The 10 Oldest Sports in the World: History and Evolution

The 10 Oldest Sports in the World: History and Evolution

Most of today’s popular sports emerged from activities and equipment necessary to ensure early humans’ survival. The origins of most of the oldest sports in the world may be traced back thousands of years to some of the world’s earliest civilisations.

But have you ever wondered, “What is the oldest sport?”.

Let’s have a look!


This exciting sport is believed to date back to the Persian empire, developed by royals who would learn to ride horses from a very young age.

The earliest evidence of Polo dates back to 316 AD. The sport as we currently know it was developed in India while under British reign and has remained practically unchanged for 200 years. Today, polo is one of the top 10 most played sports in the UK.


With a history dating back to 1272 BC, hurling is one of the oldest sports in the world. It is deeply rooted in Irish culture and was the inspiration of what football is today.

Historical reports of this sport usually depict it as a form of martial training, and if someone had excellent skills at hurling, they were considered skilled in battle.

The sport gained official rules and regulations in the early 1900s and has been enjoyed in an unchanged form ever since.


The world’s most popular ball game has a rich history, marking its origin way back to 2500 BC from a game called Tsu Chu in China. 

FIFA officially recognizes this history as the earliest form of football. It is thought that during the Han Dynasty, the sport was pretty popular among royal courts, and there are accounts of the emperor Wu Di enjoying this sport.

In Europe, the sport started getting popular in the 13th and 14th centuries, and especially in England, people enjoyed a game called “mob ball.” So, English history has greatly influenced what we know today as modern football.

The first football club to ever be formed was “Sheffield United” in the 19th century, and since then, the sport has undergone slight changes until solidified its rules. 

Now, the Premier League is the toughest and most profitable football league in the world.

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The earliest evidence of the game comes from the 6th century in Persia and countries like India and China. The game of chess developed from the Indian game of chaturanga.

The documented history of Chess starts 1350 years ago when it was first introduced in Europe. Since then, the game has undergone some changes, but it has largely stayed the same.


Among the oldest competitive sports, the earliest evidence of gymnastics is from 500 BC. It originated from Ancient Greece and was first introduced as a competitive sport in the Olympic games in the 1890s.

Gymnastics was first invented as a set of training methods for Greek warriors. After Rome invaded Greece, they adopted training methods and brought gymnastics to Europe.

Due to the Olympics getting outlawed in 393 AD, gymnastics almost died as a sport. It wasn’t until the late 18th century to early 19th century that the sport was revived by two German doctors, Johann Friedrich GutsMuths and Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, who took the sport as inspiration and developed the exercises.

The International Federation for Gymnastics was formed in 1891, marking the start of modern gymnastics.


The earliest evidence of boxing originates from some of the oldest solo sports known civilizations to humankind – Mesopotamia and Sumeria.

The sport most likely began in Rome, where competitors would fistfight with leather wrappings on their fists. The sport also appeared in the ancient Olympics in 688 BC. Moreover, Minoans seem to be the first-ever civilization to use boxing gloves for the sport.

Bare-knuckle boxing dates back to the 17th century in England with its own rules and regulations. The sport as we know it today developed from the 16th to the 18th century and became one of the highest-paid sports.

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The ability to swim is something humans have been able to do for thousands of years. One of the earliest found depictions of swimmers was in the Cave of Swimmers in the Libyan Desert, which dates back to the neolithic era.

Even though humans have been swimming throughout history, it didn’t become a competitive sport until the 1800s. 

It officially became a competitive and recreational sport in 19th century England and was first introduced in the Olympics in 1896. Since then, it has been the most popular Olympic sport.


Since the Upper Palaeolithic era, archery has existed since the bow and arrow were invented. The Ancient Egyptians were one of the first civilizations to utilise these tools for hunting and warfare.

It dates back to the first ancient Olympic Games as a competitive sport. 

Archery Olympics history remarks early and the modern era in the Olympics. It was initially part of the Olympics from 1900 to 1920. The sport reappeared in 1972 and evolved into a broadcast friendly, head-to-head match play.


The earliest evidence of wrestling was found in the Upper Palaeolithic era, making this sport about 15,300 years old.

Wrestling is one of the most documented sports throughout history, and there have been plenty of ancient papyrus and scrolls found with instructions for the sport. One such papyrus fragment that dates to 200 AD details a competitive wrestling match. The earliest depictions of this sport come from the Sumerians and the Lascaux caves in France.

Wrestling is probably one of the hardest and oldest professional sports in the world. The first competitive wrestling as we know it today happened in France in the 1830s.

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Running is most likely the oldest sport globally since the ability to run is second nature to humans. It’s no surprise that the first accounts of running competitions originate from the Upper Palaeolithic era roughly 15,300 years ago. The earliest depictions of the sport were found in the Lascaux caves in France.

Moreover, the sport was also one of the earliest competitive sports to be featured at the ancient Olympics, which took place in 776 BC.

Many people believe that the first recorded running competition was in Ireland in 1829 BCE.

Among some of the greatest sprinters of today are names such as Usain Bolt, Carl Lewis, and Tyson Gay.


From ancient Greece and Rome to 21st-century TV sets, sports have certainly been an integral part of human history and culture. 

If you are a professional in any of the oldest sports in the world or only play any of them in your free time, you are part of something with thousands of years of history.

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