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History Of Sport In the United Kingdom

Updated on October 1, 2009

Medieval Football

A game played between two towns, the base for the modern football game.
A game played between two towns, the base for the modern football game.

In the Medieval period (1200 – 1485) people had little time or energy for recreational activities due to the enormous amounts of hard graft that they had to put in to sustain themselves and their families. Therefore leisure activities were very looked forward to occasions which were originally confined to feast days and special celebrations. Each village would have their own particular activities for the feasts, but the government in these days would ban certain activities in favour of archery training which they encouraged for battles.

During the Tudor and Stuart period (1485 - 1714) games and activities flourished, but Puritanism greatly reduced the opportunities to play and the types of activity allowed. After the restoration in 1660, traditional activities were revived and sport moved away from its former links with merrymaking and lawlessness.

The Hanoverian period (1714 - 1790) was an era when play and sport were largely ignored by the government, so people of all classes were able to enjoy their leisure time to the full without fear of recrimination. While industrialisation demanded regular working patterns, there was a certain amount of pressure to have Sunday kept as a day of rest, which meant that this is when sport and leisure activities were predominantly played. However large gatherings often meant that there was a lot of social disorder, so regular, organised, rule-governed sport on a national scale began to emerge at this time.

From 1790 -1830 traditional sport undertook a bit of a bashing – factory owners wanted a regular working week and property owners feared the damage caused by the large crowds attracted to play and watch sports. Churches criticised sport and claimed that it bred idleness and drunkenness. However commercialisation of sport developed with horse racing, cricket and prize fighting being the main targets.

During the Victorian era (1830 – 1901) sport developed in the context of industrial capitalism and class inequality. The middle classes decided that sport developed character and morality, but competition had to be fair and rule-governed with similar conditions for all players. Working class sport in schools was largely limited to gymnastics. It was also believed that sport should be played, not for reward, but for its own sake. National governing bodies and public schooling provided a gateway for sport to develop nationally, and having Saturday free from work, meant that the majority of people could now play and watch sporting activities. Sport became more serious in that amateur and professional sport became increasingly separated.

Organised sporting involvement expanded rapidly across all classes during the Edwardian era (1901 – 1918) but more and more the different classes played their sport separately. Public sport athleticism still dominated sport and 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.

Old Rugby Football game
Old Rugby Football game

Modern Sports History

In the period between the world wars (1918 - 1940) steady growth in sports participation continued for all classes of society, although the working class were least involved. Football continued to increase in popularity and by the 1930s, was the most popular sporting activity by far. Lack of facilities became an issue, particularly when national teams failed and there was little government involvement in sport, apart from physical education in schools. Commercialisation of sport expanded rapidly and sport, as a part of a national culture, now extended to the majority of the population.

Modern day sport (1940 – the present day) has seen an improved standard of living has enabled greater participation in sport for most social groups. Television coverage increased in importance for sport and the sponsors and an advisory Sports Council was established in 1965, and an executive Sports Council in 1972. Physical Education moved away from ‘education’ and focused more on physical recreation and health-related fitness.


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    • tectonic profile image

      tectonic 7 years ago from Singapore

      Handy information you have provided . Will check out your other hubs

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      john 8 years ago

      this is class !!!!!!!!!!!!