Voluntary Sports Societies of the Soviet Union

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Voluntary Sports Societies (VSS) of the USSR (Russian: Добровольные спортивные общества (ДСО) СССР, Dobrobolvolnye Sportivye Obshestva 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.

VSS united working people and students going in for sports, physical culture, hiking, mountaineering, boating, and various other sports. The societies provided a sponsorship for various sport events and often existed on the volunteer donations from the workers of the certain industry with which they were associated. 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. 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. Already from the end of 17th century started to form a system of military-fitness training in the Russian Imperial Army, while in the military and selected civilian educational institutions were introduced participation in complexes of fitness exercises such as gymnastics, shooting, fencing, and so on.

Already in the first half of 19th century there appeared sports schools, clubs, societies (sailing and rowing, fencing, swimming, ice skating, cycling, and others) in Saint-Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev and other cities of the Russian Empire. Among the first societies were the yacht clubs of Moscow and Saint-Petersburg. Along with the creation of the sport societies there started to be conducted official sports competitions. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia states that usually those sports clubs and unions were chartered and financed by representatives of bourgeoisie and nobility and the 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. A prominent role in the development of the Russian sport has played 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 scientific system of the 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 created in the Soviet Union and abroad. In the beginning of the 20th century were established All-Russian unions on sports,and organized the first championships. In 1913 the First Russian Olympics took place in Kiev where participated some 600 people including females. The Second Russian Olympics were conducted 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 was among the 12 countries, representatives of which, at the 1894 international congress in Paris, adopted the decision of the Olympic revival and established the International Olympic Committee. Sportsmen of the Russian Empire participated in the 1908 Olympics (5 members) and the 1912 Olympics (174 members). In 1914 in the Russian Empire were 1,200 sports unions involving some 45,000 participants out of some 332 cities and other settlements. After the October Revolution of late 1917 the state governing of the workers' physical training was assigned in 1918 to the Main Department of Vsevobuch along with which was created in 1920 the Supreme Council of Fitness Culture (VSFK). In 1923 such VSFK were created 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

VSS Spartak, the first of the future Union-wide national sports societies, was created in 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 created throughout the Soviet Union. One societies were close associated with one industry others in 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 finished in the 1950s, when village VSS were established in all 15 Soviet republics (then at 16 with the addition of 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 primary organizations of VSS and numbered 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. Those were the standard societies. In 1982 all republican societies merged under the two Russian republican 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, Aviation, and Fleet (notice the combination of the last three letters).

All-Union VSS[edit]

Name Foundation Industry
Burevestnik 1957 Higher Education
Vodnik 1938 Waterways communication
Zenit 1936 Defense
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). On January 1, 1983 these eight VSS united 48.365 million members.[2] VSS that did not belong to Trade Unions were not reorganized.

In February 1987 all VSS were abolished.[3][4] On the basis of eight Trade Unions' VSS, one All-Union Volunteer Fitness and Sports Society of Trade Unions (Russian: Всесоюзное добровольное физкультурно-спортивное общество профсоюзов, ВДФСО профсоюзов, Vsesoyuznoe Dobrobolvolne Fiykultura-Sportivne Obshestvo Profsoyzhov, VDFSO Profsoyzhov) was created. The rural VSS were also combined into a single All-Union rural VSS. Two national societies from athletes from all the Union Republics had already been formed on the basis of the 15 societies in 1982.

Other important VSSs[edit]

  • Torpedo (Shipping)
  • Neftyanik (Oil refine)
  • Energia (energy and power industries)
  • Stroitel (steel industries)
  • Start
  • Khimik (Chemist Industries)
  • Metallurg (metals industries)
  • Krasnaia Zvezda (defense industry and armed forces)
  • Shakhter (mining industry)
  • Krilya Sovietov (aviation)
  • Pishchevik
  • Zapolyarnik

Governing body and its functions[edit]

The governing body of Trade Unions' VSS was the All-Union Council of Trade Unions' VSS (Russian: Всесоюзный совет ДСО профсоюзов, Vsesoyuznyi Sovet DSO Profsoyzhov), established and governed by VTsSPS since 1957.

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 federations of various sports disciplines Coach Councils and Judging Boards were functioning.

Financing, facilities and symbols[edit]

VSS were financed mostly by the Trade Unions (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. Societies, which were awarded orders (e.g. VSS Spartak - Order of Lenin) had their images on the flag and other symbols.

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.

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

External links[edit]