Physical Culture and Sports

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Physical Culture and Sports


Physical culture is one aspect of the general culture of society; it is a sphere of social activity intended to strengthen personal health, develop one’s physical capabilities, and apply the population’s physical skills to the service of society. The basic indicators of the level of physical culture in a society are the population’s health and physical development and the role of physical culture in upbringing and education, production, everyday life, and the structure of free time; other important indicators are the quality of physical education, the organization of amateur sports, and the winning of major athletic competitions.

The major forms of physical culture are physical exercise; series of physical exercises and exercise competitions; hardening of the body; occupational and everyday hygiene; physical activities such as hiking, cycling, and boating; and physical labor as recreation for people who work at sedentary jobs.

In socialist society, physical culture is a right of the people and an important means “of bringing up a new man who harmoniously combines intellectual wealth, moral purity, and physical perfection” (Progmmma KPSS, 1976, pp. 120–21). Physical culture promotes the population’s involvement in work and public life and raises production efficiency. The physical-culture movement is supported by various state and public organizations, for example, committees of physical education and sports on the all-Union, republic, and oblast levels, trade unions, the Komsomol, voluntary sports societies, the Voluntary Society for Cooperation With the Army, Air Force, and Navy, and sports federations. Such organizations are currently working to open the physical-culture movement to all people, relying on a scientific system of physical education for all social strata. Numerous countries have state systems of norms and requirements of physical development and fitness for various age groups; for example, the USSR has the program Ready for Labor and Defense of the USSR. Participation in physical-culture activities is a compulsory part of state programs in preschool facilities, all types of educational institutions, and the army. In various enterprises and institutions, breaks for calisthenics are scheduled as part of the workday. Physical-culture groups have been organized to promote physical culture and hygiene in industrial enterprises, various institutions, kolkhozes, and schools. In 1976, the USSR had approximately 250,000 such groups, comprising more than 50 million members. These included approximately 120,000 rural groups, with more than 18 million members. Enrollment in physical-culture and sports groups included more than 20 million in general-education schools, approximately 2 million in vocational and technical schools, more than 2 million in specialized secondary schools, and approximately 2 million in institutes of higher learning. More than 22 million people took part in calisthenics at work, and approximately 7 million belonged to general physical-training groups.

In capitalist society, workers have only limited access to physical culture and to culture in general. In bourgeois states, where the development of physical culture is largely dependent on the interests of monopolies and various business firms, no standard norms for physical education exist, and participation in athletics is impossible for people of most social strata and age groups. An extremely limited number of athletic organizations for working people are sponsored by trade unions. The numerous stadiums and other sports facilities in capitalist countries belong to bourgeois athletic clubs; membership is prohibitive for the broad masses and in many cases is also traditionally limited by class barriers. As a rule, there is no government subsidy of athletic organizations and sports facilities. The funds set aside for physical culture are primarily for military-applied sports and prestigious spectator sports.

Sports, a component of physical culture, are important in physical education. Competitions are held in various series of exercises and training routines. Sports developed historically as a special means of demonstrating and comparing people’s physical skills and development.

In the broad sense, the term “sports” comprises athletic training and competition, as well as the specific social relations connected with these activities and the socially significant conditions resulting from them. Sports have considerable social value in that they promote physical fitness, further moral and aesthetic upbringing, and satisfy nonmaterial needs; they are one of the most widespread forms of friendly international relations.

The three basic types of organized sports, which are mutually related, are amateur sports, scholastic sports, and the major sports. Amateur and scholastic sports are important for physical education and the physical fitness of the general population. A person’s ability to take part in amateur sports may be somewhat limited by his age, health, and level of physical development. Scholastic sports are taught in all types of educational institutions and are included in army training. Amateur and scholastic sports are important in education and upbringing, practical physical training, health, and recreation. Amateur sports are also the basis for the major sports and are important for the physical development of growing generations.

The major sports provide opportunities for individuals with exceptional talent and skill in a particular sport to set athletic records by undergoing intense specialized and individualized training and by constantly striving to overcome their athletic limitations. They also set standards of excellence for amateur sports and introduce new, effective methods of athletic improvement. Sports records and victories won in official international, national, and other athletic competitions generate a moral stimulus for the development of amateur sports.

Each of the numerous sports practiced today has its own particular objective, rules of play, and strategy, usually stressing the players’ determination and moral qualities. Internationally recognized sports are conventionally divided into five basic groups: (1) athletics, or sports based on movement, including track and field, weight lifting, swimming, rowing, ice skating, skiing, boxing, wrestling, fencing, and athletic games; (2) transportation sports, including motorcycle, automobile, airplane, glider, yacht, and ice-boat racing; (3) sports using special equipment for striking a target, such as shooting, trap shooting, and archery; (4) the building and racing of model airplanes, cars, and boats; and (5) games of intellectual skill for two players, such as chess and checkers.

Sports have historically included various actions derived from everyday life. Sports of ancient origin developed from distinctive physical exercises and movements used in work and battle. Movements used in physical education since ancient times include running, jumping, throwing, weight lifting, rowing, and swimming. Some modern sports evolved in the 19th and 20th centuries from existing sports and related spheres of culture; these include many athletic games, gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, the modern pentathlon, figure skating, orienteering, and touring. Technical sports came about with the development of technology and include automobile racing, motorcycle racing, cycling, airplane sports, and underwater sports.

Most modern sports that are practiced throughout the world and have commonly accepted procedures and official rules were formalized in the second half of the 19th and first half of the 20th century. At that time official national and international competitions were first held, and national and international athletic associations and sports clubs and societies were formed. In 1896 the largest international sports competition, the Olympic Games, was established, promoting modern sports in most countries of the world. In the mid–19th century professional sports developed, becoming a branch of show business. Professional sports are a business and a source of profit for entrepreneurs and a means of existence for exploited professional athletes.

In socialist countries sports are supported by a mass physical-culture movement. An ever-growing number of people take part in various sports, and the number of sports schools and sports structures and facilities is constantly growing. State and public organizations plan sports programs and set aside considerable sums of money for this purpose. In addition, a well-organized system of athletic competition has been put into effect.

More than 70 sports are practiced in the USSR, including technical and national sports. The most popular sports in the USSR are track and field (as of 1976, more than 6 million persons engaged in sports groups), volleyball (5.2 million), skiing (4.2 million), soccer (3.7 million), basketball (3.5 million), shooting (approximately 3 million), chess (2.8 million), checkers (2.5 million), and table tennis (2.3 million). An average of 0.6–0.7 million persons take part in gymnastics, swimming, handball, and ice hockey. A total of 650,000 persons take part in national sports. The Uniform All-Union Sports Classification determines the successive levels of physical development and technical skill for athletes in various sports from the amateur level to the major sports. Each year as many as 16 million persons fulfill the qualification norms.

High achievement in sports, training, and other athletic activities is encouraged by the conferral of honorary athletic titles, including Master of Sport of the USSR (as of Jan. 1, 1976, held by 108,500 persons), International-class Master of Sport of the USSR (3,500), Honored Master of Sport (more than 2,000), Honored Coach of the USSR (approximately 1,000), and National-class Referee (9,700). Athletes may also receive sports insignia and awards.

The all-Union sports calendar includes as many as 300 different competitions, including national championships in various sports; the Spartakiads of trade unions, the armed forces, and school children; youth and student games; and mass children’s competitions, such as the Leather Ball (soccer), the Golden Puck (ice hockey), and the White Rook (chess). In 1956 the first Spartakiad of the Peoples of the USSR was held. These games, held every four years, are the world’s largest sports competitions in terms of number of sports and participants; in 1975, 54 million athletes competed, and 7,100 athletes from all the Union republics reached the finals.

In 1976 there were seven all-Union and 30 republic athletic societies, approximately 7,000 sports clubs, approximately 5,000 sports and sports-technical schools for children and young people, and more than 200 specialized higher and secondary schools training teachers of physical education. In addition, there are more than 350 dispensaries for athletes, more than 3,000 stadiums, more than 60,000 gymnasiums, more than 1,300 swimming pools, approximately 500,000 athletic fields, approximately 100,000 soccer fields, more than 18,000 shooting ranges, and approximately 7,000 ski lodges. The volume of sporting goods and equipment produced annually reaches 2 billion items.

One of the most important factors in the development of physical culture and sports is the attention given them in newspapers and magazines, on radio and television, and in films, art, and literature. In 1976 more than 30 sports newspapers and magazines were published. The Fizkul’tura i Sport Publishing House annually puts out more than 250 titles of books and other publications, totaling approximately 17 million copies. Central Television annually devotes as much as 900 hours of broadcasting time to physical culture and sports, and All-Union Radio broadcasts more than 750 hours on the subject.

Since the late 1940’s, Soviet athletes have taken part in the international sports movement. In 1976 sports federations of the USSR belonged to 83 international sports associations. From 1948 to 1976, Soviet athletes won 1,936 European championships, 1,391 world championships, and 605 Olympic championships. International sports activities account for more than 30 percent of all cultural ties of the USSR. The USSR maintains sports contacts with more than 90 countries, and the annual exchange of teams and coaches amounts to 40,000 persons. By 1976, the USSR had been host to 44 world championships, 25 European championships, and various other major international competitions.

The decision of the International Olympic Committee to hold the 1980 Summer Olympic Games in Moscow constitutes a worthy evaluation of the level of development of Soviet sports and of the contribution of Soviet athletes to international sports and the Olympic movement.

By 1976, more than 2,500 athletes and workers in physical culture and sports had been awarded orders and medals of the USSR for outstanding athletic achievements and service.

Athletes of the USSR and other socialist countries occupy a leading position in world sports, as a result of the social policies of these countries in physical culture and sports. Thus, in the 1976 Summer Olympic Games, athletes from socialist countries were first in 14 sports out of the 24 in the program (the USSR ranking first in eight sports), second in 15 sports, and third in 16 sports. They won 121 of the 198 gold medals, 47 of which were won by the USSR. The ten strongest teams in the Olympic Games included those of the USSR, the German Democratic Republic, the Polish People’s Republic, the Socialist Republic of Rumania, the People’s Republic of Bulgaria, and the Hungarian People’s Republic.


Istoriia fizicheskoi kul’tury i sporta. Edited by V. V. Stolbov. Moscow, 1975.
Ponomarev, N. I. Sotsial’nye funktsii fizicheskoi kul’tury i sporta. Moscow, 1974.
Vse o sporte,[fascs.] 1–2. Moscow, 1972–74.
Ter-Ovanesian, A. A. Sport: Obuchenie, trenirovka, vospitanie. Moscow, 1967.
Rodichenko, V. S. Tekhnicheskii progresssoiuznik sporta. Moscow, 1972.
Romanov, A. O. Mezhdunarodnoe sportivnoe dvizhenie. Moscow, 1973.
Khavin, B. Vse ob Olimpiiskikh igrakh. Moscow, 1974.
Mezhdunarodnye sportivnye ob”edineniia i turistskie organizatsii. Moscow, 1973.
Zvezdy sporta. Moscow, 1975.
Sovetskaia sistema fizicheskogo vospitaniia. Edited by G. I. Kukushkin. Moscow, 1975.
Fizicheskaia kul’tura i sport v SSSR v tsifrakh i faktakh (1917–1961). Moscow, 1962.
Makartsev, N. A. Stranitsy istoriisovetskogo sporta. Moscow, 1967.
Sport v SSSR: Ezhegodnik, 1937. Moscow, 1939.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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