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  • Cold War Games: Propaganda, the Olympics, and U.S. Foreign Policy by Toby C. Rider
  • Thomas M. Hunt
Rider, Toby C. Cold War Games: Propaganda, the Olympics, and U.S. Foreign Policy. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2016. Pp. x+ 242. List of abbreviations, notes, bibliography, index, photographs. $95.00, hb; $24.95, pb.

The historiography of sport and the Cold War has expanded dramatically in recent years. Among the leading contributors to that development has been California State [End Page 129] University-Fullerton historian Toby C. Rider. With the publication of Cold War Games: Propaganda, the Olympics, and U.S. Foreign Policy, Rider's status is cemented in this regard. The book, in short, constitutes a defining work on the subject of American sport diplomacy during the early Cold War years.

Rider begins his analysis by elucidating what he calls the "state-private network" of actors that together attempted to use sport as political propaganda against the communist world. Members of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, Rider shows, sought partners from outside the government to pursue their agendas. The characteristics of these partnerships were far from uniform; some of the private actors involved were funded directly by U.S. governmental authorities, while others operated with considerable autonomy. The unwieldy nature of this framework was, in a way, a welcome result. As Rider explains, "Covert operators accepted, to some degree, that the private sphere might not always echo the message of the state, and that a level of independence could even help to veil the hidden hand of Washington" (166). Among the more important of the organizations examined in Cold War Games were the CIA-supported National Committee for a Free Europe (NCFE) and the aligned Hungarian National Sports Federation (HNSF).

By means of a subsidiary that they established called the Union of Free Eastern European Sportsmen, the officers involved in these groups sought to undermine members of the communist-bloc by sponsoring athletes who fled Eastern Europe as political refugees. The idea was to use "stories of defecting athletes to reveal a negative side of life behind the Iron Curtain" (68). It was, thus, an opportune moment when, at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, thirty-four Hungarians and four Romanians presented themselves to representatives of Sports Illustrated magazine (another component of the state–private network) in the hope of defecting to the United States. Enthusiastically accepted, the East Europeans became "symbols of freedom" in the U.S. propaganda campaign. The episode also offered American authorities a model through which to contemplate the 1960 Olympic season. With the United States unlikely to defeat the Soviet Union in the number of medals won, these authorities sought to undermine communist-bloc prestige through a variety of propaganda initiatives.

Throughout his well-written examination of these matters, Rider exhibits considerable skill as an historian. In conducting the research for Cold War Games, he examined the archival records of multiple institutions in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and Switzerland. Moreover, Rider complements his primary research with a deep reading of the secondary literature that exists both in the field of sport studies and in the broader study of the Cold War. Indeed, so impressive is Cold War Games that many readers will no doubt be left wishing that the temporal scope of the work extended through the end of the superpower conflict. Some frustration is also likely to ensue among those hoping to learn in greater depth how U.S. propaganda efforts involving sport were actually perceived by those living on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Any demands for such a more expansive text would be unfair to Rider, however. With Cold War Games, Rider has contributed an essential work to the scholarship regarding the cultural dimensions of international politics. [End Page 130]

Thomas M. Hunt
The University of Texas at Austin


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