History of first sport associations in Russia and mass media coverage of their activity in the early XIX century

History of first sport associations in Russia and mass media coverage of their activity in the early XIX century


PhD, Associate Professor E.A. Voytik
Tomsk State University, Tomsk

Keywords: sports, sport associations, journalism, historical analysis.

Background. In the first half of the XIX century, sports in Russia were advanced in increasingly complicated forms designed to popularize different sport disciplines in the country. Even though some sport disciplines (like hunting, shooting, aeronautics, fencing, table games etc.) were well developed by that time, they were still in need of due unification functionality and their further progress was somewhat chaotic and largely propelled by individual enthusiasts. First sport associations gave a new impetus to the efforts to shape up, develop and improve the relevant sport disciplines – at first within the frame of leisure-time activities and later on as fully-fledged professional sports with their established competitive systems.

Objective of the study was to make a historical analysis of the processes that gave rise to the first Russian sport associations and to explore the mass media coverage of their activities in the first half of the XIX century.

Study results and discussion. First sport associations were founded in the Russian Empire in the early XIX century, and for the first two decades of the century they were still few and far between. Worth mentioning are such Saint-Petersburg-based associations at the “Shooting Association” renamed later to “Shooting Enthusiasts’ Association”, established in 1806; and the Fencing School founded in 1818.

It was in the late 1820ies that the public sport organizations became notably more active. M.A. Soldatova, when assessing their activities at that time, stated the following: “Sport associations managed to find their ways to different social strata coming up with a variety of sport activities accessible for people of every social group” [4, p. 160]. This is true, first and foremost, for the equestrian sports, with further details available in the article by Professor S.V. Pakhman “On the role and gradual progress of agricultural companies in Russia”, published by the Emperors’ Kazan Economic Society in 1855 and positively commented by N.G. Chernyshevskiy. In his reference to the Pakhman’s article, the latter names a few horserace companies and horserace enthusiasts’ associations established in 1820-30ies, as follows: “(1) It was in 1826 that the Horserace Association was established in the city of Lebedyan’ on commission of General Governor Balashov acting on an application of a few local stud farm owners and enthusiasts seeking to encourage the stud farming business in Russia; (2) In 1831, the Moscow Horse Lovers’ Association was established under the auspices of the Moscow Farming Association. (3) In 1834, the Horserace Enthusiasts’ Association was established in Moscow. (4) In 1836, the Trotter Race Enthusiasts’ Association was founded in the city of Voronezh. (5) In 1837, the Horserace Enthusiasts’ Association was founded in the city of Tambov on the same terms and conditions that applied to the alike associations in Moscow, Lebedyan’ and Voronezh. (6) In 1838, the Horserace Association was established in Tula city; and (7) in 1841, the Trotter Race Enthusiasts’ Association was founded in the city of Kozlov on a commission of the Tambov Civil Governor” [5, 69]. It is not unusual that the horserace associations were often established within the frame of agricultural companies at that time for the reason that the term and meaning of “sport” was not that popular and uniting in those days, albeit the sport historians report its first mentioning in 1828 in the article “English customs: hobbies” published by the “Severnaya Pchela” Magazine.

It was in 1830–40ies that journalists of different Russian periodicals showed an increasing interest to the competitive events in the above associations rather than their social functions only. These events were covered in different ways and formats. Among other things, a detailed account of the September races of the Lebedyan’ Horserace Association during the Pokrov Fair was published by the “Moskovskiy Telegraf” Magazine (1828, #17); brief report called “Horse races in Moscow in 1834” was published by “Molva” Newspaper, 1834, #17 with an account of mostly the Moscow Horserace Association activities that “scheduled six horse races for this [1834] year, and the first two races took place on days 20 and 23 this month [July]” [3, p. 39]; and some periodicals even offered some analysis of the sporting process – for example, the article by P.N. Myasnov “On stud farming and horse races” in the “Otechestvennye Zapiski” Magazine, 1840.

One of the then-known “horse-lovers” presented his opinion on the emerging sport process, albeit with no reference to specific horserace unions, as follows: “It was quite common for Russia lately that the associations of horse lovers under the Royal patronage were established. Prized for the best race, trotter and freight horses were offered by the Russian Stud Farming Committee pursuant to His Majesty Order, and this is a good motivation for the stud farmers to breed at least some pedigree horses of the top quality that could with time contribute to the initiatives to improve the stud farming business in the country” [2, p. 31] etc. Activities of the Associations were publicized in that period by a variety of media instruments including, among other things, progress reports (with accounts of what and how was done for the certain reporting period, what money was raised and where invested in, what competitions were held, when and how, and who won them etc.).

It was in 1840ies that the above horserace associations were joined by the following: Penza Trotter Race Lovers’ Association (1837); Tula Horserace Association (1844); the Emperor’s Horse Races Committee in Tsarskoye Selo (1844); Poltava Horse Test Association (1848); Krahkiv Trotter Race Association (1848); Penza Trotter Race Association (1848) that replaced the former one when it was shut down, etc. Special role in the equestrian sport promotion in 1840ies was played by the popular “Stud Farming and Hobby” Magazine. Only for the first year since it was established, the following articles were published: “Lebedyan Horse Races in 1841” (1842, #1); “Overview of the Moscow Horse Races (1842, #8); “A few words about the Moscow Horserace Association” (1842, #9); “Brief account of the Tula Horse Races” (1842, #9); “Lebedyan Horse Races” (1842, #1112) etc. Moreover, a few dozens of materials were published in the next few years on the stud farming business in one or another province, with references, when appropriate, to operations of the local “horse lovers” associations, as follows: “On stud farming business in the Tula Province” (1843, #12); “On stud farming progress in the Novgorod Province” (1844, #6); “On stud farming business in the Kharkov Province” (1844, #8); “On stud farming business in the Novgorod Province” (1844, #8); “On stud farming business in the Tambov Province” (1844, #9); “On stud farming business in the Poltava Province” (1844, #11); “On stud farming business in the Voronezh Province” (1845, #2); “On stud farming business in the Smolensk Province” (1845, #7); “On stud farming business in the Tomsk Province” (1845, #11) etc. 

The alike coverage of the horserace association operations and stud farming business was secured by a few other editions in the first half of the XIX century, including “Sankt Peterburgskie Vedomosti", “Severnaya Pchela”, “Moskovskiye Vedomosty”, “Moskovskiy Telegraf”, “Otechestvennye Zapiski”, “Sovremennik”, “Illustratsii”, “Zhurnal Ministerstva Narodnogo Opolcheniya” etc., plus a variety of specialized editions.

In the period of 1830–40ies, as reported by a few official editions and mass media organizations, the following public organizations were established: Chess Game Enthusiasts’ Association (Saint Petersburg, 1837); The Emperor’s Yacht Club (Saint Petersburg, 1846); Noble Dancing Assembly (Saint Petersburg, 1847); German Dancing Association (Saint Petersburg, 1849) etc. Virtually every of these initiatives made its valuable contribution to the Russian national sport development process, albeit not many of them managed to keep up their roles and functions with time. The dancing practices, for instance, were viewed as a sport activity till the early XX century in fact, albeit later on they evolved rather into a form of entertainment.

It should be mentioned as an undoubted fact that every emerging sport association enjoyed good mass media coverage in the mid-XIX century. The media coverage could differ from brief reports to a few publications in several editions. Let us give as a case in point an excerpt from a detailed report about the Saint Petersburg Emperor’s Yacht Club published in the “Zhurnal Ministerstva Narodnogo Opolcheniya" (Journal of the Ministry of People’s Education) (1848)  that reads: “It was in the early 1846 that a few amateur navigators, striving  to form an association to promote the sport and encourage the shipbuilding industry in Russia, applied to the supreme Maritime Administration and, on submission of the Chief Admiral Headquarters to His Emperor’s Majesty, Sire Emperor graciously deigned to approve the frame Statute of the Yacht Club and mercifully agreed to consider His Majesty a member of the Club” [1, p. 125]. The publication clearly spelled out the club establishment terms and conditions, objectives and missions.

Conclusion. In the first half of the XIX century on the whole and in 1840ies in particular, the sport club movement in Russia not only made the leisure and entertainments of the Russian people more diverse but created due prerequisites for the nearing boom of the professional sport activity. The active club movement, in its turn, attracted growing interest of the mass media actors followed by a significant rise in the sports coverage by the national mass media and thereby the frame conditions for the sport journalism were formed.


  1. Nauki, otnosyashchie k moreplavaniyu (Navigation-related sciences) // Zhurnal Ministerstva narodnogo prosveshcheniya. – 1848. – V. 59. – Is. 7–9.
  2. O konnozavodstve i skachkakh (About horse-breeding and racing) // Otechestvennye zapiski (Notes of the Fatherland). – 1840. – № 10. Razdel «Domovodstvo, sel'skoe khozyaystvo i promyshlennost'».
  3. O skachkah v Moskve (About racing in Moscow) // Molva (Rumor). – 1834. – № 17.
  4. Soldatova M.A. Razvitie obshchestvennykh sportivnykh organizatsiy Sankt-Peterburga i ikh rol' v stanovlenii fizicheskoy kul'tury i sporta Rossii: konets XIX veka – 1917 god (Development of public sport organizations in St. Petersburg and their role in development of physical culture and sports in Russia: late XIX - 1917) / M.A. Soldatova. – St. Petersburg, 2004.
  5. Chernyshevskiy N.G. Obozrenie gazet i zhurnalov (Review of newspapers and journals) / N.G. Chernyshevskiy // Zhurnal Ministerstva narodnogo prosvescheniya (Journal of Ministry of Education). Is. LXXXVIII. – 1855. – № 10.

Corresponding author: voj@yandex.ru


In the first half of the XIX century, sports in Russia were advanced in increasingly complicated forms designed to popularize different sport disciplines in the country. Top priority was given, on the one hand, to the institutional factors geared to encourage, develop and meet demand for sport entertainments viewed as new forms of recreation; and to promote the social, educational and research domains of sports on the other hand. Therefore, emphasis was made rather on the progress of sports viewed as a new professional sphere in the social framework than on the purely physical development and health improvement aspects. This was a base idea for the initiatives to establish and develop a network of sport organizations (like associations, clubs, groups etc.) in 1820–1840ies that played the role of both subjects to and methods of activities for the teams of enthusiasts. The sport associations of that kind made it possible to promote the benefits of sport activities and thereby lay a foundation for their highest popularity in the future. Mass media coverage of the sport activities played an outstanding role in the progress of sports and their recognition by the Russian society and made it possible for the sport news to come up to the headlines and soon be rated no less important than political, economic and cultural events.