For more then 200 years, sports in St. Petersburg University has been associated with a red brick Jeu de Paume building located at the university campus. The building was constructed in 1793 and was the first indoor sports facility ever built in Russia.Today the building is the headquarters of the University Department of Physical Culture and Sports.

The name of the premises (Jeu de Paume) originates from a very old sport – an ancestor of several modern games. Until the mid-19th century the game was part of cadets physical training and one of the favourite pastimes of the royal family.

In 1867 the building was obtained by St. Petersburg University. The students were growing increasingly fond of sports and physical culture. This atmosphere much contributed to the emergence of physical education system in Russia's universities.

On 1 November 1901, the University courses in athletics and Swedish gymnastics were launched at the Jeu de Paume building. The courses were organised and then headed by I.V. Lebedev, a student of the University's Law School.Though closed down in 1905, the courses were a prototype of the modern department. The courses' staff included three teachers and one auxiliary worker. I.V. Levedev was the first athletics professor – today we would call him a head of department or a chair. He organised regular competitions in weight athletics and began to publish The Illustrated Journal of Athletics and Sports which covered the sports life at his courses.

Until 1928, university sports survived as an amateur and extracurricular activity. The students were doing sports both on campus and outside the University.They participated in many sports competitions and often took the first prizes. The London Olympics 1908 were attended by eight Russian participants, including two SPbU sportsmen: Georgy Demin, a law student (wrestling, lightweight); and Nikolay Panin-Kolomenkin, graduate of the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics (figure skating). The latter hit the history as the first Olympic champion from Russian. The Russian team at Stockholm Olympics 1912 included 178 sportsmen (7 of them were from SPbU) in five sports.

In October 1928, the University Administration included physical culture into the curriculum as a compulsory subject for all faculties. The classes were to be both theoretical and practical.Initially the classes were administered by a physical culture office under the military department headed by G.I. Ovchinnikov, a military instructor.In 1929, the office consisted of several trainers, who had been previously working in the University's sports centres, and two beginning instructors – E.P. Petrova and L.P. Makarova,both graduates of Lesgaft Physical Culture Institute (1928).

In early 1930s, the physical culture office separated from the military department and itself obtained the status of a department. Evgeny Pavlovich Petrov was the first Soviet-time head of the new body.During the first decade, the department's staff multiplied. In 1938, there were already 18 full-time members (including 8 senior teachers) and two dozen instructors. The best instructors of the city were working at the department: N.P. Sery, M.V. Tyshko, D.P. Ionov, A.Ya. Shekhtel, E.V. Shekhter, G.I. Shevaldyshev, B.S. Brechko, and many others. This pool of talented teachers enabled the University to become the sports leader among the local educational institutions. Moreover, it could successfully compete with non-university sports organisations in the city and nationally.

In 1937, the first Soviet sports club was created at the University. The club's tasks were versatile, one of them being the development of a training system for ‘masters of sports’ (one of the highest sport titles in the USSR and modern Russia).The first students sport scamp in Vyritsa, near St. Petersburg, was also held in 1937.

The work of the department stopped at the outbreak of the Great Patriotic War. Many teachers went to the front. Some of them were evacuated from the besieged city, while others stayed to provide physical training for irregular troops (People's Militia) and do recreational sports with wounded soldiers.

In early 1944 the instructors begin to return from evacuation. In 1945 the Department of Physical Culture and Sports was re-established. The University's sports club was opened, with prof. M.I. Vinogradov being its first head.

The Department's best traditions preserved in spite of the War. Most teachers continued their work, including Vasily Fedorovish Miroshnikov, Head of Department and one of the most gifted activists and organisers of university sports.

Many innovations in students training were introduced by the Department between 1946 and 1951. A dedicated medical group for students with special health requirements was established in 1946. It was a recreation group headed my E.P. Petrov, senior instructor with a degree in medicine. In 1947 the specialisation principle was introduced: the students would select a particular sport for their study period. In the 1940s there were 900 students doing 18 sports, while two decades later, in 1969, there were already 7900 students having a choice of 29 sports. In 1946-1968, the Department trained 111 masters of sports.

The research, that began at the Department before the War, blossomed in the 1960s.In 1965 the Ministry of Education initiated a research laboratory under the Department. The laboratory was to deal with physical education and sports.The first issue of the Students Physical Education Journal appeared in 1964.

Since 1952 the USSR was a full-fledged participant of the Olympic Games, and the University's sportsmen were frequently part of the national team.Some of them won the glory of Olympic champions: G. Shatkov (1956, boxing), N.Kuchinskaya (1968, gymnastics), Yu. Tarmak (1972, athletics), T. Kazankina (1976 and 1980, athletics). There have also been winners of the Chess Olympiad: B. Spassky (1969-1972) and A. Karpov (1975-1985). V. Korchnoy many times got to the final.

About the 100 years of the Department's work yielded 47 international masters of sports (the highest sports rank in the USSR and Russia) and about 500 masters of sports, including many champions and prize-winners at national, European and world competitions.

Today the Department enjoys modern sports facilities: a swimming pool, a ski centre, indoor games halls, dedicated halls for aerobics, wrestling, boxing and other activities. The students have an opportunity to select from 22 sports, with the classes delivered by highly-qualified teachers and couches. The Department has numerous international links with universities of Germany, Poland, Hungary, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, and other countries.