The Ancient Games
When and how did sport begin? Some have claimed that all the most noble of human accomplishments, from poetry to sport, have their genesis in the impulse to play. And if it is accepted that other creatures share this impulse – and most animals, like children, delight in running, chasing, tumbling, wrestling, and so on – then on this view sport may even be held to antedate humans (Huizinga, 1938). Others link sport with work rather than play. The German Marxist Lukas has argued that sport actually distinguishes humans from other species (see Mandell, 1984). He argues that spear throwing was probably the first sport. To become proficient with spears required sustained practice and the mastery of types of judgement very different from those needed by forefathers hunting without the benefit of tools. Unlike their predecessors, whose play, relaxation and exercise differed little from that of other creatures, spear throwers introduced sport as a preparation for work. Their sporting or athletic activity was a reflection of their need to survive and progress. Reference to spear throwing suggests yet another linkage, between sport and combat. Maybe, it has been contended, sport was above all else an early, organized mode of training for warfare.
The trouble with theories like these about the origins of sport is twofold. First, they are, and are likely to remain, highly speculative. There are next to no systematic data available on forms of life in prehistory. All that can be said, based on archaeological artefacts and ethnographic evidence, is that there were probably many and varied sporting and athletic festivals before the founding of the great empires from which are dated the beginnings of civilized settlement. There is some evidence for believing, for example, that as early as 4000 BC horse racing occurred at Mycenae; that by 3000 BC chariot racing, archery, stick fighting and other 'paramilitary' athletic training took place in Mesopotamia; and that horse and chariot races and