode 18, aired February 2016,–1972-summit-series.

38. Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, “East Asia: The Second Significant Front of the Cold War,” in The Cold War in East Asia, 1945–1991, ed. Tsuyoshi Hasegawa (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2011), 2.

39. On the Cold War as an “imagined reality,” see Masuda Hajimu, Cold War Crucible: The Korean Conflict and the Postwar World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015).

40. Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Stephen F. Rendall, 3rd ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011).

41. Stephen J. Whitfield, The Culture of the Cold War, 2nd ed. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), 153.

42. See Robert Edelman, “Sport on Soviet Television,” in Sport and the Transformation of Modern Europe: States, Media and Markets, 1950–2010, ed. Alan Tomlinson, Christopher Young, and Richard Holt (London: Routledge, 2011), 100–112.

43. See Robert K. Barney, Stephen R. Wenn, and Scott G. Martyn, Selling the Five Rings: The IOC and the Rise of Olympic Commercialism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2002).

44. Vogan, ABC Sports.

45. Kuznick and Gilbert, “U.S. Culture and the Cold War,” 6.

46. Rita Liberti and Maureen M. Smith, (Re)Presenting Wilma Rudolph (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2015).

47. Thomas Lindenberger, “Divided but Not Disconnected: Germany as a Border Region of the Cold War,” in Divided but Not Disconnected: German Experiences of the Cold War, ed. Tobias Hochscherf, Christoph Laucht, and Andrew Plowman (Oxford, UK: Berghahn, 2010), 12.

48. Andrew Port, “The Banalities of East German Historiography,” in Becoming East Germans: Socialist Structures and Sensibilities After Hitler, ed. Mary Fulbrook and Andrew Port (New York: Berghahn, 2013), 28.

49. The majority of authors in this book have contributed to the Sport in the Cold War podcast series, hosted and produced by Vince Hunt and curated by Laura Deal, which is available on the Woodrow Wilson Center website, at