Playing to Win

: A Political History of the Moscow Olympic Games, 1975-1980

  • Simon Young

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis uses archival evidence to construct the first full-length political history of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games in the English language. It explains how the idea for this event appeared on the Soviet policy agenda in the years 1951-74, before examining some of the main contours of the USSR’s preparations for and orchestration of the Olympiad in the years 1975-80. These include economic and security measures, diplomatic and promotional efforts in the international arena, and internal propaganda and sport campaigns carried out by various agencies of the Soviet state. The overarching discussion centres on the political purposes underlying the XXII Games and the ways in which the idiosyncrasies of the communist system impacted on their administration. It thereby considers the importance of 1980 for the first time from the perspective of Soviet political history, in contrast to previous analyses which largely focused on the significance of the Western boycott of the event for historians’ understanding of American politics and/or international relations. It is revealed how the Olympics became the single most ambitious operation ever undertaken by the USSR to enhance its soft power in the Cold War international arena, whilst at home they were integrated into various long-standing domestic policies aimed at maintaining the legitimacy and stability of the Soviet system. In addition, the study considers the implications arising from this history of the Olympic project for historians’ overarching interpretation of the Brezhnev era (1964-82) in which it unfolded. Departing from the current scholarly focus on the social history of this period, the thesis analyses the various elements of the Games’ preparations and orchestration to offer both a challenge to the conventional interpretation of Brezhnev-era foreign policy goals, and an original critique of the dominant ‘stagnation’ paradigm as it has been applied to explain domestic political developments in the 1970s. The thesis concludes by considering some potential new departures for future research into the political history of the Brezhnev period.
Date of Award3 Jun 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Winchester
SupervisorNatalya Chernyshova (Supervisor), Chris Aldous (Supervisor) & Neil Curtin (Supervisor)


  • Soviet history
  • Brezhnev era
  • Olympics
  • propaganda
  • soft power
  • historiography

Cite this

Playing to Win: A Political History of the Moscow Olympic Games, 1975-1980
Young, S. (Author). 3 Jun 2015

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis