History of Sports

The Olympic Games

In Ancient Greece athletic competitions were held during religious festivals in every Greek city. However the Olympic Games began in Olympia in 776 BC in honour of Zeus, the chief god and people came from all over Greece and the Greek colonies to take part in them. Wars stopped to allow everyone to take part.

Athletes competed in boxing, wrestling, running, horseracing, chariot racing and the pentathlon (five athletic events). Winners were not given medals. Instead they were given a crown of leaves.

Women were not allowed to take part in the games. They were not even allowed to watch. (If they were caught watching they were executed by being thrown off a cliff).

16th Century and 17th Century Sports

Although the days of armoured knights were over the rich still enjoyed tournaments. The contestants dressed in armour and rode horses.

The rich also enjoyed hunting. They went hunting deer with bows and arrows. After it was killed the deer was eaten. The rich also went hawking and falcons were trained to kill other birds. However in Tudor times rich people did not hunt foxes.

In the 17th century traditional games like bowls continued. So did games like tennis and shuttlecock.

18th Century Sports

In the 18th century people continued to play tennis and a rough version of football.

Horse racing was carried on for centuries before the 18th century but at this time it became a professional sport. The Jockey Club was formed in 1727.

Moreover a kind of cricket was played long before the 18th century but at that time it took on its modern form. The first cricket club was formed at Hambledon in Hampshire about 1750.

Boxing without gloves was also popular (although some boxers began to wear leather gloves in the 18th century).

Egyptian Sports

In Ancient Egypt men and women went swimming.

Men also enjoyed boxing, wrestling and archery.

They also played a game which involved standing on a boat and trying to knock the opposing team into the water with a stick.


In Rome and other major cities in the Roman Empire gladiators were men (or sometimes women) who fought, sometimes to the death to provide entertainment.

The first gladiators fought in 264 BC at a funeral. Six gladiators fought to entertain the guests. The word gladiator means a man who fights with a gladius (a short sword) and the word for a gladiatorial fight was a munus, which means a duty owed to the dead.

At first gladiators were slaves but later some were criminals who were sentenced to be fight for a set period of time or a set number of games. Surprisingly some people volunteered to be gladiators. Again they fought for a set period of time or number of games and were given a large sum of money if they survived.

Sports in the Middle Ages

Life in Anglo-Saxon times was hard and rough. Games for the poor must have been cheap like wrestling, running races and playing dice.

Knights also took part in tournaments. These events drew large crowds of spectators. At them knights fought with wooden lances, swords or maces.

Golf is believed to be a corruption of a Dutch word 'kolve', which meant club. The Dutch played games with clubs in the Middle Ages but golf developed in Scotland in the 15th century. Meanwhile the first recorded bowling green was laid out in Southampton in the 13th century.

People also enjoyed cruel 'sports' like cockfighting and bear baiting. (A bear was chained to a post and dogs were trained to attack it).

19th Century Sports

During the 19th century sports became organised. The London Football Association devised the rules of football in 1863. The first international match was held between England and Scotland in 1872. Meanwhile Australian rules football was invented in 1858.

William Webb Ellis is supposed to have invented Rugby at Rugby school in 1823 when he picked up a football and ran with it.

Snooker was invented in India in 1875.

Softball was invented in 1887 and Basketball was invented in 1891 by James Naismith.

Volleyball was invented in 1895 by William Morgan.

Netball also originated in 1895.

People have played games with mallets and hoops for centuries but modern croquet began in the 19th century

At the end of the 19th century bicycling became a popular sport. The safety bicycle went on sale in 1885 and in 1892 John Boyd Dunlop invented pneumatic tyres

Then in 1896 the Olympic Games were revived. Wrestling, which had been a popular sport for thousands of years became an Olympic sport in 1904 and the first Olympic Winter Sports were held in 1924

The first Tour de France was held in 1903.

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