Let the games begin!

On 31 July 1956, a sports festival celebrated the opening of the Central Lenin stadium, the national stadium of the Soviet Union. Gymnasts, acrobats, and other athletes came together after awaiting the 450-day construction.


Throughout the 1950s, the Soviet Union was transformed through the education and training of its people. Transportation allowed for the flow of ideas across the country, incorporating rural areas into the urban-based culture. Beginning in 1935, physical development and participation were required by state policy, while the Soviets began participation in the Olympic Games- the first time on the world stage post-Great Patriotic War. Work days were reduced, and thus, spectator sports were able to fill the people’s leisure time. The need for a national stadium was almost required for the people.

The Luzhniki Complex was built to include soccer fields, tracks, a swimming stadium, basketball, volleyball, and tennis courts. The artificial rink created (only the second artificial rink in Russia) served as the main arena for Moscow’s first-division teams. Besides watching their beloved ice-hockey, Lenin Stadium was created to hold 103,000 people to spectate on soccer games. In the fall of 1956, the Palace of Sport was build, capable of holding people in an indoor environment with 14,000 seats.

In years to come, the Luzhniki Complex hosted numerous well-attended games with outstanding attendance records. The 6th World Youth and Student Festival held 3,200 athletes and released tens of thousands doves into the sky. Lev Kassil, a Soviet writer, described the scene to include “songs of the five continents, languages of the five continents, music from all over the world, and well-wishing speeches in almost all languages of the world sounded over the Grand Sports Arena” (Moscow Mayor). 34,000 people from 131 countries marked the festival the largest festival in the history of this kind.


1980 Olympics: Pictured is the favored mascot, a bear, flying above the crowd

The record numbers of spectators to the complex allowed Moscow to hold the 1980 Summer Olympics. The event itself became significant with 61 Olympic records and 36 World records. The Soviet Union itself won 80 gold medals, 69 silver medals, and 46 bronze medals.

Watch the closing acrobatic performance of the 1980 Olympics here

The 2018 World Cup will be held at the Luzhniki Grand Sports Arena in Moscow- a peak in the stadium’s history.


“The First European Cup and the Olympic Bear: Luzhniki’s Major Events in Photos / News / Moscow City Web Site.” Moscow City Web Site. June 19, 2017. Accessed April 09, 2018. https://www.mos.ru/en/news/item/25137073/.

Siegelbaum, Lewis. “The Palace of Sport.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. May 21, 2017. Accessed April 09, 2018. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1956-2/the-palace-of-sport/.

6 thoughts on “Let the games begin!

  1. Maura, this was a really interesting post! It only makes sense that if physical development was a state policy that sport spectatorship would increase, but it’s still not something we typically associate with the Soviet Union. It also shows the growing room for more cultural activities to emerge. I loved your comment at the end about the world cup in 2018, that’s super interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is such a cool post, i had no idea this was a thing! It seems like a good rallying point for nationalism and getting everyone to root for the same side while also making connections on an international level. I tis also interesting that it is till being used relatively recently.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post! I thought your post was on an incredibly interesting topic! One picture that stood out to me was the one with the mos.ru in the corner and picture of the stadium. To me it looks like the construction was a nod to the Roman Coliseum. It would be interesting to see the impressions the architects were under when constructing it!


  4. Great Post, and very unique too. I had never heard of the Luzhniki complex before, let alone known of its significance in relation to Soviet policies at the time. As some of my peers also mentioned, the construction and development of this complex seems like it was meant to inspire more national/cultural development and participation; obviously it more than succeeded in that regard. It’s also really interesting to hear how the complex is still being used today and will be into the future- a unification of past and present for Russia.


  5. It is interesting to learn about the Soviets’ first real foray into the international sports arena. They promoted sports and spectatorship as a way to increase national pride, something the Russian Federation continues to do today. But, I wonder if you learned anything about how the government organized sports from the bottom up? Clearly, they were successful in cultivating talented athletes as seen in their success in the 1980 Olympics.


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