The Evolution of Sports


Human communities have long engaged in sports. The ancient Greeks, Chinese, and Aztecs engaged in games, contests, and ritual performances with balls. Today, ball games are still played in many parts of the world, including Japan. While ancient Greeks and Romans used sports as a form of religious worship, their primary purpose is to entertain themselves and demonstrate their abilities. Aristotle and Plato both believed that sport is essential for education and human flourishing. Ancient Greeks and Romans also emphasized the importance of sport in society, and the Greek physician Galen recommended ball games for health.

A mutualist view of sport stresses that sport is not a zero-sum game and that everyone benefits. As Pierre de Coubertin and Grantland Rice famously observed, “Sport is for the love of the game, not the competition.” In addition, the mutualist view stresses that sport is a cooperative endeavor, and that all participants have equal opportunities to excel. While there are rules that govern play, participants may break the rules of their game to improve themselves or gain an advantage.

The contractualist view maintains that sport is an expression of an implicit social contract. Players and spectators enter a game under the implicit understanding of an agreement to follow rules and conventions. Fraleigh argues that this implicit social contract is symbolized in inaugural events before sporting events. While formalists do not argue that all participants agree to abide by rules, they still recognize the importance of normative principles. The governing body is not the only factor in the evolution of sport, but it is the most important.