Mauricio Borrero is Associate Professor of History at St. John’s University, where he teaches Russian, European, and World History. He is currently writing a biography of the legendary Soviet goalkeeper, Lev Yashin, and completing short articles on football in Communist-era Yugoslavia and Georgia. His paper examines the sporting links developed between newly-independent African nations and Soviet bloc countries between the 1950s and 1970s.
Building Sports Bridges between Africa and the Soviet Bloc, 1950s-1970s
Sport competitions and exchanges provided one of the initial and most popular points of contact in the postwar years between the newly independent nations of Africa and the former Soviet bloc, two regions with little previous historical contact. From the early 1950s three separate trends combined to facilitate sports contacts between the two regions: the relative opening of the Soviet bloc to outside contacts after the death of Joseph Stalin in March 1953; the onset of decolonization throughout the African continent and superpower competition to take advantage of this geopolitical opening; and the steady internationalization of sport through major competitions (Olympic Games, World Cup football) and exchanges of teams athletes, and coaches facilitated by improvements in passenger air travel.
My paper will examine the evolution of sport contacts between these two regions in the two decades between the 1952 Helsinki Olympics and the 1972 Munich Olympics, a period that witnessed the growing prominence of African athletes in international sports. I will focus on sports contacts, goodwill tours, and athletic exchanges, as well the sharing of knowledge, tactics and techniques by Communist world coaches and sport officials. The paper will also shed new light on the first GANEFO (Games of Newly Emerging Forces) Games held in Jakarta in 1963, a short-lived attempt to create an alternative to the Olympics, which featured nine African nations among the fifty-one participating countries.
As a historian of Soviet and Communist sport, I will draw primarily from Russian and Eastern European sources. Wherever possible I will also draw from African sources to assess the reception by African audiences of Communist world athletic performance and expertise. By addressing contacts between “East” and “South” my paper will contribute to a relatively unexplored topic in sport history, a dynamic field that has grown dramatically over the past two decades.