Historical Origins of World’s Most Popular Sports

Going back in time to find out the origins of a certain cultural phenomenon is always interesting, as it tends to throw up some surprises and debunk some of your own prejudices and misconceptions along the way. Certainly, that is the case with sports, many of which owe their origins to communities and peoples far removed from those that are typically thought to be the sport’s modern-day gatekeepers. Here we jump in our time machine, to uncover the historical roots of some of the world’s most popular sporting pastimes which have since gone on to become billion-dollar industries, upon which people wager free bets and parlay bets. Who knows, perhaps by looking at clues from the past, those folks who like to bet on huge sporting events and competitions can go some way to predicting the future.


It is tough to pinpoint exactly where and when the first variants of football were invented, but the sport has only gone from strength to strength, despite having started as a street game  


It is commonly accepted that modern football, as we all know and love it, was invented in England. The first proper teams originated in London and Sheffield, before the sport began to gain in popularity across the country and Europe as a whole.

However, there are many historians who maintain that the first spark of inspiration for football came from ancient civilizations that were having kick-abouts thousands of years before the English did so on the cobbled streets of the 1800s.

The Chinese Ts’in and Han Dynasties (255BC—220AD) were renowned for giving rise to a sport called tsu chu, whereby two teams had to force a ball through a hole in a net that was stretched between two posts. Sound familiar? Similar games were also known to be played in Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, and even in Ancient Egypt.

Then, in the European early middle-age, there are historical artefacts and writings that pertain to peasants pursuing a pig’s bladder or even a skull around muddy village tracks and squares. Not far off what some Sunday morning hack fests resemble to this very day!

Horse Racing

Because horse riding has long been an integral part of survival and battle techniques waged by societies down through the ages, it is hard to say exactly which community first decided to stage an official race, where steed and jockey combined to create a sporting spectacle.

One of the first official horse races to have ever taken place was in the Olympics, all the way back in 700 BC.

However, it is thought that the nomadic communities of central Asia were the first to stage races as those people are also credited with first domesticating the horse. There are records of such races taking place on the Eurasian steppe as long ago as 4,500 BC.

Horse racing both on the flat and over jumps has come a long way since its earliest days


Having always been viewed as an upper-class sport, tennis as it is known today was first conceived in Northern France where it was played by royalty and the clergy.

The game played back then in the early 1200s is known today as “real tennis”, which plays like a blend of both tennis and squash.

Modern tennis, or lawn tennis as it was known, only became popular in the 1700s where it was played in England on nicely groomed grass fields all around London.


While it is hard to pinpoint the origins of many sports, there is little doubt as to the exact origins of basketball, whose rules were drawn up by the American, James Naismith.

Naismith’s original idea had been to create a sport that was not as physically demanding and damaging as American Football, and so he dreamt up a game that was largely a non-contact affair. Were Naismith alive today, he would perhaps be surprised by the physical prowess of NBA pros.