Simple brokers or creators? French communist sports leaders and the Eastern European sports model (1923–1991)

By Igor Martinache

The “Cold War” context that polarized a large part of the world, but also each of the national societies, for nearly seven decades in the 20th century did not spare physical and sporting activities despite the aura of apolitism that surrounds them. In France, for example, class struggle was extended to the sports fields in the early 1920s with the creation of the Fédération sportive du travail (FST), an affiliate of the Red International Sports Federation (IRS) based in Moscow. Its replacement by the Fédération sportive et gymnique du travail (FSGT) in 1934 following the reconciliation of the two main branches, communist and “reformist”, of the workers' movement also resulted in the replacement of the slogan “red sport” by that of “popular sport”. The international opening, particularly towards the other countries of the Eastern Bloc, has not been lost, however, and has taken place through various channels: occasional sports meetings, tours of athletes and leaders, long-term correspondence, but also the circulation of ideas and doctrinal texts. In contrast to a superficial representation presenting the Soviet sphere of influence and the national communist parties within it as monolithic and vertical ensembles, this contribution proposes to show the reciprocity and complexity of human and ideal circulations in the sphere of the communist bloc. Based on a comparative analysis of the biographical trajectories of a number of leaders of “communist sport” in France at different periods, we defend in particular the thesis that the evolution of the diplomatic and doctrinal positions of the organisations concerned (in particular the FSGT and the French Communist Party) does not simply stem from those of Moscow, but has a certain autonomy and has even exercised a relative influence towards the East. In doing so, on the basis of a particular but paradigmatic case, this text suggests that the actors involved in the internationalisation of sport are not limited to the leaders of international sports organisations.

  • sport
  • communism
  • Cold War
  • international circulations
  • organisations
Go to the article on