SERIOUS FUN by Robert Edelman


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

Pub Date: April 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-19-507948-5
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1993