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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 changes in the sport 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 greatly reduced the opportunities to play and types of activity allowed
  • After the restoration in 1660, traditional activities were revived
  • Sport moved away from its link with merrymaking

Hanoverian period (1714 - 1790)

  • Play and sport were largely ignored by the government
  • 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 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 sport became increasingly separated
  • Working class sport in school was limited largely 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 a 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 sports people had a long battle to be given fair rewards
  • Television coverage increased in importance for sport and the sponsors
  • The definition of amateurism for competition was replaced by the concept of eligibility
  • Central government involvement in sport has always been fragmentary
  • There has been a long-standing underfunding of sport by 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

Related References

The following references provide additional information on this topic:

  • HOLT, R. (1989) Sport and the British. A modern history. Clarendon Press.
  • MECHIKOFF, R. A. (2006) A history and philosophy of sport and physical education: From ancient civilizations to the modern world
  • GUTTMANN, A. (1994) Games and empires: modern sports and cultural imperialism. Columbia University Press

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

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