The History of Sport

According to the history books, sport dates back to thousands of years ago. It was used as a way of training for war or hunting, which is why a lot of sports involved wrestling and throwing items such as stones and spears.

Ancient Greece created the Olympic Games in 776 BC and introduced professional sports to the world with events such as chariot racing, javelin throwing, discus and wrestling. 

Ancient Greek Olympics

Photo by ALEXANDRE LALLEMAND on Unsplash

Take a look at the evolution of some sports we know and love today.

Below is a timeline of some of the most well-known athletic sports including when and where they began.


The history books tell stories of people having fun kicking a ball around for thousands of years, although, many of those games would not be identifiable as what we know as football today. The history of football can be split into two categories: contemporary and classical.


Ancient Rome - 500 BC

Harpastum - Ancient Roman Ballgame

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Ancient Romans created their own sport called Harpastum which was played on a rectangular field marked with boundaries and centre lines. The goal was for teams to try and get the ball across the boundary line and into the opponent's half of the pitch. The Roman’s then brought this game to Britain, although it is unlikely it had any influence on current football.

China - 300 BC

Ancient chinese ballgame like football
Su Hanchen, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Cuju was the name of the first known ball game that involved kicking and began in 300 BC in China. It consisted of kicking a small round ball into a net, which was 30 feet in the air and hung between two bamboo poles. The rules included not being able to touch the ball with your hands, but using your feet and other body parts was permitted. The ball was crafted from stitched leather with fur played on a square area.

Ancient Greece - 4th Century

ancient greece football game
National Archaeological Museum of Athens, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Ancient Greece created a game called Episkyros which involved two teams of 12-14 players who would compete against each other using their feet and hands to pass the ball around. The ball was crafted from leather and filled with hair, as filling a ball with air was not introduced until the 7th century.

Italy - 15th Century

Calcio storico fiorentino - Early form of football

Stradanus, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Calcio storico fiorentino originated in Italy in the middle ages and was thought to have begun in the Piazza Santa Croce in Florence. The game is played on sand with a central line dividing the pitch and has a goal at each end of the pitch. Once the game starts, there’ll be a first whistle as the ball first rests on the field, 15 players then begin fighting and wrestling each other in an attempt to pin and force as many players as possible into submission. When there are a enough players down, the other players grab the ball and head to the goal. The violence in the match has resulted in severe injuries and deaths.


Scotland - Early 19th Century

scottish football history

William Ralston (1848-1911), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

According to historian and founder of the Scottish Football Museum, Ged O’Brien, Scottish people may have been playing football for hundreds of years. Some North Scottish people played it in churchyards and then brought it to Glasgow when they founded the Queen’s Park Football Club in the 1860s. A few years later in 1873, the Scottish Football Association was founded.

England - 1863

During the medieval times, the aim of the game was to get the ball to a certain area by kicking and carrying it across the field, resulting in a point being scored. When association football and Rugby football separated, the first official governing body for sport was created, known as the Football Association. Football as we know it today arose in 1863.

The formation of the FA Cup 1863

Spudgun67, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There are plenty of theories as to where football originated from, so after reading through the history of football we want to know what you think! Let us know your opinion and vote for the place where you think football began.

Other Sports History

Tug-of-War - As early as 2500 BC

Two people playing tug-a-war with their heads in the former part of the third scroll of Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Tug-of-war contests date back thousands of years and originates from cults and ancient ceremonies all over the globe. For example, in Korea children would hold each other's waists to create a human tug-of-war chain and in Afghanistan, people used a wooden stick instead of a rope.  In 12th century Japan, people would loop ropes over their heads and push their feet together (see image above).

Tug-of-war was practiced by athletes as a professional sport as well as a training exercise for other sports and was introduced in the ancient Olympic Games in 500 BC.

Fun fact: An Egyptian wall engraving from around 2500 BC depicts the oldest known tug-of-war contest.

Golf - 15th Century

Origins of golf
Source: Alamy Stock

Originating from a game played in the eastern coast of Scotland, players would attempt to hit a pebble over sand dunes and around tracks using a bent stick or club. In 1502, golf gained the royal seal of approval by King James IV of Scotland who became the world's first golfing monarch.

Fun fact: King James II banned golf in 1457 due to the nation's love for golf making them neglect their military training.

Baseball - 18th Century

Cricket - Origins of early baseball

British Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Although people have used bats to hit balls since ancient Egypt, baseball was invented from the idea of rounders and cricket in the 18th century. By the American Revolution, people were playing variations of baseball and the first baseball team began in 1845.

Fun Fact: Baseball was an Olympic sport from 1992 to 2008.

Rounders - 1744

Origins of Rounders

Shale, John F., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

It is believed rounders originated from a game called stoolball, a game played on a field with markings using a bat and ball. The first mention of the game rounders was in “A Little Pretty Pocketbook” in 1744 but was named baseball. References to baseball were known in England before the term rounders, however it is said that rounders existed before baseball. The rounders rules were introduced in 1844 in Ireland and in 1943 the National Rounders Association was created.

Fun fact: Today rounders is a very popular sport and is played by 2,000,000 school children in the United Kingdom.

Rugby - 1823

The History of Sports - Rugby
Source: Alamy Stock Photo
Rugby originated in Warwickshire, England in 1823 when William Webb Ellis picked the ball up and started running with it during a game of football. In 1863, the rules of the game were set and then the Rugby Football Union was established in 1871.

Fun Fact: Rugby was recognised as an amateur sport by the IRB (official governing body) until 1995 when it became a professional sport.

Basketball - 1891

Basketball james naismith
Source: Wikipedia - History of Basketball

Basketball was created by James Naismith, a physical education instructor at the International Young Men’s Association School in Massachusetts. He used a football as the ball and two half-bushel peach baskets as the hoops, which is what gave the sport its name. He thought of the idea as a way for students to keep fit indoors during Winter.

Fun Fact: Dribbling wasn't known in Basketball until 1897. Before then, players had to throw the ball from wherever they caught it. Dribbling was invented by players at Yale and became official in Basketball 1901.

Extinct Sports

Now you know the story behind some of the most popular sports still played today, let's take a look at the history of those that are no longer played.

Chariot Racing - 700 BC

Roman Chariot Race in the circus. Mosaic - Paradas, Andalusia, Spain. 3rd-4th cent. Archaeological Museum of Seville.

Source: Alamy - Roman chariot race in the circus - Paradas, Andalusia, Spain. 3rd-4th century. Archaeological Museum of Seville. Spain.

Chariot races were held in a specially built arena with posts marking the turning points and was a race between small, two-wheeled vehicles pulled by 2 or 4 horse teams. This game was prominent in the Olympic games and the main event of the Roman public games at the Circus Maximus. 

Fun fact: The racing chariots were light and easily smashed in a collision. This led to the driver being entangled in the reins and dragged to death or seriously injured.

Pankration - 648 BC

Pankration Statue depicting 2 fighters

MatthiasKabel, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Pankration was introduced as a sport in the Olympic Games in 648 BC and was a demonstration of strength by combining boxing and wrestling. Players would fight naked and biting and gouging the nose, eyes or mouth were the only things forbidden in this game. It was played in two ways: upright pankration and ground pankration. An upright game involved competing to get your opponent to touch the ground three times. A ground game involved fighting until death or until an opponent admitted defeat.
Fun fact: In Greek mythology it was said that the heroes Heracles and Theseus invented pankration as a result of using both wrestling and boxing in their confrontations with opponents.

Jousting - 1066

jousting 1066
Source: Wikipedia - Jousting

Jousting began in the 10th century and was a large part of the European medieval tournament. However, it became less popular and eventually fell out of fashion by the end of the Middle Ages. Knights would compete against each other in a designated area known as the lists and ride towards each other with blunted wooden lances. A metal suit of armour and helmet would also be worn for protection.
Fun fact: Some people used jousting tournaments as a cover for murder.

Jeu de Paume - 17th Century

Jeu De Paume Sport

ImageSource: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Jeu de paume (translating to ‘palm game’ in English) was a ball game played on a court without rackets. In years to come it would develop into tennis. Players would hit the ball with their bare hands, but would eventually go on to wear gloves to protect their hands. It became an Olympic sport in 1908.
Fun fact: Since 1740, jeu de paume has been the subject of an amateur world championship. It is the oldest active trophy in international sport.
These are only a few popular athletic sports we have briefly touched on and there are plenty more different types of sports to delve into. The history of sports is a large topic (there are more events we could mention including softball, cricket, hockey and Winter sports - to only name a few) and it would take a very large history book to cover every single sport.

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