A STARTING STATEMENT.
Sports are physical activities that involve challenges and objectives, and they have been a part of various cultures throughout history. However, each culture has its own understanding of what constitutes a sport. To clearly define sports, it is helpful to differentiate them from play, games, and contests. According to Carl Diem, a German theorist, play is an activity that is done for its own sake and without a specific purpose, unlike work, which is done out of necessity. Play is characterized by having its own goals and being voluntary. Therefore, children who are forced to participate in a football game by their parents or teachers are not truly engaged in a sport. Similarly, professional athletes who are motivated solely by their salary are also not playing a sport. In practice, people’s motivations for participating in sports are often complex and challenging to discern. Nonetheless, having a clear definition of sports is crucial in making practical judgments about what constitutes play.
THE STUDY OF PAST EVENTS AND THEIR SIGNIFICANCE IS KNOWN AS “HISTORY”.
The origins of sports are shrouded in uncertainty. While it is evident that children have always incorporated sports into their play, the emergence of sports as autonomous physical competitions for adults remains a matter of speculation. Prehistoric art depicts hunters, but it is unclear whether hunting was pursued out of necessity or for the joy of sport. However, literary and iconographic evidence from ancient civilizations indicates that hunting eventually became an end in itself, particularly for the nobility. Similarly, archaeological evidence suggests that ball games were prevalent among various ancient cultures, including the Chinese and Aztecs. If these ball games were competitive contests rather than ceremonial performances, as with Japan’s kumara football game, they would qualify as sports according to strict definitions. Nevertheless, it cannot be assumed that all ball games were contests, as ancient Greek and Roman sources suggest that they were often playful pastimes, much like those recommended for health by the physician Galen in the 2nd century CE.
SPORTS THAT HAVE BEEN HISTORICALLY PLAYED IN AFRICA.
The traditional sports of North Africa were probably not significantly impacted by the 7th-century Islamic conquest. Archery contests continued to be a display of skill, as warfare still relied on the use of bow and arrow. The prophet Muhammad authorized horse racing, and due to the region’s geography, camel racing was also prevalent. Additionally, hunters enjoyed their pursuits on horseback.
SPORTS THAT ARE TRADITIONAL TO ASIAN CULTURES.
The traditional sports of Asia, much like the advanced civilizations to which they belong, are diverse and ancient. The competitions involved were never as straightforward as they appeared on the surface. From the Middle East, across the Indian subcontinent, to China and Japan, wrestlers, who were primarily but not exclusively male, embodied and expressed the values of their respective cultures. The wrestler’s physical prowess was always more than just a personal accomplishment. More often than not, the men who exerted themselves in these sports believed that they were participating in a religious enterprise. For centuries, Islamic wrestlers incorporated prayers, incantations, and purification rituals into their hand-to-hand combat. Combining the abilities of a wrestler with those of a mystical poet was not uncommon. In fact, the well-known 14th-century Persian pahlavan (ritual wrestler) Mahmud Khwarizmi was both.
THE ATHLETIC ACTIVITIES THAT WERE PREVALENT IN THE ANCIENT MEDITERRANEAN REGION.
In ancient Egypt, sports were widespread and commonly practiced. The pharaohs used hunting and exhibitions of strength and skill in archery to display their fitness to rule. Despite not competing against others in these exhibitions, pharaohs like Amenhotep II, who ruled from 1426-1400 BCE, were known for their impressive feats. Some experts believe that these accomplishments were fictional and recorded by scribes. However, non-divine Egyptians participated in wrestling, jumping, ball games, and stick fights. Evidence of these activities can be found in paintings from the Middle Kingdom (1938-c. 1630 BCE) in the Beni Hassan tomb, which showcases 406 pairs of wrestlers showcasing their abilities.
GREECE AND THE ISLAND OF CRETE.
Due to the enigmatic nature of the Minoan script, it remains uncertain whether the depictions of Cretan youth engaging in acrobatics with bulls were part of a sporting event, religious ceremony, or a combination of both. The possibility of the Cretan feats serving dual purposes is supported by evidence from Greece, where sports held a cultural significance unmatched by any other civilization until the advent of modern sports. The first detailed account of sports in history is found in Book XXIII of Homer’s Iliad, which describes the funeral games held in honor of the deceased Patroclus. These games were an integral part of Greek religious practice and were not pursued solely for their own sake. Conversely, the contests in the Odyssey were primarily secular, as Odysseus was challenged by the Phaeacians to demonstrate his athletic prowess. Greek culture embraced both cultic sports, such as the Olympic Games, which were dedicated to Zeus, as well as non-religious competitions.
In spite of chariot races being a popular sports spectacle during the Roman and Byzantine eras, just as they were in Greek times, the enthusiasm of the Roman republic and early empire towards Greek athletic contests was quite selective. The Romans placed emphasis on physical exercises for military preparedness, which was an important motive in all ancient civilizations. They favored boxing, wrestling, and javelin throwing over footraces and discus throwing. While the historian Livy mentioned Greek athletes appearing in Rome as early as 186 BCE, their nudity was considered shocking to Roman moralists. The Action Games were instituted by the emperor Augustus in 27 BCE to celebrate his victory over Antony and Cleopatra, and several of his successors began similar games. However, it was not until the later empire, particularly during the reign of Hadrian (117–138 CE), that many of the Roman elite developed a fondness for Greek athletics.
SPORTS DURING THE MEDIEVAL PERIOD.
The organization of sports in medieval Europe was not as advanced as that of classical antiquity. Men and women participated in various activities during fairs and festivals, such as lifting stones or sacks of grain and running smock races (where the prize was a smock, not worn during the race). Among the peasantry, folk football was a popular sport, which involved a wild and unrestrained game with no limits or rules. Married men often competed against bachelors, or villages would face off against each other. This violent sport persisted in Britain and France until the late 19th century and was criticized by Renaissance humanists, including Sir Thomas Elyot, who saw it as more likely to cause harm than to benefit its participants.
SPORTS DURING THE RENAISSANCE ERA AND CONTEMPORARY TIMES.
During the Renaissance era, sports had become entirely secular, and while physical education was a concern for humanists such as 17th-century Czech educator John Amos Comenius, the competitive aspects of sports were overshadowed by a focus on classic models. In fact, elites during the 15th and 16th centuries preferred dances over sports, and they took pleasure in geometric patterns of movement. Influenced by ballet, choreographers trained horses to perform graceful movements rather than focusing on winning races. Fencing was also viewed as more of an art form than combat by French and Italian fencers like Girard, whose “Fencing Academy” was established in 1628, and this mindset was emulated by Northern Europeans. Additionally, Englishmen and Germans who were inclined towards humanism admired the refined Florentine game of calico, which emphasized the good looks and elegant attire of the players. Overall, aesthetics took precedence over achievement in the world of sports.
THE STUDY OF SPORTS FROM A SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE.
In 1921, the German scholar Heinz Rise published “Sociologies des Sports” or “Sociology of Sports,” however, it wasn’t until 1966 that a group of sociologists from different countries came together to create a committee and establish a journal focused on studying the role of sports in society. Since then, numerous universities have set up centers dedicated to researching the sociology of sports, and organizations like the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport have emerged. Sports sociologists have explored various topics, including socialization through sports, the relationship between sports and national identity, globalization and its impact on sports, elite sports systems, the migration of labor and its effects on elite sports, the influence of mass media on the rise of professional sports, the commercialization of sports, the link between violence and sports, gender and sports, race and ethnicity, and sports, and human performance, including the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
THE MEDIUMS OF PHOTOGRAPHY, RADIO, AND TELEVISION.
While sports writing may be descriptive, it cannot compare to the immediate impact of a captivating sports image. Over time, newspapers have improved their design aesthetics, resulting in an increased interest in sports photography, both in sports pages and general news magazines like Time, Newsweek, Paris-Match, and Der Spiegel. Specialized sports magazines, catering primarily to male readers, skillfully blend written and visual content, catering to the interests of their audience. However, a drawback of this male-focused approach is that magazines such as Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News tend to give minimal coverage to women’s sports and may focus on the erotic appeal of female athletes when they do provide coverage.
THE PROCESS OF MAKING SPORTS INTO A COMMERCIAL ENTERPRISE.
The modern sports industry and mass media are both lucrative businesses worth billions of dollars. Elite sports rely on the mass media to promote and finance them. The market for sports equipment and team-related merchandise is largely sustained by the media’s continuous coverage of sports events, and the mass media’s economic infrastructure depends heavily on sports’ ability to attract and retain large audiences. However, this mutually beneficial relationship between sports and the media is not without its challenges. The media’s enormous influence extends beyond the way sports events are staged to determining when they occur, as demonstrated by Olympic events being held at odd hours to accommodate prime time audiences. The media’s economic interests are also evident in the frequent advertisements that disrupt sports events broadcast on commercial television networks. Some athletes and spectators resent the media’s perceived dominance over sports and their influence on sports’ ethos, rules, and structure. Concerns about the economic power of the mass media were exemplified by the UK government’s decision in 1999 to prevent Rupert Murdoch’s Bosky, which owns the broadcast rights to English Premier League association football, from acquiring control of Manchester United, one of the world’s most well-known sports “brands.” Moreover, some critics argue that individual media companies’ commercial interests, particularly when monopolistic, may undermine the crucial need for uncertainty in sports leagues and tournaments and lead to suspicions of match-fixing. Therefore, some experts propose monitoring sports by governments, elite sports bodies, and fan organizations to ensure their long-term commercial value.
SPORTS AND GENDER
Except for a few cases, contemporary sports were created and tailored for men, with the substance, interpretation, and importance of the competitions reflecting male principles, abilities, and preferences. The establishment of modern sports in the 19th century brought about changes in character, physical demeanor, and societal communication, leading to a physical culture that appreciated young masculinity.
THE STUDY OF SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY.
Despite the publication of Alfred Peters’ book “Psychologies des Sports” in 1927, the field of sports psychology developed at a slow pace until the establishment of the International Society of Sport Psychology in 1965. During that period, research mainly concentrated on personality, motivation, and aggression.
SPORTS AND GAMBLING.
Sports betting is a highly popular form of gambling that capitalizes on the enthusiasm of sports enthusiasts. Fans can demonstrate their expertise of a sport or exhibit their devotion to a specific team or athlete by placing bets on races or games. Sports betting not only fosters a sense of community among friends, but it can also make otherwise dull or one-sided contests more exciting through handicapping systems that offer odds and point spreads, thereby increasing the bettors’ interest in the competition. Despite the growing acceptance of legal sports betting, the majority of athletic competition wagers remain illegal and are conducted by bookmakers, or “bookies” (who may work independently or for criminal organizations), and online gambling platforms (which are legal in certain countries).