Historical Traditions and Development of University Sport in Kazan University Today

Historical Traditions and Development of University Sport in Kazan University Today


I.R. Gafurov, professor, Dr.Econ., rector of Kazan federal university, Kazan

Key words: higher education, traditions, students, education, sport.

Dear conference participants,

First of all, I would like to thank the management of the International University Sports Federation and all the organisers for the opportunity to address this representative forum. We understand and share its main idea – to unite sport and university spirit. As the Universiade originated from the atmosphere of university life, it maintains on a large scale the values which are cultivated by university as an important link of modern society. These include mutual understanding between people, a high degree of trust and constructive cooperation in science, culture and sports. I believe that the experience of one of Russia's oldest universities – Kazan Federal University – which will be celebrating its 210th anniversary next year, is of interest in terms of understanding the historical and socio-cultural aspects of the sport movement and its relationship with the development of the university community.

Kazan University was established by the decree of Emperor Alexander the First during the liberal period of his rule, and the University's activity was characterised by the flexible combination of centralisation and autonomy stipulated by the University Charter. On the one hand, this allowed the State, by investing significant funds, to set high educational standards. On the other hand, it made the new university attractive for scientists as a place for free creativity, and for inquisitive youth as a source of modern knowledge. Professionals from Berlin, Halle, Göttingen and other research centres gladly came here. Among the first of them were Carl Gauss's teacher, mathematician and physicist Johann Bartels, astronomer Joseph Littrow, orientalist Christian Frähn, doctor and natural scientist, the future rector of Kazan University Karl Fuchs and others. They became professors of the university who reached the European level within a short period of time. What it had in common with other academic institutions of the West was not only the outstanding achievements of its academic schools and decent education, but also the physical strength of those who studied at this classical institution. The rules of educational classicism include physical fitness which is based on the statement that a sound mind dwells in a healthy body. Hence, the curriculum included fencing, gymnastic exercises, horse riding and teaching refined manners, including dancing, which along with aesthetic sense develops physical skills.

The famous mathematician and thinker N.I. Lobachevsky held the post of Rector of Kazan University for nearly two decades: from the second half of the 20s up to the mid-40s of the 19th century. His pedagogical views were very important for the understanding of the role of physical education in shaping moral qualities and in the social adjustment of young people. On 5 July, it was 185th anniversary of his commencement speech “On the most important subjects of education”. N.I. Lobachevsky believed that, since academic education does not encompass all aspects of development of an individual, it should be combined into "one coherent whole" with the culture of health and physical development, which is a prerequisite for nurturing diligence and resilience along with a sense of honour and internal dignity.

N.I. Lobachevsky's ideas had a considerable influence on the pedagogical concept of outstanding biologist and anatomist P.F. Lesgaft, who was the department head at Kazan University from 1868 to 1886. The system of physical education that he created was based on the principle of the unity of a person's physical and spiritual development. "It is necessary," he wrote, "that mental and physical education go in parallel, otherwise we will disrupt the correct course of development in those parts of the body which do not get trained." When opening courses for gymnastics and fencing instructors for the army and higher education institutions, P.F. Lesgaft had in mind the example of N.I. Lobachevsky, who had tried to put into action his pedagogical theory. According to the recollections of contemporaries, N.I. Lobachevsky encouraged physical development of students during leisure time, and for that purpose sports grounds were set up on the University premises. At that time, lapta was quite popular, which is an ethnic Russian ball and bat game, and more often than not the Rector joined the game as well. During his rectorship, the University set up bathing places on the shore of Lake Kaban – this is where the Rowing Centre, which you are familiar with, is located. A few decades later, the students started practising skiing, and after the opening of the first mass skating rink on "Black Lake", a small reservoir near the university complex, they mastered skating as well.

At the beginning of the 20th century, against the backdrop of economic recovery and flourishing of the "silver age" of culture, young people had an increased interest in physical activities and long outdoor walks – the antecedent of the future hiking. Students engaged in French wrestling, cycling, sprint and long-distance running. There was a small room in the university library where weightlifting enthusiasts worked with weights and lifted massive dumbbells, which they called "bulldogs". The turn of the 19th and 20th centuries is characterised by a rapid development of modern sport and its organisational forms on both sides of the Ocean with the emergence of university sports clubs, unions and associations. As a result, by the middle of the second decade of the 20th century, 35 Russian higher education institutions out of 105 (including 12 universities) had university sport organisations. Most of them were located in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but provinces were also represented – Kharkov, Voronezh, Riga, Tomsk, Novorossiysk and other cities. A sport club was also set up at Kazan University, where one could do wrestling, fencing, rowing and skiing, whilst football and track-and-field athletics were especially popular – these were the sports that formed the core of the international sport movement in the 20th century.

This trend did not develop further owing to the change of the political system in the country in 1917. After the revolutionary events, physical training of students of educational institutions initially had a variety of forms: pre-conscription military and physical training, passing the tests of the 'Ready for Labour and Defence' programme, physical culture courses etc. This continued until the early 30s when the country's leadership took a decision that the subject “Physical Education” should be included in the curricula. To this end, universities started setting up physical training departments, which turned into organisational and methodological centres of universities' sports life.

Kazan University established such a department in 1935, and its first head was a graduate of the Main Officers' Fencing and Gymnastics School in St. Petersburg V.A. Bekasov. He was a versatile athlete who was awarded the honorary title “Merited Master of Sport” in 1942, which was a very rare occasion at the time. V.A. Bekasov did a lot to establish the system of physical fitness and sports activities. In 1936, the University's students became winners in skiing, speed skating and free-style wrestling at the All-Union Universities' Trade Unions Competitions in Leningrad. In the last peaceful year of 1940, the department staff organized and conducted an inter-faculty sports contest, which became a significant event in the University's sports life. The lecturers-athletes made their own contribution to the physical and moral support of students for the forthcoming war. In 1941, many lecturers of the department volunteered to go to the front. We remember this fact, and we are grateful to them.

In the post-war period, university sport entered a new phase, and that was facilitated by the introduction, in 1947, of optional courses for sports excellence as well as of the annual All-Union University sports contest – its programme included gymnastics, swimming, athletics and basketball. A few athletes from our university took part in the first of these sports contests as a part of the RSFSR Ministry of Education national team in 1951.

Kazan University experienced a real Renaissance of sports life in connection with the activities of M.T. Nuzhin – a prominent mathematician and a caring mentor of young people – who headed the University for almost a quarter of a century, from 1954 to 1979. He had a special sense of everything new and a vision for urgent tasks. It is not by chance that, alongside the expression "the era of Lobachevsky", another expression – "the era of Nuzhin" – established in the history of the University. The initial period of his rectorship coincided with the democratisation of public life, which was accompanied by the increase in the initiatives of youth, including in sports life. That is why the Rector set a course for the support and organisation of the mass sport movement. It was mainly thanks to him that the spring athletics relay that was first held at students' initiative in April 1953 turned into one of the most vibrant traditions. In subsequent years, it was participated by the athletes who achieved outstanding results: Vera Smelova, 1981 USSR champion in 4х400m relay; marathon runner Ravil Kashapov, two-time European Cup holder, two-time world running champion in 100 km, participant in the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul; Irina Vostrikova, bronze medallist of the 1996 European Athletics Championship, participant in the World Championship in Athens and in the World Universiade in Japan; and many others. At the present time, more than 2,500 people take part in the relay each year and they compete for awards in four events: women's and men's team race, mixed race and a multi-discipline event. This year's Relay was dedicated to the world students' forum in Kazan.

The University administration paid particular attention to the development of its sports facilities. In 1958, the construction of the annex to the main building was completed, and a sports hall was opened in it on 14 November. Another sports hall was opened the same day in Baumana Street, not far from the University. Around the same time, a water sports and skiing base was built on the bank of the Kazanka River that runs through the city. 30 kilometres from the city, on the beautiful bank of the Volga River, the University also inaugurated the sports and fitness camp "Kordon". In addition, a university sports club was established, which became a vibrant core of youth sport. A decade later, the physical education department opened a sport psychophysiology laboratory which laid the foundation for sports science at the University. At some point, the laboratory staff was part of the research team which was preparing the country's national diving team.

The enhancement of the facilities, the development of sports science plus mass engagement in physical activities finally yielded strong sports results. This formula was clearly visible in the 60s–80s when the University's teams were very successful in various sports, particularly in basketball, athletics, rowing and skiing. And not only in those sports: a good example of that are the achievements of fencer Olga Voschakina – world champion, repeat European champion, two-time silver medallist of the Summer Universiade 1985, participant in the Olympic Games in Seoul and Barcelona.

Physical culture and sport were given a new impetus at the University in the late 80s: that was the time when the six-storey sports and cultural complex "UNICS" was put into operation. In terms of equipment, it was the best university in the country at the time: it had ten sports halls with a total area of 3,000 square metres, including two large halls with telescopic seating systems for team sports, four fitness halls and another four gymnastics halls, as well as a jogging track, a rock-climbing wall, a billiard room and others. At this sports complex, the basketball traditions of the 60–70s were brought back to life when the University team, which mainly consisted of the Law Faculty students, won repeatedly at the Russian Championship among the Burevestnik Society teams, several times they became silver medallists at the Russian Championships, they took part in international tournaments in Poland, Hungary, Afghanistan and other countries. In the early 90s, the President of the University Sports Club A.G. Scherbakov initiated the creation of the men's university basketball team "UNICS". They competed at the second league of the USSR Championship, and in 1997 they gained the right to play at the Russian Basketball Super League and FIBA EuroCups. In the 90s, which was not an easy time both for our country and its higher education, Yu.G. Konoplyov – Rector of Kazan State University and a basketball player himself – played an important role in the development of sports.

The contemporary stage of the university sport movement is closely connected with the establishment of a federal-level university in Kazan as the authorities of Russia and Tatarstan agreed from the start to transfer to it a significant part of the residential buildings and a number of sports venues of the forthcoming Universiade. The incorporation in the Kazan Federal University (KFU) campus of 20 buildings with a total area of more than 212,000 square metres, big enough to accommodate 6,000 people, which is about 70% of the residential buildings of the Universiade Village, gave the 100% resolution to the problem of providing accommodation for students from outside Kazan and abroad. The Olympiade Village accommodates students from about 30 different countries, and it is establishing the standards of a healthy lifestyle and encouraging interest in sports. It is noteworthy that more than 140 sports and recreational activities have been held here over the last two years.

The transfer of the Bustan Sports Complex (which has the same name as the swimming pool) as well as of the multi-functional facility "Moscow" to the University significantly revitalised our sports base. This allowed us to raise both our physical education classes and mass sports activities to a new level. In the sports halls of our three sports complexes, over 200,000 students receive training in accordance with our sports curriculum each year. At the same time, over 50,000 students, about 35,000 residents of the city and about 5,000 pupils of children’s and youth sports schools attend sports courses and fitness halls, and 30% of students are using these facilities free of charge. Moreover, in the course of the year, 25–30 competitions of various levels are held here.

Another important factor in the consolidation of our physical culture and sports base was the concentration of sports venues at the Federal University, which ensures a more effective logistics scheme for the organisation of sports activities. The present sports infrastructure of KFU includes 27 sports halls, two swimming pools, "dry swimming" hall, eight game halls and eight fitness halls, five aerobics halls, two wrestling halls, gymnastics hall, physiotherapy hall, four sports and fitness camps, and others. Using this base, we first of all solve our main task – the development of mass sports. With this purpose over 50 courses in 30 sports were put in place, whilst over 10,000 people annually take part in about 50 sports and fitness events. Our sports events calendar is pretty full: the University sports contest in 13 sports, the Spartakiade among hostels, Universiade among Kazan universities, Russian Ski Track and Cross-Country Race of the Nations, Summer sports contest in sports and fitness camps, mass outing for students – and that is more than 3,000 people each year - to the skiing base ("Health Train") and many others.

Since 2011, we have been organizing a sports contest for first-year students in four sports (volleyball, basketball, mini-football and swimming), which is an additional factor in forming the single corporate culture of the Federal University's large team of over 50,000 students and members of staff. Among the new forms of mass sports activities was the First Festival of University Sport for Federal Universities which we conducted at KFU in autumn of 2011. More than 300 people from all universities of the federal level participated in it competing in five sports: athletics, swimming, table tennis, arm-wrestling and women volleyball. The KFU team's victory in this sports forum was a confirmation that we were on the right track. During the sports festival, the All-Russian Workshop Conference “On the Enhancement of the Role of Physical Culture in the Personal Development of Students” was held which had serious significance for understanding the issues of the improvement of the sport movement. It brought together more than 300 leading scholars from more than 60 cities of the country, from Arkhangelsk and Yakutsk to Krasnodar and Kislovodsk, and from Chita and Ulan-Ude to St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad.

I would like to mention separately the important role in the organization and scientific study of university sport as well as in the extension of best practices, which is played by the Russian Students Sports Union (RSSU) and its President O.V. Matytsin, with whom we have established a strong business relationship. This is reflected in the successful implementation of the cooperation agreement in the field of university sport, elite sport and sports education which was signed by KFU and RSSU in November 2011. It is particularly important for us that RSSU solves the tasks of the development of the mass sport movement and elite sport in their close interrelation, as elite sport enhances the University image by making it attractive to young people in Russia and other countries.

The fact that the brand of Kazan Federal University is really working and is getting more and more recognisable around the world can be also credited to our outstanding athletes, including: PhD student of the Law Faculty Andrei Demanov – gold medal at the Summer Universiade in Shenzhen, gold medal at the European Weightlifting Championship in 2011, 4th place at the London Olympic Games; PhD student of the Law Faculty Elena Migunova – 4x400m Relay silver medallist at the Olympics in Beijing, first place at the European Athletics Championship in Paris in 2011; student of the Institute of Physical Education, Sport and Restorative Medicine Yuliya Zaripova – gold medal in the 3,000 m steeplechase at the London Olympic Games; student of the Institute of Physical Education, Sport and Restorative Medicine Alexei Obmochayev – gold medal in volleyball at the London Olympic Games, and others.

When meeting with members of the Association of University Sports Clubs in January earlier this year, President of the Russian Federation V.V. Putin emphasised that one of the important ways of attracting young people to sport was making our own sports heroes – outstanding, interesting people – who could serve as an example to follow. This approach is fully in line with the strategy for the development of sports at our University. In order to engage talented young people in sports, to train elite athletes and provide scientific and methodical guidance for this training, we established the Institute of Physical Education, Sport and Restorative Medicine. It trains students at the BA and MA levels in nine areas. The number of full-time students is about 450, including eight Masters of Sport of International Class, forty-odd Masters of Sport and twice as many Candidate Masters of Sport. Building on the achievements of the Faculty of Physical Education and Sport of the largest pedagogical higher education institution of Tatarstan that has been incorporated into Federal University, the scientists of the Institute are working on the issues of cardiac activity regulation under the conditions of different motion regimes, the theory and methodology of physical education and sports training, and other problems of sports and medical science.

We link the prospects for the development of sports science and for the increase in its efficiency to the establishment of the educational and sports cluster at KFU. The scientists of the KFU Institute of Fundamental Medicine and Biology have already joined the work on finding solutions to the science-based issues of sports. The staff of our Institute of Management and Territorial Development, in collaboration with representatives of sports science, is designing a programme for the development of physical culture and sports at the level of an individual region. The sports subject is also a part of our interdisciplinary project for IT and the creation of mathematical models of relevant objects.

There is no doubt that a powerful incentive for further development of university sport is the Universiade legacy that our students have already been actively exploring. In the Universiade Village, which is the biggest university campus in Russia, we are establishing new life standards for young people. We make the most of our new sports complexes to promote physical culture and sport among young people and the general public of our city. We have joined the enhancement of the educational and sports cluster in Kazan, thus opening new opportunities for KFU athletes to actively participate in Russian and international competitions.

The Universiade enabled our progress in the development of the volunteer movement, which plays an invaluable role in fostering the development of a perceived civic position among young people, in changing their outlook and in introducing them to the ideas of solidarity and mutual assistance. Among our 4,000 sports volunteers of this Universiade, and that is every fifth volunteer at this sports forum, there exist many of those who have done volunteer work at the First Youth Olympic Games 2010 in Singapore, at the Universiade in Belgrade, Erzurum and Shenzhen. There are also those who have excelled during the conduct of the International Sports Games “Children of Asia” in Yakutsk, the APEC summit in Vladivostok and other major events. And just as importantly, most of the volunteers are students who regularly engage in sports.

Dear colleagues! Looking at the two-century-long sports life at our University as the unified tradition – which is an integral part of the development of international university sport – is an important factor in the continuity of the sport movement, and in understanding by its participants that they are part of University and Olympic sport. From this historical prospective, there seems to be a deep symbolic meaning in the coincidence of the dates that mark the Universiade 2013 in our city: the 90th anniversary of the 1st World Universiade held in Paris, and the 40th anniversary of the 7th Summer Universiade in Moscow.

Thank you for your attention.


  1. The history of the department of physical education [Electronic source]: official web site of KFU. – Kazan – URL: http://www.kpfu.ru/main_page?p_sub=8714 (In Russian)