Voluntary Sports Societies of the Soviet Union

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Voluntary Sports Societies (VSS) of the USSR (VSS-USSR) (Russian: Добровольные спортивные общества (ДСО) СССР, Dobrovol'volnye Sportivnye Obshchestva SSSR (DSO SSSR)) were the main structural parts of the universal sports and physical education (fitness) system, that existed in the USSR between 1935 and 1991, together with already well established Dinamo, society in cooperation with Army, Aviation, and Fleet (DOSAAF), and CSKA sports societies, which were classified as Departamental Sports Societies (DSS) of the USSR (DSS-USSR) (Russian: Ведомственное спортивное общество (BCO) CCCP, Vedomstvennoye Sportivnoye Obshchestvo SSSR (VSO SSSR)).

VSS united sporting people, offering hiking, mountaineering, boating, and various other sports. Their goals were to develop mass physical culture and sports and to provide facilities and conditions for sports training and improvement in athletes' skills. Most of the VSS were governed by trade Unions and often were closely associated with a certain ministry (aircraft industry, food workers, tractor industry, KGB, Red Army, Soviet Air Force), with industries being state-funded. Twenty five million athletes were members of such societies in 1970.

One of the most important features of VSS were Children and Youth Sport Schools (Russian: Детско-юношеские спортивные школы, ДЮСШ), which numbered 1,350 in the 1970s and 7,500 in 1987. Later some of them were reformed into more elite Olympic reserve schools. There were also specialized sport clubs, groups of improvement athletes' skills, etc. More than 50,000 trainers and instructors worked there in these institutions.



The system of the Volunteer Sports Societies arose out of the established sports societies of the Russian Empire of 1721-1917.[citation needed] As early as the end of 17th century a system of military-fitness training started to form in the Russian Imperial Army (officially founded in 1721), while the military and selected[by whom?] civilian educational institutions introduced participation in complexes of fitness exercises such as gymnastics, shooting, fencing, and so on.

Already in the first half of 19th century sports schools, clubs, societies (sailing and rowing, fencing, swimming, ice skating, cycling, and others) appeared in Saint-Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev and other cities of the Russian Empire. The yacht clubs of Moscow and Saint-Petersburg figured among the first such societies. Along with the development of the sport societies, official sports competitions started. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia states that usually those sports clubs and unions were chartered and financed by representatives of the bourgeoisie and of the nobility, and that access to them for students and working youth "was extremely limited". At the end of the 19th and start of the 20th centuries there appeared workers' sports organizations across the cities of the Russian Empire. Prominent roles in the development of the Russian sport were played by the "Petersburg's Circle of Sports Fans" (established in 1889), the "Russian Gymnastics Society" (1882, Moscow), the "Petersburg Society of Skating Fans" (1877), the "Circle of Athletic Fans" (1885, Petersburg), and others.

In 1896 the founder of a scientific system of fitness education, Pyotr Lesgaft (1837–1909),[1] opened in Petersburg the courses of educators and leaders of physical education that eventually became a prototype of the higher-learning institutions in physical education established in the Soviet Union and abroad. In the beginning of the 20th century All-Russian unions on sports emerged and organized the first championships. In 1913 the First Russian Olympics took place in Kiev where some 600 people - including females - participated. The Second Russian Olympics followed the next year (1914) in Riga involving over 1,000 participants. The program of those Olympics consisted of light athletics, gymnastics, fencing, association football, tennis, heavy athletics, swimming, rowing, sailing, modern pentathlon, shooting, equestrian, and cycling.

The Russian Empire figured among the 12 countries, representatives of which, at the first international Olympic Congress in Paris in 1894, decided to revive the Olympics and established the International Olympic Committee. Sportsmen of the Russian Empire participated in the 1908 Olympics (5 members) and in the 1912 Olympics (174 members). In 1914 the Russian Empire had 1,200 sports unions involving some 45,000 participants out of some 332 cities and other settlements.

Soviet sport[edit]

After the October Revolution of late 1917 the state governing of the workers' physical training was assigned[by whom?] in 1918 to the Main Department of Vsevobuch (Universal Military Training) along with which was established[by whom?] in 1920 the All-Union Council on Physical Culture and Sports (VSFK) (Russian: Высший совет физической культуры). In 1923 such VSFKs were set up for every Executive Committee of each Soviet region. In 1936 the council was reformed into the All-Union committee for fitness culture and sports affairs for the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR (Russian: Всесоюзный комитет по делам физической культуры и спорта при СНК СССР).

VSS Spartak, the first of the future Union-wide national sports societies, dates from 1935. The society united the workers of local industries, communal economy, culture, automobile transportation, civil aviation, and others. In the following years numerous other sport societies were set up throughout the Soviet Union. Some societies were closely associated with a single industry; others had associations with a combination of several. For example, athletes from factory schools and vocational schools were united into VSS Trudovye Rezervy in 1943. The formation of the kernel of the system was complete in the 1950s, when village VSS were established in all 16 of the then Soviet republics (including the Karelo-Finnish SSR until 1956).


The main structural units of VSS were physical culture collectives by the enterprises, public-service institutions, collective farms (kolkhoz), state farms (sovkhoz), educational institutions, etc. These collectives were the primary organizations of VSS and numbered around 114 thousands (including 105 thousands under Trade Unions), united into 36 VSS (29 of them were of Trade Unions) as of 1971. There were six All-Union VSS (Russian: Всесоюзное добровольное спортивное общество, ВДСО) and 30 republican VSS – 15 united physical culture collectives of industrial enterprises and other 15 united rural collectives - both of these united into two national sectoral societies in 1982. Those were the standard societies.

The Dynamo Sports Club, founded in 1923 by Felix Dzerzhinsky, represented the security services of the USSR, and were sponsored by them. The society had a special status. Another sports society was the "Sports club of the Armed Forces" (usually abbreviated as SKA - Sports Club of the Army). Like Dynamo, SKA also carried a special status.

Beside those, there were also numerous other sport societies that preceded the above-mentioned or were less represented such as Vympel (River transportation) and Moryak (Sea transportation) combined into Vodnik, Stakhanovets (Mining industry) changed into Shakhter, and others. There even was a society of DOSAAF which was a volunteer society in cooperation with the Army, Air Force, and Navy (notice the combination of the last three letters) and a sister club to the SKA organization.

All-Union VSS[edit]

Name Foundation Industry
Burevestnik 1957 Higher Education
Vodnik 1938 Waterways communication
Zenit 1936 Defense Industry (weapons)
Lokomotiv 1936 Railways communication
Spartak 1935 Others
Trudovye Rezervy 1943 Professional Education

Republican VSS of industrial enterprises[edit]

Republic Foundation
Труд (Trud, Labour) Russian SFSR 1957
Авангард (Avanhard, Advance Guard) Ukrainian SSR 1958
Чырвоны сцяг (Сhervony stsyah, Red Banner) Byelorussian SSR 1958
Мехнат (Mekhnat, Labour) Uzbek SSR 1958
Енбек (Enbek, Labour) Kazakh SSR 1958
განთიადი (Gantiadi, Dawn) Georgian SSR 1958
Нефтчи (Neftchi, Petrolman) Azerbaijan SSR 1958
Žalgiris (after the Battle of Žalgiris) Lithuanian SSR 1944
Молдова (Moldova) Moldavian SSR 1958
Daugava (after the Daugava River) Latvian SSR 1944
Алга (Alga, Forward) Kyrgyz SSR 1958
Тоҷикистон (Tajikistan) Tajik SSR 1958
Աշխատանք (Ashkhatank, Labour) Armenian SSR 1958
Захмет (Zakhmet, Labour) Turkmen SSR 1958
Kalev (after Kalev) Estonian SSR 1944

Republican rural VSS[edit]

Republic Foundation
Урожай (Urozhai, Harvest) Russian SFSR 1956
Колос (Kolos, Grain ear) Ukrainian SSR 1956
Ураджай (Uradzhai, Harvest) Byelorussian SSR 1956
Пахтакор (Pakhtakor, Cotton farmer) Uzbek SSR 1956
Қайрат (Kairat, Strength) Kazakh SSR 1956
კოლმეურნე (Kolmeurne, Kolkhoznik) Georgian SSR 1956
Мәһсул (Mekhsul, Harvest) Azerbaijan SSR 1956
Nemunas (Nemunas River) Lithuanian SSR 1956
Колхозникул (Kolkhoznikul, The Kolkhoznik) Moldavian SSR 1956
Vārpa (Grain ear) Latvian SSR 1956
Колхозчу (Kolkhozchu, Kolkhoznik) Kyrgyz SSR 1958
Хосилот (Khosilot, Harvest) Tajik SSR 1956
Սևանա (Sevan, Lake Sevan) Armenian SSR 1956
Колхозчы (Kolkhozchi, Kolkhoznik) Turkmen SSR 1956
Jõud (Strength) Estonian SSR 1946

Reorganization in the 1980s[edit]

In 1982 the Presidium of the VTsSPS reorganized 33 Trade Unions' VSS. None were abolished, just the governing organization of most of them was changed from VTsSPS to another one. The eight largest Trade Unions' VSS remained under VTsSPS leadership: Burevestnik, Vodnik, Zenit, Lokomotiv, Spartak, Trud, Urozhai, FiS (Russian: ФиС - физкультура и спорт; English: fitness and sports). According to Soviet sources (which are questionable), these eight VSS had a combined total of 48.365 million members.[2] VSS that did not belong to Trade Unions were not reorganized. The All-Union Trud and Urozhai National VSS were created in 1982 which united all the 15 republican industrial and 15 republican agricultural societies to serve as national volunteer sports associations represensenting the athletes, coaches, judges and sports officials from the industrial and agricultural sectors of society.

In February 1987 all the VSS within the Trade Unions were ordered dissolved by the All-Union Sports Societies Council of the Trade Unions as part of a nationwide sports reorganization.[3][4] The All-Union Volunteer Physical Fitness and Sports Society of the Trade Unions (Russian: Всесоюзное добровольное физкультурно-спортивное общество профсоюзов, ВДФСО профсоюзов, Vsesoyuznoe Dobrobolvolnoe Fizkulturo-Sportivne Obshestvo Profsoyuzhov, VDFSO Profsoyzhov) was created as a singular umbrella national organization encompassing athletes from all the national sports societies and associations within the USSR. At the same time, the SKA and Dynamo associations retained their independence as sports societies representing sports-minded personnel of the uniformed military and security services, the same case with the DOSAAF organization.

Other important VSSs[edit]

  • Dzerzhinets (Transport engineering)
  • Torpedo (automobile and truck manufacture industries)
  • Neftyanik (Oil industry)
  • Energia (Energy and power industries)
  • Stroitel (Building industries)
  • Start
  • Iskusstvo (visual and performing arts)
  • Khimik (Chemical Industries)
  • Metallurg (Metals industries)
  • Krasnaya Zvezda (Armed forces)
  • Shakhter (Mining industry)
  • Krilya Sovietov (Aircraft factories)
  • Samolet (civil aviation)
  • Chernomorets (Merchant marine and port workers)
  • Pishchevik (Food distribution)
  • Stalinets (Electrical machines)
  • Zapolyarnik
  • Tekstilschik (Textiles and clothing production)
  • Osnova (Cotton growers)
  • Monolit (Painters and paint manufacturers)
  • Poligrafist (Printing press industries of the northern Soviet Union)
  • Traktor (Tractor manufacture industry)

Governing body and its functions[edit]

The governing body of Trade Unions' VSS was the All-Union Sports Societies Council of the Trade Unions (Russian: Всесоюзный совет ДСО профсоюзов, Vsesoyuznyi Sovet DSO Profsoyzhov), established and governed by VTsSPS since 1957, and in 1987 took over the administration of the unified national VSS.

The Council's main activities were:

  • to hold competitions between VSS, Spartakiads of Trade Unions, to arrange physical culture holidays
  • to support the participation of VSS in All-Union and international competitions
  • to control functioning of Children and Youth Sport Schools and other institutions
  • to lead construction of sports facilities
  • to award the best physical culture collectives the title Sport Club
  • to maintain relations with foreign workers' and students' sports unions

Under the Council were active federations of various sports disciplines, Coach Councils, and Judging Boards. In every Olympic year, the Sports Societies' Council of the Trade Unions organized the national qualifying events for potential members of the national Olympic teams of the Soviet Union in the Winter and Summer Olympics selected from each of the constituent societies.

The SKA and Dynamo associations were under the direct supervision of the Ministries of Defense and Internal Affairs.

All the associations were represented under one singular National Olympic Committee - the Olympic Committee of the USSR, established in 1951 when the Soviet Union was admitted into the International Olympic Committee as a full member country. The separate national sports associations for Olympic and non-Olympic sports remained at the behest of the Trade Unions and the Ministries of Defense and Internal Affairs, in the former, as reporting agencies under the leadership of the Council.

Financing, facilities and symbols[edit]

VSS were financed mostly by trade unions and state (e.g. 355 million roubles in 1970). There were a lot of sports facilities constructed throughout the country using this means by 1970: 2,490 stadiums, 59,000 football grounds, 14,400 complex sports grounds, 10,200 artistic gymnastics halls, 950 artificial swimming pools, 270,000 grounds for sport games.

Each VSS had its own flag, emblem, sports uniform, pin and badges. Societies which were awarded orders (e.g. VSS Spartak - Order of Lenin) had the order medals featured on the flag and other symbols. In the 1930s, these VSS sported small marching bands, which in major parades would be complemented by the military bands of the Soviet Armed Forces.

VSS at the Olympics[edit]

The most represented VSS at the Olympics usually were Spartak, Burevestnik, Trud, Zenit, Avangard. For example, from 409 competitors for the USSR at the 1976 Summer Olympics 58 were from Spartak, 48 from Burevestnik, 28 from Trud, 13 from Zenit and 11 from Avangard.


According to the Olympic rules of the 20th century, only amateur athletes were eligible to participate. Top Soviet athletes were funded by the state and trained full-time but were listed in different VSS what allowed them to retain their amateur status.[5][6] That created a disbalance in the international sports,[7][8] and in the 1980s, the IOC was prompted to drop outdated amateur rules and open the Olympics to all athletes, regardless of their status.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lesgaft at the Great Soviet Encyclopedia
  2. ^ Yearbook of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia (in Russian). Moscow: Sovetskaya Enciklopediya. 1983. p. 17.
  3. ^ (in Ukrainian) Interview of the chairman of the Ukrainian Voluntary Society
  4. ^ (in Ukrainian) History of the Ukrainian Spartak Society
  5. ^ Benjamin, Daniel (27 July 1992). "Traditions Pro Vs. Amateur". Time. Retrieved 18 March 2009.
  6. ^ Schantz, Otto. "The Olympic Ideal and the Winter Games Attitudes Towards the Olympic Winter Games in Olympic Discourses—from Coubertin to Samaranch" (PDF). Comité International Pierre De Coubertin. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 May 2013. Retrieved 13 September 2008. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  8. ^ Coffey, p. 59

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