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History of Sport & Games

Sporting events and changes are influenced by the current economic, social and political situations. In sociology, we have the following approaches to the study of sport - Functionalism, Marxism, Social action and Interactionism. Each has a different view on society, the place of sport in society, and the sport changes over time.

Medieval period (1200 - 1485)

  • People had little time or energy for recreational activities
  • Leisure time activities were confined to feast days
  • Games were local, each village having its traditional activities
  • From time to time, the government would ban these traditional activities in favour of archery training

Tudor and Stuart period (1485 - 1714)

  • Traditional folk games and activities flourished in Tudor times
  • Puritanism significantly reduced the opportunities to play and the types of activities allowed
  • After the restoration in 1660, traditional activities were revived
  • Sport moved away from its link with merrymaking

Hanoverian period (1714 - 1790)

  • Each has a different view on society, the place of sport in society, and the sport changes over time.
  • People of all classes enjoyed their leisure to the full
  • Increasing industrialisation demanded regular working patterns
  • There was some pressure for Sunday to be a day of rest
  • Large gatherings for sport often meant social disorder
  • Regular, organised, rule-governed sport on a national scale emerged

Changing times (1790 -1830)

  • Traditional sport was under attack from all sides
  • Factory owners wanted a regular working week
  • Property owners feared the damage caused by large crowds
  • Churches criticised idleness, drunkenness and slack morality
  • Commercialisation of sport developed, especially in horse racing, cricket and prize fighting

Victorian Sport (1830 - 1901)

  • Sport developed in the context of industrial capitalism and class inequality
  • Sport became linked to a moral code defined by the middle classes:
    • it was accepted that sport developed character and morality
    • competition had to be fair and rule-governed with similar conditions for all players
    • sport was to be played, not for reward, but for its own sake
  • Nationwide sport developed through the influence of technology, the public schools and the national governing bodies
  • For the masses, Saturday afternoon free from work was the turning point, enabling them to play and spectate
  • Amateur and professional sports became increasingly separated
  • Working-class sport in school was mainly limited to drill and therapeutic gymnastics

Edwardian Sport (1901 - 1918)

  • Organised sporting involvement expanded rapidly across all classes
  • Increasingly, the different classes played their sport separately
  • Public school athleticism still dominated sport
  • Male working-class influence increased, notably in football in England and rugby in Wales. However, working-class women were largely excluded from sporting involvement
  • Commercialisation of sport continued with large numbers of spectators and increased numbers of professionals in major sports
  • Sport was increasingly a matter of national concern

Between the world wars (1918 - 1940)

  • Steady growth in sports participation continued for all classes of society, although working-class were least 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 activity
  • Lack of facilities became an issue, particularly when national teams failed
  • There was little government involvement in sport, apart from physical education in schools
  • School physical education moved from therapeutic exercises to creative physical training
  • Commercialisation of sport expanded rapidly, especially the provision for spectator sport
  • Sport, as a part of national culture, now extended to the majority of the population

British Sport (1940 - Today)

  • An improved standard of living enabled greater participation in sport for most social groups
  • Amateur administrators only reluctantly allowed commercial forces to enter the world of sport
  • Professional sportspeople had a long battle to be given fair rewards
  • Television coverage increased in importance for sport and the sponsors
  • The concept of eligibility replaced the definition of amateurism for competition
  • Central government involvement in sport has always been fragmentary
  • There has been a long-standing underfunding of sport by the central government
  • An advisory Sports Council was established in 1965 and the independent executive Sports Council in 1972
  • Physical education was established in the 1944 Act for its educational value
  • The movement approach conflicted with traditional games teaching
  • Physical education moved away from educational values towards physical recreation and more recently towards health-related fitness
  • Various academic qualifications in physical education stimulated scrutiny of the subject (for example, BEd, CSE, GCSE, A-Level)
  • Physical education is now established in the national curriculum as a foundation subject
  • There has been an increasing influence of market forces on schools, physical education, sports facilities and sport

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2004) History of Sport and Games [WWW] Available from: [Accessed