The Dictators Discover Sport

Soviet postage stamp. (1967)

THE dictators have discovered sport. This was inevitable. Middle-aged and older persons have their roots in the ground, have affiliations with former régimes. The hope of the dictators, therefore, was to win over youth to the new conception of life, the new system. They found that they could best succeed through sport. From being a simple source of amusement and recreation, it became a means to an end, a weapon in the hands of the All Highest. It became nationalistic. The ideal of sport for sport's sake became an object of ridicule. The real preoccupation of those who directed athletics became the mass production of cannon fodder.

Nobody would say that in most democracies, and especially in the United States, athletics has yet reached a utopian state of perfection. But the commercialization of sport which we know affects only a relatively small number of persons in a few publicized branches of American sport. In the nations ruled by dictators, however, every boy and girl in the country is regimented and exploited.

It was not until the advent of Stalin that the far-reaching possibilities of sport as a means of influencing and controlling the young were appreciated. He it was who arranged the general scheme of sport in Russia. Mussolini adapted the Russian plan, with some changes. When Hitler rose to power in Germany in 1933 he went his colleagues one better. There naturally are differences in the manner in which sport is conducted in these three nations; but, as we shall see, the differences are not fundamental. In all of them sport no longer exists primarily for the amusement and recreation of youth, but as the serious business of everyone from the time the child can walk until the man or woman has passed military age. Details differ. But in all three nations it is true that sport is only an instrument in the hands of a leader. He uses it for three main purposes:

First, to keep the young people busy, and hence contented. You cannot grumble, agitate, propagandize, or join in seditious movements against the government in power if you have been marching or exercising all day in the open air. Regimented sport thoroughly tires out the young and so serves as an excellent sedative. It keeps the younger and naturally insurgent elements of the community from thinking too much about internal political conditions and lack of employment.

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