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  • The Olympic Games, the Soviet Sports Bureaucracy, and the Cold War: Red Sport, Red Tape by Jenifer Parks
  • Amanda Shuman
Parks, Jenifer. The Olympic Games, the Soviet Sports Bureaucracy, and the Cold War: Red Sport, Red Tape. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2017. Pp. xxvi+196. Notes, images, bibliography, index. $95.00, hb. $90.00, eb.

Few would dispute Jenifer Parks's statement that the entry of the Soviet Union into the Olympic Movement during the Cold War years "changed the shape of international sports" (xiii). Yet, until her study, no one knew how precisely Soviet sports bureaucracy worked [End Page 267] internally. Armed with a plethora of Russian archival sources, Parks analyzes the inner workings of this bureaucracy and its leadership. Soviet sports leaders dealt with pressures from both the central leadership and the IOC with high degrees of "maneuverability and autonomy" (xix), becoming "a dominant and respected voice within international sports circles, actively promoting Olympic ideals abroad even as they transformed those ideals to better align with Soviet goals" (xiv). They made consistent and often successful efforts to expand IOC membership to developing nations and increase women's athletic participation at the Olympics. The winning bid to host the 1980 games in Moscow, as well as the preparation work and successful staging despite a boycott, was also thanks to the experience, organization, and skill of these bureaucrats.

This book covers the years leading up to the Soviet Union's debut at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics through the close of the 1980 Moscow Games. Chapter 1 demonstrates how three Sports Committee bureaucrats—Nikolai Romanov, Konstantin Andrianov, and Petr Soblev—led the entry into the Olympic Movement. They negotiated with a hesitant Central Committee, arguing that showcasing Soviet athletic successes would improve international image, while simultaneously cultivating personal connections in the IOC and blending Olympism with Soviet ideological rhetoric (for example, by employing terms like "cooperation" and "world peace"). Chapter 2 discusses how these bureaucrats built their authority within the Olympic Movement, including working to further "democratize" sport by expanding connections with developing nations and supporting their IOC membership. Under Nikita Khrushchev, sports bureaucrats were given more leeway than previously to assiduously use their experience and skills to advance a Soviet position in international organizations. This included a 1959 Soviet plan to reorganize the IOC that, among other things, sought to include more women's sports and eliminate the traditional co-opt selection process. Although this plan ultimately failed to pass a vote and socialist consensus in the IOC was deteriorating by this time, Soviet bureaucrats took the opportunity to improve their standing in the IOC and boost their efforts with developing nations in Asia and Africa—even as IOC President Avery Brundage complained that the new countries of Africa had "only a vague notion of sports matters and of what Olympism means" (59). This work paid off: in 1962, the IOC passed Soviet proposals to expand geographic representation of the Executive Board and the Olympic Movement in Asia and Africa, and Andrianov was named to the Executive Board. Soviet participation thus helped the IOC redefine "the purpose and priorities of the Olympic Games in an emerging Cold War context" (61).

Chapters 3 to 5 provide a detailed analysis of the bid and lead up to the 1980 Moscow games. Chapter 3 traces the history of the successful Moscow bid, demonstrating that crucial to its success was obtaining Soviet central-level support (Leonid Brezhnev) and a "legion of bureaucrats who had spent the last twenty years cultivating a network of sports leaders . . . sympathetic to the Soviet Union" (100). Soviet sports leaders had sought central support as early as 1956 but did not receive it until 1969. With little time to prepare a candidature for the 1976 games, sports leaders pulled together an impressive portfolio. Although Moscow lost that bidding round, the rush job demonstrated that the bureaucracy could work efficiently and well; unsurprisingly, Moscow won four years later. Chapter 4 examines the organizing committee's intense preparation work for the games, demonstrating how bureaucrats worked across departments and through informal channels [End Page 268] to accomplish tasks. Official sponsorship provided an important source of income for the 1980 games...


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