When the Civil Guard was founded in 1918, promoting fitness and sports was listed as one of its goals. Each district gained its own advisor when the Guard’s department of physical education was established in 1920. New instructors for various sports were constantly being trained as the popularity of athletics kept growing over the following two decades. Participation was not restricted to members of the Guard, and the organization eventually became the largest sports association in Finland.
In addition to being a source of enjoyment, engaging in sports was a way to strengthen military skills. Popular sports included skiing, gymnastics, track and field, and the Finnish baseball developed by Civil Guard member Lauri “Tahko” Pihkala. Baseball combined physical fitness with the throwing and lunging skills needed at war. It also developed the sharp eyes and steady hands of marksmen. In the mid-1930s, athletic programmes gained a stronger military focus, and baseball championships were no longer held on a national level.
Winter was the time for skiing and ski jumping. The immense popularity of skiing competitions saw up to 3,000 events organized per year. Learning to shoot and navigate on skis was undoubtedly a success factor in the Winter War.
As a way to prevent members from getting tired of repetitive exercises, the Guards held contests measuring military skills. The matches were meant to develop the physical and mental fitness of combatants through five sequential sports: steeplechase, grenade throwing, bayonet fighting, entrenchment, and battle shooting. These sports comprised the usual activities a fighter would have to go through when advancing towards close combat.
–The obstacle course measured 150 meters at most.
–Grenades were thrownfirst into marked circles 25 meters away, then as far as possible.
–Bayonets were used to strike bags representing heads and bodies.
–Trenches had to be dug in four minutes.
–Rifles were finally used to shoot a group of disappearing targets.