Why Putin develops sports links with China

They were founded as early as under Stalin and Gamarnik

The Russian-Chinese Youth Games became good support for young Russian athletes most of whom are internationally isolated. Realnoe Vremya’s journalist Jaudat Abdullin says that the origins of Soviet-Chinese sports cooperation should be looked for in history a hundred years ago.

Like 100 years ago: Turkey and China among partners

The sports history surprisingly repeats. In 1924, Turkey addressed FIFA asking it to allow it to play a friendly match with the national team of the Soviet Union the management of the International Football Federation had imposed a veto on. Here it agreed. Three years later, the USSR hosted the first international competition named Labour Olympics that became a winter and summer sports celebration, and here athletes from neighbouring China came to the Union. So now Turkey and China have partnership relations with Russia isolated from sport.

During the tsarist era, sport didn’t develop in the Far East of Russia, it wasn’t really popular in the rest of the territory. However, with the creation of the USSR, the Far East was involved in the common “upside movement” by developing Vsevobuch system of compulsory military training, Ready for Labour and Defence physical training system, Society for the Assistance of Defense, Aircraft and Chemical Construction and so on. Since it was widely popular to hear “get stronger as steel,” “so that your body and soul get younger.” In 1927, the Far Eastern Republic organised unique competitions named Labour Olympics. Yan Gamarnik governed the Far East then, and it is doubted if he received an approval of the federal centre to host this event because they fit the mainstream, by the way, laying the foundation for the All-Union International Summer Spartakiade in 1928.

“Hi, emigres. Free Harbin!”

Then the friendship with China was so strong that the son of the country’s executive Chiang Kai-shek studied in the Soviet Union, lived in the family of Vladimir Lenin’s sister Anna Yelizarova-Ulyanova taking on her husband’s last name at university and becoming Nikolay Yelizarov. Consequently, he married Belarusian Faina Vikhreva and their first son was born in the USSR. Burgan Shakhidullin born in Tetyushi District (Kazan citizens know him as Burkhan Shakhidi, one of Kazan streets is named after him), or how Chinese themselves call him Bao Erkhan worked as vice governor of Xinjiang Province.

First, foreign countries in the person of China itself helped the Far East for whom China is closer than any Russian region. Moreover, it helped with Russians. To make sure the readers doesn’t get confused, we will enumerate last names of several participants in a football tournament where China was represented by a team called Harbin Sili at the Labour Olympics: Astakhov, Yegorov, Zemskov, Krayev, Lebedev, Uspensky, Khoroshilov, Shulgin. This is no surprise, there were a lot of people from Russia among citizens of Harbin and its suburbs, both employees of the Chinese Eastern Railway and representatives of the former Russian nobility.

Chiang Kai-shek was the first to cut contacts with the USSR

Perhaps, this was the last joint competition with Soviet and Chinese athletes. The case wasn’t that Governor of the Far East Yan Gamarnik left the region in 1928. The reason is that Kuomingtang revolutionary and democratic party in China itself that was previously tolerant to the USSR changed its attitude to our country after the anti-Communist coup chaired by Chiang Kai-shek. There was no Chinese athlete at the Summer International Spartakiade in 1928, though there were enough competitors from America, Africa and Europe. A conflict at the Chinese Eastern Railway provoked by the Whites led to the total termination of relations between the USSR and Chiang Kai-shek’s government.

The relations resumed after the Great Patriotic War after the Chinese Communist Party won the civil war, the PRC was created and Mao Zedong came to power. The Soviet-Chinese sports cooperation reached a new summit then. Moreover, this wasn’t a friendly football match but top-level basketball.

How our analysts anticipated changes in China

The USSR basketball team with four Lithuanians, two Estonians, one Latvian and Georgian headed for the PRC in December 1950. Armenian Stepan Spandaryan chaired the team, by the way, he is a son of Suren Spandaryan, one of 26 executed Baku commissars. It is a surprising moment but in 1,5 months of their stay in the PRC, Soviet Chinese and sports functionaries detected a weak spot in Chinese basketball. In a report, they spelt it out the following way: “Cities have enough basketball coaching staff members. However, it should be noted that most coaches who have education graduated from American or Japanese universities, and the influence of the bourgeois physical training school is illustrative in the practice of these coaches.”

The case is that earlier the Chinese basketball team participated in the Olympics in London in 1984. But political events led to a situation in which seven out of 10 players of the basketball team left the PRC and didn’t want to stay in communist China. Curiously, there was no influence of the “bourgeois school” in other sports where coaches from American or Japanese university didn’t work, the PRC managed to avoid the mass sport emigration. As for basketball, five ex-Chinese athletes competed at the Olympics in Melbourne in 1956 for Singapore, four for Taiwan and one for the Philippines.

Only three Olympians stayed in the PRC — John Pao, Lee Cheng-chung, who started to see his service in army, and Wu Chengzhan. There was such a dire deficit of basketball players in China with a billion of citizens that Zhang Junsu played for the team of Tiangjin Province.

“Wansui Stalin! Wansui Mao Zedong!”

The USSR team played a total of 33 friendlies in the PRC, seven of them in the capital itself Beijing, as well as Canton (now Guangzhou), Mukden (now Shenyang), Nanjing, Tiangjin, Wuhan, Shanghai and Harbin. In a match with Northern China’s champion Lokomotiv from Harbin, there was set a record — 191-35. Moreover, the rival’s team could possibly have people from the Russian Empire that used to play for a local real college: the brothers Iyevlevy, Alexandr Bubelov, Lavr Varonsky, Sergey Yadykin. We write “possibly” because this is the team before the war, many things changed by 1950. For instance, one of the Harbin basketball players — Rostislav Hartling — ended up in prison immediately after the war.

The 43-day visited lasted under the slogan “Wansui Stalin! Wansui Zedong!”. Travelling from province to province, the Soviet basketball players covered 25,000 kilometres, stopped at big stations to greet members of different Chinese delegations welcoming them. They talked about sport, of course, with some subtle propaganda of advantages of the Soviet layout, though this was likely to be a burden on the coaching staff and the administration. Managers of the sports delegation, in turn, analysed the pros and cons of the PRC in a big report. The pros are that “Basketball equipment in the PRC is produced in huge amounts (balls, shoes). Special attention should be paid to basketball shoes, they are very comfortable for the game and quite popular among Chinese basketball players. We brought samples of this shoes from the PRC, these shoes are feasible and can be produced because we have the necessary feedstock in the Union. This issue should be raised for dedicated agencies and a positive resolution should be achieved.”

To be continued

Jaudat Abdullin

Подписывайтесь на телеграм-канал, группу «ВКонтакте» и страницу в «Одноклассниках» «Реального времени». Ежедневные видео на Rutube, «Дзене» и Youtube.


The author's opinion does not necessarily coincide with the position of Realnoe Vremya's editorial board.