British Sports in Imperial Russia

Anthony Cross describes the introduction of British games to Russia.

It is in the nature of a truism that, wherever the British go, we take our games with us, to say nothing of our prejudices, our literature, our language, and other baggage. It was not so much the burden of Empire as burdening the empire, and we were not particularly put out if the empire in question happened to be someone else’s. The Russian empire might not appear at first glance the most propitious arena in which to display and promote our sporting interests, but that would be to underestimate British adaptability as well as to be ignorant of what might be termed ‘facilitating moments’ in the 450 years of Brito-Russian relations.

Nevertheless, for the first two centuries or so of that intercourse the British had little time or opportunity to indulge their sporting instincts, although the poet George Turbervile, visiting Russia in 1568-69, saw fit to inform his friend Parker, ‘Because thou lovest to play’, that:

The common game is chess: almost the simplest will
Both give a check and eke a mate; by practice comes their skill.
Again they dice as fast: the poorest rogues of all
Will sit them down in open field and there to gaming fall.

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