Why the British Empire failed to export the popularity of football to all colonies – 06/12/2022

Although the rules of the sport are developed in this country, the reality is that in some other parts of the world the most popular sports are different.

Football, the most popular sport on the planet, was essentially born in a pub in England in 1863, when some people decided to set rules for a game that was already regularly played in the country, with the idea of ​​distinguishing it from the rest. a very popular modality there: rugby.

In fact, in less than four decades, football has been present in several countries around the world.

And this spread was partly due to the fact that the sport was born in the most powerful power on the planet at that time: Great Britain, which controlled vast territories around the world.

However, football is not currently the most played or followed sport in many territories that once belonged to the mighty British Empire.

In Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, for example, rugby is far more popular than football, while cricket in India and Pakistan has become almost a religion.

“What happened with Australia or India is, when the British arrived, the national sport in England was cricket, not football. And rugby was the favorite sport of the royals who were sent to rule these places”, explains sports historian Jean Williams.

Williams clarified that football was a middle and working class sport in England at the time.

“The popularization of football in the world is due to two reasons: first, the proliferation of railroads built by British engineers and, second, the academic exchanges that take place with people from other countries, especially from Latin America and Asia”, said Williams.

Cricket and Rugby: Royal Sports

Cricket is a ball and bat sport (like baseball, but with substantial differences in mode and strategy) played on an oval pitch where the main objective is to score points (points).

This sport with roots in the Middle Ages has been the national sport of England since the 18th century and, of course, during the heyday of the British Empire.

Added to this is the popularity of another modality: rugby, considered for decades the “wild sport played by men”.

“The sport was concentrated at the top and the leaders at the time. What they did was introduce it almost officially in regions like Australia, India or South Africa,” said Williams.

Although cricket had been brought to India by English traders in the 17th century, it was the conquest of these territories in the mid-19th century that finally gave the sport the recognition it retains there to this day.

Something similar happened with rugby, which also gained popularity in the mid-19th century, especially in Oceania and South Africa.

“Sport in the British Empire served as a unifying force, often imbued with nationalist rhetoric, and served as a focused representation of a climate of social and political struggle,” historian Patrick Hutchinson notes in the essay. Sport and British Colonialism (“Sport and British Colonialism”, in free translation).

This influence makes India and Pakistan ? and also Australia? current power of cricket.

In rugby, the only men’s teams to have been crowned world champions besides England are New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, all former British colonies.

In fact, the most popular sport in Australia is Australian rules football, which is a combination of cricket, rugby and football, much like early versions of British rugby.

Additionally, football had two characteristics that kept it away from the colonial territories: it was codified later (in 1863) and has its roots in the English middle and working classes.

“At a time when football was the most popular sport in England, cricket and rugby were well established in the colonies and were still the favorite sports of the upper class and aristocracy,” explained Williams.

However, this does not mean that football was not used by the imperial authorities as a “unifying force”, especially in the British colonies in Africa.

“In Zanzibar, Egypt and elsewhere, leagues were created for the purpose of exerting a form of control through sport. Football was used for that,” said Hutchison.

But the sport also has another way of developing.

Far beyond the railroad

At the start of the 20th century, the main world power was still the British Empire, whose territories stretched across Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.

In Europe, the sport became popular thanks to the presence of expatriates traveling to countries such as Germany, France, Italy and Spain.

However, in other latitudes, one of the main forms of influence was the building of the railroad, an English invention.

“Many think it was the railroad workers who brought football around the world. In fact, it was the engineers who did it, because football is a middle-class sport in England”, said the academic.

According to Williams, these professionals were influential enough not only to practice the sport, but to instruct and implement it in an organized manner in these countries, as royalty had done through colleges in the colonies with cricket and rugby.

In the early 20th century, particularly in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, the first clubs began to form, many with English names remaining: River Plate or Boca Juniors (Argentina); Club Nacional de Football (Uruguay) and Fluminense Football Club (Brazil), for example.

“What happened to football is that it wasn’t divided into classes: it became popular at all levels. [na América Latina]”, explained Williams.

But specialists point out that trains are not the only means of spreading football around the world: British students and visitors are a wide means of spreading the sport.

“Many of those who have left Latin America or Asia to study at a British university have seen the sport so popular and want to take it back to their countries of origin,” said Williams.

Examples abound: Deportivo Cali, one of Colombia’s most traditional clubs, was founded by Nazario brothers Juan Pablo and Fidel Lalinde Caldas, who traveled to Great Britain in the early 20th century and spent around five years there.

Charles Miller himself, who is credited with bringing football to Brazil in the late 19th century after studying in England, was the son of a Scottish engineer who worked on the railroads in the State of São Paulo.

“Football, being born in England, became something aspirational for people living outside the British Empire and so many football clubs were founded by people who traveled to England”, he said.

But there are areas that have British influence, such as the United States or Canada, where football has also failed to take root.

“Football has tried to enter American culture several times, but the rules and scoring goals have not helped the game become more popular,” said James Brown of the United States Association of Football Historians.

For Brown, Americans love contact sports and with dynamic scoring, where higher scores are achievable.

“But actually until the age of 16, soccer is the sport most played by young Americans. Therefore, there is a future for the sport in this country.”

– This text was published in https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/geral-63851563

Clara Burton

"Geek zombie. Subtly charming social media scholar. Beer enthusiast. Lifelong bacon pioneer."

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *