An article by Jim Riordan in the journal Europe-Asia Studies describing the fate of Nikolai Starostin, a man who captained his country at soccer and ice hockey, founded the Spartak Sports Society, managed it and the Soviet national soccer team - and who spent ten years as a political prisoner in Stalin's labour camps.
Starostin lived to tell the tale (he enjoyed his 90th birthday in Moscow in 1992). To the extent that sport is universal, the popular acclaim accorded it by fans and even political leaders saved Starostin's life at a time when military and political leaders, poets, artists, engineers and scientists lost theirs. As he put it in his autobiography published in 1989, 'I naturally regret the lost "camp" years ... Yet, however strange it may seem, everywhere I went the soccer ball was always out of Beria's reach; even though the notorious police chief had once been a player himself, he was never able to defeat me'. Such was the power of soccer.
The Strange Story of Nikolai Starostin, Football and Lavrentii Beria
Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 46, No. 4, Soviet and East European History (1994), pp. 681-690