The only way for an American athletic addict to even begin to comprehend the scope of sport in the Soviet Union -- its interaction with government and how it touches everyone in the 15 republics in ways both subtle and severe -- is to stand at a place called View State atop Lenin Hill.

It is an experience no Soviet avoids. Tradition demands that Moscow couples, shortly after being married, stop here and soak up the beauty of a city that pours out beneath them and across the river.

But the panorama -- on a sight line 180 degrees -- is dominated by the buildings and tools of sport. Red Square for instance, is that tiny dot over the edge of Lenin Central Stadium. Four ski jumps, two for children, are to the right of the overlook Imagine walking to a site higher than any across the Potomac, gazing down on Washington and having the Los Angeles Coliseum. The Forum, two buildings the size of Cole Field House and nearly all of Rock Creek Park home into view first.

No one leaves View State without sport at least lingering in the mind. In truth, the Soviets like to bombard foreign minds with a flood of facts about their sporting life. Numbers leap from almost every Moscow mouth. A woman introduced to me only a few minutes before suddenly boasted: "Do you know that each of the 30 districts in the city has a sports school?"

Yes. And I know that Article 41 of the Constitution of the U.S.S.R. reads: "Citizens of the U.S.S.R. have the right to rest and leisure. This right is ensured . . . by the development on a mass scale of sport, physical culture, camping and tourism."

But why does almost everyone outside the Olympic Village here seem neither at rest or leisure? Nobody in Moscow seems at play during these Games. The Central Moscow Swimming Center, whose water area is at least the Diameter of RFK Stadium, had fewer than 50 public swimmers on a lovely afternoon yesterday.

"On vacation," said the assistant to the director, Nikolai P. Portnov.

One almost has to search for Muscovites at play. About a fourth of the 8 million people have been denied access to their city during the Olympics. And most of the rest either are riveting a cold stare from behind a uniform or scurrying to find a way to make the Moscow Olympics seem like Moscow.

There are no Washington-chic joggers in Moscow, because anyone whose monthly income averages $270 scarcely can afford the shoes and costume. But there is a place that gives one the feeling of being in a combination Duke Zeibert's and the Touchdown Club.

That would be the Journalists' Club. And although there are far more science and political writers likely to be in the small snack area, or the standup bar down the hall or the restraurant on the second floor, somebody somewhere is talking sports.

Everyone is careful to be discreet when unfamiliar ears are nearby. Much of Soviet sport seems to be based on creating a little authority and a lot of uncertainty, with producing banal pamphlets like the "Answer Book on Soviet Sport" that includes:

"The U.S.S.R. today has 3,282 large stadiums with a total seating capacity of more than 11,400,000, over 66,000 gymnasiums, 1,435 swimming pools, 19,000 shooting ranges, 6,600 ski centers, 100,000 football (soccer) fields. Spearheading the sports movement are about 300,000 certified professional coaches and more than 6 million voluntary coaches . . .

"Every Soviet citizen who would like to take up a particular sport pays a purely token sum as an admission fee and the same sum as annual dues for membership of one of the voluntary sports societies. For example, let us look at the activities of the Izhstal Sports Club at the steel mill in Izhevsk, capital of the Udmurt Autonomous Republic.

"In only one year, the mill spent 1,099 rubles (about $1,500) so that the family of an engineer, Anatoly Vasyak, with his wife, son and daughter, could participate in physical training and sports. But just over one ruble was what the Vasyak family contributed to this."

There are chances for competition and exercise in every sport imaginable that is relatively inexpensive.Even backpacking and hiking are considered sports, with timed events over special trails.

"We've got to give the Communist credit," said a non-Soviet sportsman. "They really do provide good facilities for young people. Of course, there's a price to pay, the pressures on the athletes and almost no flexibility.

"We're a wee bit unfair. It's not as bad as sometimes we say. I know this sounds pro-communist. But its nothing like that. I'm right wing, in fact, not left wing. But one has to be fair about this."

Being fair, the drive through the 450-acre Luzhniki Sport Center is grand, with its tree-lined paths, the Moscow Rivr on the right and Moscow University rising majestically beyond it.

"I used to skate right here," said the host, Volodya Malykh, consulting-editor for the government-controlled Novosti Press Agency. "All of this (the parking area surrounding Lenin Stadium) would freeze over and we'd skate for hours.

"I'd take my bike (he was a Master of Sport in cycling) and go off for two or three hours at a time. We have special area for just the sportsmen, but more than enough for everyone. But cycling has been reduced in Moscow the last 10 or 12 years. More cars. The traffic is heavy."

The car left Luzhniki and began winding up through the Lenin Hills, which is a part park and part recreation area. Lovers could be seen nuzzling next to each other on benches. A woman guided her young daughter on roller skates down a paved road.

A hard right led to a small dirt patch that wound several hundred yards to an open space of perhaps 50 yards between two stands of trees. It was completely bare ground, but serious soccer was being played

Serious soccer the Soviets will not praise in their booklets, for here were players in their 20s, just off from work, who had called one another and then walked and taken the subway for miles to play this pickup game.

Shirts and skins. The universal uniform. A large thermos sat nearby. There were no nets on the goals, just the pipe skeletons. Out of bounds on each side were the trees.

It was primitive, yet compelling. I had heard nothing but the glory of Soviet sport. Now I had seen its soul.