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USSR’s Ready for Labor and Defense fitness promotion system reincarnates

March 25, 2014, 17:16 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© Yuri Oleinik/Fotokhronika TASS/Archive

MOSCOW, March 25. /ITAR-TASS/. Indeed, reincarnation is possibly the best word for what is about to happen to the Soviet-era system of promoting physical fitness and health of the nation, a social program that seemed to have sunk into oblivion once and for all almost a quarter of a century ago. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday put his signature to a decree that may breathe a new life into what middle-aged and senior citizens in the whole territory of the former USSR still remember as the package of fitness tests GTO (the Russian acronym of the “Ready for Labor and Defense” slogan). Amazingly, it looks like the public at large has nothing against the initiative. Moreover, many regard it as quite sensible.

“A decision has been made to preserve the old-time brand name - Ready for Labor and Defense. It is a token of respect for tradition and our national history,” Putin said at a meeting of the council for the promotion of physical culture and sports. In particular, he praised the GTO complex of tests for helping “rear active and healthy generations.”

In the former Soviet Union the GTO was a state-run and government-sponsored system of training and evaluation standards and requirements for the physical development and aptitude of different age groups. Those tests were not just the backbone of a nation-wide system of physical culture. They pursued the officially proclaimed aim of “all-round physical development of the individual and the strengthening and preservation of people’s health and their aptitude for high labour efficiency and protection of the Motherland.”

The original fitness promotion program lasted from 1931 to 1991, the year when the USSR ceased to exist. It encompassed almost the whole population, from the age of ten to sixty. Those participating in the program were invited to do a variety of tests, such as jogging, push-ups, throwing of dummy grenades, jumps, cross-country skiing, swimming, pull-ups, rope climbing, medicine ball shot-put, and hiking in the countryside.

The people who volunteered to test their physical skills were awarded either gold or silver GTO badges depending on performance. Those who succeeded in passing GTO tests for several years in a row were decorated with the GTO Badge of Honour.

The revised and upgraded GTO program envisages sports tests to be taken by eleven age groups starting from the age of six.

President Putin for the first time mentioned the idea of restoring the GTO system back in March 2013. He described it as “a working mechanism and a positive experience.” He is certain that an upgraded format of this program will yield great benefits.

Starting from next year the government will be obliged to present an annual report regarding the physical fitness of the population. The testing of applicants for GTO badges will be purely voluntary.

“There should be no compulsion. We must try to create a situation where people will be eager to do sports,” says the Krasnoyarsk Territory’s Governor Lev Kuznetsov.

Education and Science Minister Dmitry Livanov has his own vision of the initiative. He speculates it may be a good idea to add the results of GTO tests as extra points to the performance in the Unified State Exam when considering an applicant’s chances of being enrolled in a university.

The people’s attitudes to restoring the GTO fitness program vary. Whereas the older generation has responded with approval, young people are not very happy at the news physical fitness parameters may influence their chances of getting into a university.

The rector of the State Medical Academy in Nizhni Novgorod, Boris Shakhov says the news of the GTO system’s comeback made him feel a little bit nostalgic.

“I recall the days when I took those tests myself. I was very proud of having a GTO Badge on my lapel,” Shakhov said.

He believes that popularizing sports among today’s youth requires some sort of incentive.

“The GTO package of physical tests is precisely this sort of incentive, which has also stood the test of time,” he said.

“When I was young everybody around was taking GTO tests. Doing sports and physical culture proved very helpful in achieving success in life and in my profession,” the weekly Argumenty i Fakty quotes Yelena, a 56-year-old retiree, as saying. “There is nothing unachievable about the GTO tests. It’s ordinary physical culture, and not a professional sports activity.”

“I believe that taking the results of GTO tests into account would make sense only in considering applications for physical culture universities,” says 32-year-old manager Timur. “All other universities should think up some other criteria.”

“I can say without an exaggeration that I am a good software specialist,” Argumenty I Fakty quotes Pavel, 27, as saying. “My weight is 110 kg, but am only 175 centimetres tall. Yes, I am fat. I cannot swim. I went skating just once to end up with a broken arm. If all these reasons had been taken into account when I applied for university, I would have never been a good programmer. I would have become a poor cargo handler or a sloppy mechanic. In the meantime somebody literally born for exercise and physical activity would have been suffering over mathematical analysis books instead of me.”

And Sergei, 51, a technologist, cannot but feel surprise over those who criticize such initiatives and at the same time agree to pay through the nose to go to a fitness club in hope to lose weight: “Possibly, if we were taking GTO tests in the past from time to time, many of us would not be suffering from overweight now. It is a whole lot better to take care of one’s health starting from the younger age than to spend the rest of one’s life trying to regain good shape.


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