History of sport
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History of sport is probably as old as the existence of people as purposive beings. Sport has been a useful way for people to increase their mastery of nature and the environment. The history of sport can teach us a great deal about social changes and about the nature of sport itself. Sport seems to involve basic human skills being developed and exercised for their own sake, in parallel with being exercised for their usefulness. Of course, as we go further back in history the dwindling evidence makes this more difficult to support.
Some discoveries source date from over 30,000 years ago, as established by carbon dating. These modern discoveries are from France, Africa, and Australia in the form of prehistoric cave art which provide evidence of ritual ceremonial archery. The art itself is an example of interest in skills unrelated to the functional tasks of staying alive, and is itself evidence of there being leisure time available. It depicts other non-functional activities such as ritual etc. Therefore, although there is scant direct evidence of sport from these sources, it is reasonable to extrapolate that there was some activity at these times resembling sport.
Captain Cook, when he first visited the Hawaiian Islands, in 1778, reported on the native people surfing. The native American Indians engaged in games and sports before the coming of Europeans, such as lacrosse type ball games, running, and other athletic activities. The ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations played serious ballgames. The courts used at that time are still used today. It is reasonable to assume from these and other historical sources that sport has origins which lie in the beginnings of mankind itself.
Individual sports, such as wrestling and archery, have been practiced worldwide since ancient times. Sport has been increasingly organized and regulated from the time of the Ancient Olympics up to the present century. Activities necessary for food and survival became regulated activities done for pleasure or competition on an increasing scale.
There are artifacts and structures which suggest that Chinese people engaged in activities which meet our definition of sport as early as 4000 years BCE. The origin and development of China's sports activities seem to have been closely related to the production, work, war and entertainment of the time. Gymnastics appears to have been a popular sport in China's past. It certainly remains so today, as the skill of Chinese acrobats is internationally recognized. China has a Beijing Museum which is dedicated to the subject of Chinese sport and its history. (See Chinese Sports Museum)
Monuments to the Pharoah indicates that a range of sports were well developed and regulated several thousands of years ago, including swimming and fishing. This is not surprising perhaps given the importance of the Nile in the life of Egypt. Other sports included javelin throwing, high jump and wrestling. Again, the nature of the sports popular at the time suggests close correspondence with everyday non-sporting activities.
A wide range of sports were already in operation at the time of the ancient Greeks. Wrestling, running, boxing, javelin and discus throwing, and chariot racing were prevalent. This suggests that the military culture of Greece was an influence on the development of its sports. Sporting competitions are described in the Iliad, one of the most important books of ancient Greek culture. Various competitions were held in honor of Patroclus's death. The Olympic Games were held every four years in Ancient Greece. In the noble Grecian ideal, victory at the Games was much sought after and was rewarded with an olive branch. Winner of games often received with much honour throughout Greece and, especially in his home town, he was often granted large sums of money.
The games were held not simply as a sporting event, but as a celebration of individual excellence, cultural and artistic variety, and a showplace for architectural and sculptural innovation. Fundamentally, it was a time of gratitude and respect for the Gods of the Greek religion. The games are named after Mount Olympus, a sacred place where the Gods were said to live. A time of truce was declared during the Olympic Games, as military actions and public executions were suspended. This was to enable people to congregate peacefully and to compete in a civilized and respectful atmosphere.
There were four types of Roman sports: ludi (chariot racing, equestrian sports, boxing), munera (gladiatorial sports and wild beast shows, which they believed to have been imposed on them by Etruscan kings), Greek-style athletics (foot race, pentathlon), and recreation sports which were (apparently) not professional, such as ludi pilae (ball games).
Origins of modern sports in Medieval Europe
Many modern sports can trace their roots back to the local games of the rural working class. Games such as the Shrovetide football matches across much of Europe, Caid in Ireland and Hurling in Cornwall often had few rules and were violent and chaotic in comparison with their modern counterparts. Prizefighting also emerged in 17th century England, with the first rules (the London Prize Ring rules) established in 1743.
In contrast, the game of Calcio Fiorentino, in Florence, Italy, was originally reserved for the aristocracy. The aristocracy would also favour sports as patrons. Horse racing, in particular, was a favourite of the upper class in Great Britain, with Queen Anne founding the Ascot Racecourse.
Development of modern sport
A number of the English Public Schools, such as Winchester and Eton, introduced sports for their pupils, particularly variants of football. These were described at the time as "innocent and lawful", certainly in comparison with the rural games.
With the coming of the Industrial Revolution and the movement of the populace from the country to the cities, the rural games moved to the new urban centres and came under the influence of the middle and upper classes. The rules and regulations devised at English public schools began to be applied to the wider game, with governing bodies in England being set up for a number of sports by the end of the 19th century. The rising influence of the upper class also produced an emphasis of the amateur, and the spirit of 'fair play'.
The industrial revolution also brought with it increasing mobility, and created the opportunity for English public schools, and universities in Britain and elsewhere, to compete with each other. This sparked increasing attempts to unify and reconcile various public school games in England, leading to the establishment of the Football Association in London, the first official governing body in football.
The influence of British sports and their codified rules began to spread across the world in the late 19th and early 20th century, particularly association football. A number of major teams elsewhere in the world still show these British origins in their names, such as AC Milan in Italy, Corinthians in Brazil. Cricket became popular in a number of the nations of the then British Empire, such as Australia, South Africa and India. The revival of the Olympic Games by Baroun Coubertin were also heavily influenced by the Amateur ethos of the English public schools.
In the United States, baseball became established in the urban north-east, with the first rules being codified in the 1840s, while American football where very popular in the south-east. With baseball spreading to the south, and American football spreading to the north after the Civil War. In the 1870s the game split between the professionals and amateurs; the professional game rapidly gained dominance, and also marked a shift in the focus from the player to the club. The rise of baseball also helped squeeze out other sports such as Cricket, which had been popular in Philadelphia prior to the rise of Baseball. American football also has its origins in the English variants of the game, with the first set of intercollegiate football rules based directly on the rules of the Football Association in London. However, Harvard chose to play a game based on the rules of Rugby Union. This variant would then be heavily modified by Walter Camp in the 1880s, with the modifications also heavily influencing the rules of Canadian football.
Some historians – notably Bernard Lewis – claim that team sports are primarily an invention of Western cultures. The traditional teams sports, according to these authors, springs from Europe, primarily England. This ignores some of the ancient games of cooperation from Central America and the Indian subcontinent. The Industrial Revolution and mass production brought increased leisure which allowed increases in spectator sports, less elitism in sports, and greater accessibility. With the advent of mass media and global communication, professionalism became prevalent in sports. This further sports popularity in general. Perhaps in a reaction to the demands of contemporary life, there have been developments in sport which are best described as post-modern: extreme ironing being a notable example. There is also a move towards adventure sports as a form of escaping or transcending the routines of life, examples being white water rafting, paragliding, canyoning, BASE jumping, Parkour and more genteelly, orienteering.
Women's sport history
For many years, few women competed in sports; it was often frowned upon by society. At least in the United States, that changed mainly in the 20th century, although women's participation as fans or athletes is generally less than men's. The change is at least partly related to the drive for more women's rights. But as sports began to get popular amongs women, many women were shunned and told that it was a man's sport. Many women struggled to get noticed for playing sports and this causes the Title IX Act in 1972 to emerge. It prevented gender discrimination and equal opportunity for women to participate in sports at all levels.
- Nationalism and sport
- J. A. Mangan (1996). Militarism, Sport, Europe: War Without Weapons. Routledge.
Roman ball games