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Be A Sport!

As the world congregates in London this month for the 30th Olympiad, we pay homage to sports, the history and the origins of some of the most popular games around the world.

Words: Efi Hafizah Hamzah  Images: Inmagine

Over 300 countries with more than 11,000 athletes will congregate in London to compete in the world’s most prestigious sporting event this month – the Olympics. There will be 39 disciplines categorised under 26 sports held at The Smoke, a nickname that London earned in the late Victorian era when the ‘range’ cooker was invented and widely installed in the city homes. But, with the domestic help not knowing how to operate it, they’d leave the fire on maximum heat, causing smoke to cover the city skyline. However, it will be the track and fi eld infrastructure that’s been built to house the Olympic Park, and various other venues in London that will be smokin’ hot this month.

     From time immemorial to the present day, nothing unites a nation like sports. It transcends countries, ethnicity, language, colour and creed and, its impact far outweighs any economic crises or human discord. Be it competitive or friendly, group or solo, participatory or spectator, no other human activity brings the masses together in a celebration of determination, willpower and perseverance quite like sports.

Evolution of Sports in Great Britain


  • Puritanism greatly reduced the opportunities to play games.
  • After the restoration of King Charles II in 1660, traditional activities were revived.
  • Traditional folk games and activities flourished in Tudor times.


  • Sports were largely ignored by the government but the people continued enjoying these pastime activities.
  • Increase in industrialisation demanded regular working patterns, and protests were made to keep Sunday a rest day.
  • Large gatherings for sport meant social disorder at the time.
  • Introduction of organised, rule-governed sport on a national scale emerged.


  • Traditional sport was lambasted as factory owners wanted longer working hours.
  • Property owners feared the damage caused by large crowds at sporting events.
  • Churches criticised idleness, drunkenness and lack of morality at sporting events.
  • Commercialisation of sports began, especially in horse racing, cricket and prize fighting (boxing).


  • Sport developed in the context of industrial capitalism and class inequality.
  • Sport became linked to a moral code defined by the middle classes – useful for character development and morality.
  • Rules for competitive sports became more established.
  • Sports were to be played, not for reward, but for its own sake.


  • Organised sporting involvement expanded rapidly across all classes, but the classes played their sports separately.
  • Public school athleticism still dominated sports.
  • Male working class influence increased, notably in football in England and rugby in Wales, but working class women were largely excluded.
  • Commercialisation of sports continued with large numbers of spectators and increased numbers of professionals in major sports.
  • Sports became a matter of national interest.


  • Steady growth in sports continued for all social classes, but the working class were less involved.
  • Most sports were still class orientated.
  • Football (in all its versions) continued to increase in popularity and by the 1930s, was the most popular sporting event.
  • There was little government involvement in sport, apart from physical education in schools.
  • Commercialisation of sport expanded rapidly, and became a national culture, now extended to the majority of the population.


  • An improved standard of living enabled greater participation in sport for most social groups
  • Television coverage increased the importance for sport and sponsors.
  • The defi nition of amateurism for competition was replaced by the concept of eligibility.
  • Physical education is established in the national curriculum as a foundation subject.

Source: Mackenzie, B. (2004), History of Sport and Games

Origins of some popular games


Originally called poona, as it was named after the city of Poona in South-east Mumbai, the game dates back to 18th century India. British military officers stationed there brought it over to England but the English were reluctant to play a racquet game called poona. The Duke of Beaufort who brought the game to the UK decided to call it badminton after his Badminton estate in Gloucestershire. The first game was played at his estate in 1873.


The first formal rules were devised in 1892 by Dr James Naismith. First played with a soccer ball, the players dribbled the ball in a court and scored by throwing the ball into a peach basket. Iron hoops with a netting basket like a hammock were introduced in 1893. Only a decade later the netting basket was made without a bottom, prior to which players used a stick to poke the ball out of the hoop after each score.


The modern baseball field was created by Alexander Cartwright in 1845. He met with members of the New York Knickerbocker Base Ball Club and devised the first rules and regulations that were accepted for the modern game of baseball


The first recorded cricket match was played in Kent in 1646. By the late 1600s, fines were actually handed out for those who missed church to play cricket. In 1706, William Goldwyn published the first description of the game, where two teams were depicted carrying their bats to choose a pitching place and arguing over the rules. The rules were formally established in 1744.The cricket bat we see today was invented around 1853.


On a roof slab of a burial vault south of Naples, Italy, lies a painting of a young man diving from a narrow platform. The discovery of this Tomba Del Tuffatore (The Tomb of the Diver) indicates that the excitement and grace of diving from high places into water have lured people from at least 480 BC. Modern diving can be traced back to two places – Germany and Sweden. It was a traditional speciality of the guild of salt boilers, called Halloren, to practise certain swimming and diving skills on a bridge over River Saale. In association with the German gymnastics movement, the world’s first diving association was formed in 1840.


The Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Ancient Greeks, Persian, Vikings and many more played the ball game long before the FA Cup. The Chinese played it as far back as 3,000 years ago and the Greeks and Romans used football games to train their legions for battle. But it was in England that football really took shape. In 1863, the first Football Association was founded in England; 11 London clubs and schools sent representatives to the Freemason’s Tavern in London to discuss and establish rules and regulations. Eight years later, the Football Association had 50 members and the first football match was held – the FA Cup, preceding the League Championships by 17 years. The first international match was held the following year in 1872 in Great Britain – England vs Scotland.


This sport originated from the coast of Scotland in the 15th century, where golfers would hit a pebble around sand dunes using a wooden stick shaped like a club. Only after 1750 did golf evolve into the sport that you see today. In 1774, Edinburgh golfers wrote the first standardised rules for the game.


Gymnastics predates the ancient Olympics where acrobats used to entertain Egyptian nobility some 7,000 years ago. The Chinese, 2,000 years before the ancient Olympics, practised ritual mass gymnastic exercises as part of the art of Wushu. The term ‘gymnastics’ is derived from the Greek word for ‘naked’ or gymnos, as male athletes trained and competed in the nude then. Modern gymnastics surfaced with Johann Friedrich GutsMuths from Germany in the 1800s as part of his plan to develop an exercise programme to improve balance and flexibility through muscle strength.


Earliest evidence of this game dates back to the 15th century Melaka Sultanate of the Malay Peninsula. Mentioned in the Malay historical text, Sejarah Melayu, there is a description of an incident where Sultan Mansur Shah’s son, Raja Muhammad, was accidentally hit with a rattan ball by the son of Tun Perak, in a game that was called sepak raga. The presence of the game in Thailand can be seen in the murals at Wat Phra Kaeo, built in 1785, depicting the Hindu god Hanuman playing the game in a ring with a troop of monkeys. In Thai language, it is called takraw, meaning ‘twine-kick’, as the ball was made of rattan twines. The game became popular throughout the Southeast Asia and in the 1940s, rules were established and the game became officially known as sepak takraw.


Competitive swimming was first introduced in the early 1800s in Britain by the National Swimming Society. The swimming contest became popular in England and led to the formation of the Amateur Swimming Association in 1880. The swimming strokes used at the time were the side stroke and breast stroke. In 1873, John Trudgen introduced the front crawl, which is known as the ‘freestyle’.

The Start of Sports

Early history of sports often involved the preparation and training for war or hunting, hence the inclusion of javelin and discus throwing, shot putting and boxing. Formal sporting events were eventually introduced in ancient Greece when the first Olympic Games was held in 776 B.C., which featured boxing, javelin and discus throwing, running, equestrian races, wrestling, jumping, pankration (combination of boxing and wrestling), and pentathlon (combination of five events – discus, javelin, long jump, running and wrestling).

Sports Crazed Citizens

SOCCER/FOOTBALL: Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, South Korea

BADMINTON: Malaysia, Indonesia

SEPAK TAKRAW: Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia

BASKETBALL: Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, China

BASEBALL: Japan, China, South Korea

CRICKET: India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand

RUGBY: Australia, New Zealand

WATER SPORTS: Thailand, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand.

5 Fascinating Facts on the London Olympic Games 2012

7.7 million London 2012 Olympic Games tickets will be made available for spectators.

2,000 newts (yes, the lizards), have been relocated from the Olympic Park site to the Waterworks Nature Reserve.

800,000 people are expected to use public transport to travel to the Games on its busiest day.

200 kilometres is the total length of cabling done for the underground power lines. That’s the distance from London to Nottingham.

260,000 is the approximate number of loaves of bread expected to be consumed at the London Olympic Games 2012.

What sporting event do you think should be included in the Olympics and why? Share with us your suggestions at www.facebook.com/travel3sixty