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Sunday, 12 August 2012

English-Speaking Countries, the Olympics and the Rise of the Competitive Sports Ethic

I am not suggesting that success in sport correlates in any way with the language or culture of the athlete or competitor, but it is an interesting exercise to count the number of medals that have been won by athletes whose mother tongue or adopted tongue happens to be a variety of spoken English.

At the latest count I make it 274 medals (99 of which are gold). There's still one day to go. I am counting medals won so far by the following "English-speaking" countries: USA, GB, AUS, NZ, JAM, SA, KEN, CAN, IRE, T and T, BAH, IND, GREN, UGA

UPDATE: FINAL TALLY: 103 GOLD, 282 ALL MEDALS (Gold, Silver and Bronze)


Maybe the English language encourages or embeds a competitive sporting spirit and attitude? Chinese even more so? And Ancient Greek? (A Greek sense of ostracism, according to a Greek-Australian from Melbourne).

Or could one argue that it is an indirect legacy of colonialism, like cricket?

A topic of research for Professor David Crystal?

See also, Mark Sappenfield article

Hypothesis disproved

And from Wikipedia, History of Sport:

Development of modern sports

Some historians – most notably Bernard Lewis – claim that team sports as we know them today are primarily an invention of Western culture. The traditional teams sports are seen as springing from Europe, primarily England through its British Empire. This can be seen as discounting some of the ancient games of cooperation from Asia (e.g. polo, numerous martial arts forms, and various, now assimilated football varieties) and even from the Americas (e.g. lacrosse). European colonialism certainly helped spread particular games around the world, especially cricket (not related to baseball), football of various sorts, bowling in a number of forms, cue sports(like snooker, carom billiards and pool), hockey and its derivatives, equestrian (originally of Middle Eastern origin), and tennis (and related games deriving from jeu de paume), and many winter sports, while the originally Europe-dominated modern Olympic Games generally also ensured standardization in particularly European directions when rules for similar games around the world were merged. Regardless of game origins, the Industrial Revolution and mass production brought increased leisure which allowed more time to engage in playing or observing (and gambling upon) spectator sports, as well as less elitism in and greater accessibility of sports of many kinds. With the advent of mass media and global communication, professionalism became prevalent in sports, and this furthered sports popularity in general.


Writing about cricket in particular, John Leech (2005a) has explained the role of Puritan power, the English Civil War, and the Restoration of the monarchy in England. The Long Parliament in 1642 "banned theatres, which had met with Puritan disapproval. Although similar action would be taken against certain sports, it is not clear if cricket was in any way prohibited, except that players must not break the Sabbath". In 1660, "the Restoration of the monarchy in England was immediately followed by the reopening of the theatres and so any sanctions that had been imposed by the Puritans on cricket would also have been lifted."[2] He goes on to make the key point that political, social and economic conditions in the aftermath of the Restoration encouraged excessive gambling, so much so that a Gambling Act was deemed necessary in 1664. It is certain that cricket, horse racing and boxing (i.e., prizefighting) were financed by gambling interests. Leach explains that it was the habit of cricket patrons, all of whom were gamblers, to form strong teams through the 18th century to represent their interests. He defines a strong team as one representative of more than one parish and he is certain that such teams were first assembled in or immediately after 1660. Prior to the English Civil War and the Commonwealth, all available evidence concludes that cricket had evolved to the level of village cricket only where teams that are strictly representative of individual parishes compete. The "strong teams" of the post-Restoration mark the evolution of cricket (and, indeed of professional team sport, for cricket is the oldest professional team sport) from the parish standard to the county standard. This was the point of origin for major, or first-class, cricket. The year 1660 also marks the origin of professional team sport.

A number of the English public schools, and colleges and universities such as Winchester and Eton, introduced variants of football and other sports for their pupils. These were described at the time as "innocent and lawful", certainly in comparison with the rougher rural games. With the coming of the industrial revolution and the movement of the populace from the country to the cities, the rural games moved to the new urban centres and came under the influence of the middle and upper classes. The rules and regulations devised at English institutions began to be applied to the wider game, with governing bodies in England being set up for a number of sports by the end of the 19th century. The rising influence of the upper class also produced an emphasis on the amateur, and the spirit of "fair play". The industrial revolution also brought with it increasing mobility, and created the opportunity for universities in Britain and elsewhere to compete with one another. This sparked increasing attempts to unify and reconcile various games in England, leading to the establishment of the Football Association in London, the first official governing body in football.

The British Empire and post-colonial sports

The influence of British sports and their codified rules began to spread across the world in the late 19th and early 20th century, particularly association football. A number of major teams elsewhere in the world still show these British origins in their names, such asAC [Athletic Club] Milan in Italy, GrĂªmio Foot-Ball Porto Alegrense in Brazil, and Athletic Bilbao in Spain. Cricket became popular in several of the nations of the then British Empire, such as Australia, South Africa, India and Pakistan, and remain popular in and beyond today's Commonwealth of Nations. The revival of the Olympic Games by Baron Pierre de Coubertin was also heavily influenced by the amateur ethos of the English public schools.

Baseball (closely related to English rounders and French la soule, and less clearly connected to cricket) became established in the urban Northeastern United States, with the first rules being codified in the 1840s, while American football was very popular in the south-east, with baseball spreading to the south, and American football spreading to the north after the Civil War. In the 1870s the game split between the professionals and amateurs; the professional game rapidly gained dominance, and marked a shift in the focus from the player to the club. The rise of baseball also helped squeeze out other sports such as cricket, which had been popular in Philadelphia prior to the rise of baseball.

American football (and gridiron football more generally) also has its origins in the English variants of the game, with the first set of intercollegiate football rules based directly on the rules of the Football Association in London. However, Harvard chose to play a game based on the rules of Rugby football. Walter Camp would then heavily modify this variant in the 1880s, with the modifications also heavily influencing the rules of Canadian football.

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