Sports and politics: historical analysis


Dr.Sc.Hist., Professor S.N. Pogodin1
PhD, Associate Professor O.E. Piskun1
PhD, Associate Professor V.I. Samorukov1
1Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University, St. Petersburg

Keywords: Olympic Games, Olympic movement, 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Russia, Great Princedom of Finland, athletes, Olympic national team.

Background. One of the fundamental tenets of the Olympic movement is the sports immunity from politics. As provided by the Olympic Charter, the Olympic Games “unite amateur athletes from all the countries for fair and equal competitions. No discrimination of countries and individuals is allowed on racial, religious or political grounds” [4]. It should be noted in this context that Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic movement, viewed the Olympic Games as the competitions of nations and people rather than states and politics. In the real practice, however, vested political influences are still ranked among the most critical problems of the global sport movement, with the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) providing one more case in point.

Objective of the study was to analyze the Olympic Games history since 1912 with a special consideration of the vested political influences on the global sport movement.

Study results and discussion. It would be unreasonable to state that the Olympic Charter was violated only in the XXXI Olympic Games by the vested political interests since the whole history of the Olympic movement provides multiple cases of their interference. One of such cases is the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden.

It was the International Olympic Committee in Berlin that made a decision in 1904 on the V (1912) Summer Olympic Games being hosted by Stockholm. The solemn opening of the Olympic Games was scheduled on July 6 on the Royal Stadium with participation of Gustav V, King of Sweden, and Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic movement. The 32,000-seat stadium was packed with the enthusiastic crowd. 28 countries, 2407 athletes (including 48 women) were competing in the 1912 Summer Olympic Games in 16 sport disciplines [10].

The Russian Olympic Committee established in 1911 qualified 178 national athletes for the Olympics in every sport discipline. It was the first Olympics for the Russian athletes. The most representative sport disciplines in Stockholm were the track and field events, with the 5000/10000m races and 4x400m relay race included in the program for the first time. The Russian team won three silver and two bronze medals in Stockholm, with the silver medals won by M. Klein in classical wrestling, M. Kuzik in 200m academic rowing and by the rifle shooting team (N. Melnitsky, A. Kashe, P. Voyloshnikov and G. Panteleymonov). A. Vyshnegradskiy won the bronze medal in 10m-class yachting; and G. Blau was the third in pigeon shooting [2].

The 1912 Olympics hosts’ policies were subject to sharp criticism for many reasons including the political ones since the hosts made their best to offer the most favourable conditions for the home team. During the shooting competitions, for instance, the shooting ground was hit by a heavy shower, but the competitions were not stopped. The Swedish team was protected from the shower by a special canopy and nobody else was allowed in. As a result, the Swedes won 17 medals (7 golden, 6 silver and 4 bronze) in 18 shooting events [5].

The Olympic wrestling competitions of 180 athletes from 17 countries were even more shocking. The International Wrestling Federation was not established at that time. The competitive process was unfair in fact since either rules of competitions, or limits for national team compositions were lacking. The hosts took full advantage of the situation. Competing in the semifinals were 24 Finns, 5 Swedes and 2 Russians. The Swedish managers formed couples for the final of the best athletes fairly similar in skills, with a 1-hour time limitation for the wrestling bouts. When nobody could win the 1-hour bout, a defeat was fixed for both of the wrestlers, with the best wrestlers effectively eliminated from the finals by this trick. The Swedish wrestlers were scheduled to compete with the weakest opponents and, hence, easily made it to the finals, all the more that the bouts were scored in a rather biased manner [6].

A good case of the above dirty politicking is the bout of Russian M. Klein with A. Asikainen that lasted for ten (!!!) hours. The Russian athlete won the bout to qualify for the final. However, the hosts gave him no rest time whatsoever before the final despite the fact that V.N. Voyeikov, the Russian team leader, formally applied to the hosts for the rest break so critical for the Russian athlete. M. Klein was too drained; no wonder that he lost the final bout. He was only second due to the competition process being clearly doctored by the hosts [7, 8].

There were multiple other violations of the fair play principle in the 1912 Olympics in many other disciplines including rowing, equestrian sport, tennis, and fencing. The International Olympic Committee commissioned Baron Herren von Venningen to collect and analyze the complaints and report his findings to the IOC, and he made this report in 1913. The 56-page report “Consolidated complaints and comments for the Olympic Games improvement: report to the International Olympic Committee by Baron Herren von Venningen, member of the IOC and German Government Committee” was translated into Russian and published the same year. It listed multiple critical comments on the Olympics organization and management process.

The situation in the Finnish team and its performance in the 1912 Olympics provides one more case of the vested political interests as analyzed by Lempijenen L.E. [3, 9]. The Finnish team qualification for the 1912 Olympics was subject to a sharp dispute of the Russian and Finnish authorities since the latter ranked Finland as an independent Great Finnish Princedom entitled to compete as such in Stockholm. The situation was much the same for Bohemia, Hungary and Australia which were not independent at that time. The Russian authorities had long turned a blind eye to the attempted Finnish separatism – till the day when the IOC leaflet on the team composition was out of print. It was particularly controversial that Baron Reinhold von Villebrand was representing the Finnish Olympic Committee separate from the Russian team, with the Finnish team listed in a separate section “Finland” in an alphabetical order ahead of the Russian team [6]. As a result, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs applied to the IOC and its chairman Pierre de Coubertin claiming that it was inacceptable to rank Finland separate in the competitions since the Great Finnish Princedom was integrated with the Russian Empire since 1809. The Russian ambassador to Stockholm was required to “prevent the independent representation of the Finns in the Games” [9].

The Russian Cabinet of Ministers discussed (on April 27, 192) the issue of the Finnish participation in the Olympic Games and approved the settlement option offered by the Swedish Government. It was agreed that the Finnish athletes should form a separate group next to the Russian team in the Olympic documents and ranked as a group in the Russian team. In the Olympics opening event the Finnish athletes were to follow the Russian team with the Russian flag, with the only exemption that the Finns were allowed to carry a sign “Finland”. In case of some Finn winning in the competitions, the awarding ceremony should have been conducted with the Russian flag and table “Finland” raised [6]. Despite the fact that the Olympic Games are supposed to unite the nations in fair sport competitions, the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm were blurred by the rampant opposition of the Russian and Finnish athletes as reported by V.N. Voyeikov [7].

The Russian and Finnish teams actually competed in the event as separate teams, and the competitions were very tense. As a result, the Finnish team won 26 medals (9 gold, 8 silver and 9 bronze) and was ranked fourth after the US, Sweden and UK, whilst Russia was only sixteenth with its 5 (3 gold and 2 bronze) medals in the Olympic shooting, Greco-Roman wrestling, academic rowing, yachting and pigeon shooting events [2]. Despite these contradictions, accomplishments of the Finnish team were appreciated by the Russian mass media at that time, and the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm helped the Russian society comprehensively analyze the national sport progress and prospects [10].

Conclusion. The study data and analyses demonstrate that the political pressure on the global sport movement is nothing new as it is deeply rooted in its history, with the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm providing a typical case in point – since the Russian team was subject to a rampant political blackmailing campaign at that time.


  1. Zdorovaya dusha v zdorovom tele [A healthy soul in a healthy body]. Finlyandskaya gazeta, no. 12 (25). 07. 1912. no. 100.
  2. Igry V Olimpiady. Stokgolm. 1912 god [V Olympic Games. Stockholm. 1912]
  3. Lempijenen L.E. Uchastie avtonomnoy Finlyandii v olimpiyskom dvizhenii nachala XX v. [Participation of autonomous Finland in the Olympic movement in the early 20th century]. Materialy XVI konferent. po izucheniyu skandinavskikh stran i Finlyandii [Proc. XVI conference dedicated to Scandinavian countries and Finland]. M.V. Lomonosov PSU, September, 9-12 2008). Moscow; Arkhangelsk: PSU publ., 2008, p. 1, 341 p.
  4. Olimpiyskaya Khartiya MOK [Olympic Charter IOC]. Available at: http// OlimpChart.asp
  7. Rossiya na letnikh Olimpiyskikh igrakh 1912 [Russia at Summer Olympics 1912].
  8. Available at:
  9. Protokoly sorevnovaniy soglasno saytam [Protocols of competitions according to the sites]:,
  10. Kansallisarkisto (Helsinki). Kenraalikuvernoorinkanslia (KKK). Fb 696. no. 24-B-7/1912. (Reference to the letter of the Ministry of Internal Affairs addressed to the Chairman of the Council of Ministers, 16.04.1912).
  11. Official website of the Olympic Movement, Stockholm 1912. Available at: http: //

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The study analyzes the history of elite sports in the context of the vested political interests, with a special emphasis on the Olympic movement history and the fatal effects of the dirty politicking on the global sports. The 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm were taken for the case study of the political pressures on the Russian national Olympic teams. The study overviews many violations of the Olympic tenets in the 1912 Olympics in the wrestling, rowing, equestrian, tennis and fencing sport disciplines; with a special consideration of the Finnish team performance which was subject to contradictions and discussions of the Russian and Finnish sport authorities, with no detriment to the acknowledgement of the Finnish team accomplishments by the Russian mass media at that time. The 1912 Olympics in Stockholm helped the Russian society comprehensively analyze the national sport progress and prospects.

The study data and analyses demonstrate that the political pressures on the global sport movement is nothing new as they are deeply rooted in its history, with the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm providing a typical case in point – since the Russian team was subject to a rampant political blackmailing campaign at that time.