Founded as the Bureau Des Fédérations Européennes De Gymnastique in 1881, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) was officially created in 1922. However, despite having over 100 national associations affiliated by the end of the twentieth century, it was dominated by Europeans until relatively recently. In particular, the former communist bloc of Eastern Europe had a particular hold on gymnastics from the 1950s onwards. This article uses the FIG as a case study to highlight the institutional, political and ideological rivalries within international sport. It reveals such influences on the sportification of gymnastics and, in doing so, offers new insights into the history of the Cold War, including the USSR’s ascension to the international sporting scene, and its power surrounding the ‘South Africa ban’ due to its Apartheid policy. Thus, this work allows us to understand how the FIG’s policies were, from an early stage, embedded in a twofold dynamic of East–West and North–South. Our study is based on official and administrative documents from national associations and the FIG, and on press review from several European countries.