Who Invented Sports?

invented-sports Credit: David Cannon/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Many sports date back to prehistory or to civilizations that do not have adequate written records, so it is impossible to know who invented many popular sports. There is evidence that wrestling and sprinting were the first forms of sport practiced by humans and may have occurred 17,000 years ago.

Cave paintings found in France indicate that sprinting and wrestling may have been done for sport about 17,300 years ago. Clear evidence of wrestling as a sport has been found in cave paintings in Mongolia that date back to about 7000 B.C. Cave paintings in Libya indicate that swimming and archery may have been practiced competitively around 6000 B.C. Stone slabs from Sumeria indicate that boxing may have originated there around 3000 B.C.

Records from ancient Egypt that date to around 2000 B.C. depict rules and regulations for a number of sports such as rowing, archery, weightlifting and fishing. The first Olympic Games were recorded in 776 B.C. and consisted solely of a footrace but would expand in later years to events such as the discus, the javelin throw, jumping and chariot racing.

It is difficult to identify the inventors of sports even in more modern times when extensive written records were kept and preserved. For example, a commission was organized in 1905 in the United States to determine who had invented baseball, which had only come into existence a few decades prior. Based mostly on testimony from one man, the commission declared that Abner Doubleday had invented baseball. However, Doubleday himself never made this claim, and there is no written evidence to back up the story.