If you could turn back the hands of time, what would you wish for? For Russian President Vladimir Putin, it seems to be to return to the days of mass physical fitness. Not just of physical-education training in schools—which already exists in Russia—but of mass calisthenics in stadiums, mass parades of athletes through Moscow’s Red Square, and fluttering banners with slogans urging ‘Everyone to the Starting Line!’
On March 24, Putin, a well-known fitness buff, signed an executive order to bring it all back. He ordered the revival of a Stalin-era fitness program from the 1930s called “Ready for Labor and Defense,” or “GTO” by its Russian initials. The state-sponsored program, which mixed fitness, health, and patriotism, had been moribund since the collapse of the Soviet Union, when it fell victim to Russians’ suddenly greater freedoms of choice.
Now, GTO is due to start in September across the country. How it will look in its modern incarnation remains to be seen. But if it is anything like before, it will be a sight more reminiscent of the bygone days of the U.S.S.R., or Maoist China, than anything around in the world today….
The slogan of the GTO was “Your Motherland Calls for You to Be Ready for Work and Defense” and the program helped create the sense that the country was in a state of perpetual mobilization throughout the Cold War.
In signing his decree, Putin did not specify why he wanted to bring back the GTO in its Soviet-era form, complete with the pomp and parades. He only said his government had been considering “how to attract the vast majority of our citizens to take part in regular physical training” and that “reviving the GTO would “pay homage to our national historical traditions.”
Putin, a devoted sportsman, is reported to have first floated the idea of reviving the GTO a year ago. He said the program will be split into 11 different age groups, beginning with the age of six, and he personally will receive a report each year on his new initiative’s progress.