Chapter 2: The History of Physical Activity and Sport The Early History of Physical Activity and Sport The Ancient Greeks and the Olympics



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Chapter 2: The History of Physical Activity and Sport
The Early History of Physical Activity and Sport
The Ancient Greeks and the Olympics

  • The Greeks were the first to articulate how the pursuit of physical activity can improve not only our physical well-being, but also our mental well-being.

  • To achieve this, the Greeks developed the sporting event known as the Olympic Games. The Olympic Games is an international multi-sport competition held every 4 years in different locations throughout the world. The first Olympic Games were held in Greece in 776B.C.E.

  • The Olympic Games were held every 4 years in order to coincide with each new Olympiad – which was homage to the god Zeus. The Greeks believed that the gods bestowed extraordinary physical abilities upon the athletes, and the winners would often present offerings to the temples of the gods.

  • One month before the Olympic Games began, an Olympic truce, or peace, was called that allowed the athletes to journey safely to Olympia, the site of the Games, without fear of attack by enemies. “Olympic Peace” is a concept that is still embraced by the modern Olympic Games.


The Romans

  • The Romans continued the Olympic tradition after the mainland of Greece was integrated into the Roman Empire between 50 B.C.E. and 500 B.C.E.

  • The Romans considered athleticism, or the idea of being physically fit, to be an important part of a young man’s education, and they coined the Latin saying, “a sound mind in a healthy body” (mena sana in corpore sano).

  • The Romans embraced boxing, as they favoured more brutal sporting events compared to the Greeks (who preferred running events, as well as wrestling, long jump, and javelin). In the hands of the Romans, boxing evolved into a gladiator sport in which participants (usually slaves, prisoners, or persecuted Christians) fought to the death. Once a gladiator had overpowered his opponent, the audience in the arena would decide whether the loser lived or died. If they waved their handkerchiefs, the loser would be spared; if they turned their thumbs down, the loser would be killed.

  • As the Roman Empire declined after 500 B.C.E., the athleticism (the ideal of striving for physical fitness) of the age and the value placed on it declined. At this time, the Olympic Games disappeared.


The Influence of the Renaissance

  • The Renaissance was a period in European history from approximately 1400 to 1650. It was a time of expanding knowledge about art, languages, science, and history. During this time, people also had a renewed interest in Greek and Roman culture.

  • Ancient Greek statues were unearthed and admired for their beauty and athleticism. Therefore, during the Renaissance, athleticism again became a social ideal. Athleticism was added to the list of traits that a Renaissance Man was good at – including art, sports and science.

  • The first physical education classes were taught in 1420, and new sports such as golf, hockey, field hockey, soccer, rugby, and American football were introduced.


The Industrial Revolution and the Victorian Era

  • The Industrial Revolution was characterized by new manufacturing processes in industry throughout western Europe and North America. It occurred from 1760-1840.

  • During this time, average income and population grew, especially in urban centres where factories and new jobs were located. In addition, the middle class began to emerge.

  • Members of the middle class had extra money to spend on leisure pursuits and were able to pay to be spectators at sporting events. As well, more people were participating in activities such as football, tennis, bicycling, roller skating, horseback riding, boating, and swimming.

  • During the Victorian era, a well-rounded British gentleman was also a sportsman who believed in that fair play and participation were more important than winning. They believed that sports developed manly character and camaraderie.

  • They also believed that too much physical activity was harmful to a woman’s delicate constitution. Only relatively undemanding physical activities were deemed appropriate for women.

  • Rules were invented to prevent teams from compensating players for time spent playing sports, and amateurism as introduced. Amateurism is the principle in which an individual plays sports for recreation and not as a profession.


The Changing Social Significance of Sport and Physical Education

  • In Upper Canada in the 1840’s, Dr. Egerton Ryerson (after whom Ryerson University is named) established a public education system that became the foundation for the system we know today. It is one that is accessible to all and one in which sport and physical education play an important role in each child’s overall health and personal development.



The Revival of the Olympic Games and Global Politics

  • In 1896, French educator Baron Pierre de Coubertin revived the original Olympics to form what has come to be called the Modern Olympic Games which are the world’s foremost sports competition, with the Summer and Winter Games alternating every two years. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was developed as the governing body of the Olympic Movement, with the Olympic Charter defining its structure and authority.

  • The Olympic Charter emphasizes peace, tolerance, fair play, international understanding, and amateurism.

  • The goal of the Olympic Movement has evolved to help create a better world by educating through sport without discrimination.

  • The first Modern Olympic Games occurred in Athens, Greece in 1896. 14 countries competed in 43 events. A total of 245 athletes competed.

  • The Winter Games were added in 1924, and were held in France.

  • The Paralympic Games began in 1988 alongside the Summer Olympics.

  • By the Summer Games in London, England in 2012, there were 204 countries competing in over 300 events. A total of 11,000 athletes competed.

  • Representing the sporting ideals of the Victorian era, the first Games excluded women and non-Europeans (no Asians, South American, or African countries were invited).

  • One of the driving forces behind the modern Olympics has been nationalism which is when nations try to demonstrate their country’s “superiority” in sports and, through sports, an assumed superiority in other areas.

  • The experience of hosting the Olympic Games can lead to an intense surge of nationalistic fervor in the host nation.

  • In relation to nationalism, the 1936 Olympics (the “Nazi” Olympics) was an exception. At the time, knowledge of discrimination against Jews and other “non-Aryans” was already widespread across Europe. The Nazi’s manipulated the Olympic Games to serve as a propaganda tool to showcase its vision of German supremacy. The achievements by African-American athletes Cornelius Johnson and Jesse Owens firmly entrenched themselves in Olympic history and was a rebuttal to the racist ideology of the Nazi regime in Germany at the time.

  • Out of respect for the countries affected by both WWI and WWII, the Games were cancelled during these times.

  • In 1972, a Palestinian terrorist group killed 11 members of the Israeli team in Munich.

  • In 1980, the United States and its supporter nations boycotted the Moscow Summer Games to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. And, in 1984, the Soviet Union and its allies boycotted the Los Angeles Summer Games in return.

  • In 1996, the Summer Games in Atlanta were marred by a terrorist bombing attack.

  • In 2008, controversy surrounded the Games in Beijing because of Tibetan unrest and perceived violation of human rights in China.

  • In 2013, Russia’s law prohibiting promotion of “non-traditional” sexual relations was criticized by the United States. President Barack Obama announced that he would not attend the Games in 2014 in Sochi, Russia.



The Rise of Professional Sport and Athletic Competition

  • The years 1882-1914 witnessed the rapid growth of both amateur and professional sports.

  • In the early stages of professional sport, athletes competing in sports such as baseball, football, soccer, basketball, and hockey, needed paid employment in jobs unrelated to sports to sustain themselves and their families. Therefore, many teams decided to start paying their athletes in order to retain them full time and to motivate them. This is how professional teams were born.

  • Canada’s major professional team sports are hockey, baseball, softball, football, basketball, and lacrosse. Hockey is played by more than 1.4 million Canadians, and has become part of our national identity.

  • Professional team sports in North America are characterized by leagues made up of teams from across the continent. In each of these leagues, the players are “full” professionals – they make a living primarily through sports. Examples include: National Football League (NFL) which as 32 teams and was founded in 1920 with the first Super Bowl played in 1967; Major League Baseball (MLB) which has 30 teams and was founded in 1958 and is celebrated with the World Series; National Hockey League (NHL) which has 30 teams and was founded in 1917 and is celebrated with the Stanley Cup; National Basketball Association (NBA) which has 30 teams and was founded in 1946 and is celebrated with the Larry O’Brien Trophy; and the Major League Soccer (MLS) which as 19 teams and was founded in 1993 and is celebrated with the MLS Cup.

  • Originally, the NHL had only five “real” teams that banded together in 1917 – the Montreal Canadiens, the Montreal Wanderers, the Ottawa Senators, the Quebec Bulldogs, and the Toronto Arenas. But, by 1918, the NHL was down to only three teams! By 1942 after many changes and new owners, the “Original Six” (the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Montreal Canadiens, the Detroit Red Wings, the Boston Bruins, the New York Rangers, and the Chicago Blackhawks) launched the NHL’s first wide-scale “expansion” of sports franchises.

  • The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) is the only fully professional major women’s sports league in North America.

  • Owners of sports teams run their franchises as businesses and are concerned with profits and losses.

  • Attitudes towards sport and recreation among journalists underwent rapid change – newspapers began to promote not only sports but the health benefits of being active. Newspaper and radio reports started to glamourize sport heroes. This mass media and global communication lead to the concept of modern “sports fans”.

Women’s Gains in Physical Activity and Sport

  • In the 19th century and early part of the 20th century, women had to fight against the so-called feminine ideal to enter certain sports. The feminine ideal is the stereotype that girls and women must always adhere to a “feminine” image and act in the stereotypical ways expected of them as females.

  • Women were told that physical activity would inhibit their ability to have children, and that their bones were weaker than men’s, that intense exercise would cause menstrual problems, and that sports would cause them to develop “unattractive” muscles.

  • To maintain decorum, women were expected to participate in the few sports open to them (ie: short distance running, tennis) while wearing long, heavy skirts and long sleeves.

  • In the 20th century, when basketball was still a relatively new sport, the Edmonton Grads women’s basketball team was setting world records. Fanny “Bobbie” Rosenfield gained fame as the “best female athlete of the half-century” for her accomplishments in sports prior to 1950. She later became a well-respected sports journalist who advocated participation in sport and physical activity for all women.

  • In 1938, sprinter Barb Howard became the first black female athlete to represent Canada in international competition, bringing home two medals from the British Empire Games in Australia.

  • In 1954, at the age of nine, Abby Hoffman cut off her hair and posed as a boy in order to join a hockey team.

  • Softball and hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser broke a gender barrier when she was signed to a four-month contract during the 2002-2003 season with a men’s hockey team in Finland.

  • Soccer players such as Kara Lang and Christine Sinclair, rising tennis start Eugenie Bouchard, and alpine ski racer Erin Mielzynski have all become inspiring role models.


Title IX and Its Impact on Canada

  • Title IX is a section of the landmark Educational Amendments, a piece of U.S. legislation that prohibits gender discrimination of any kind in schools.

  • The gains made by women in physical activity and sport owe much of this important equal-opportunity legislation passed in the United States in 1972.

  • Title IX was very influential regarding the athletic policies of educational institutions as it allowed girls and women to have the same physical education and sports opportunities that man had long taken for granted.

  • Before Title IX as introduced, there were very few sports in which girls in high school were allowed to participate in. Today, tens of millions of girls participate in high school sports and the number continues to rise.

  • In compliance with Title IX, schools need to monitor whether financial assistance is being divided equally between male and female athletes, whether sports are divided equally in terms of interest and skill; and whether equality exists in other areas such as equipment, scheduling, and coaching.


Changing Attitudes towards “Women’s Place” in Sport

  • When the first modern Olympic Games took place in 1896, no women were allowed to compete because, according to societal attitudes of the day, a woman’s ideal place was considered to be in the home caring for the family.

  • In 1996, at the Games in Atlanta – 100 years after the first Olympics, and for the first time in history, Canada’s Olympic team consisted of more women than men.

  • The London 2012 Olympics were the first games in which women were allowed to compete in every sport, and female athletes from Brunei and Saudi Arabia competed for the first time. Both the Canadian and American teams consisted of more women than men.

Government Initiatives to Promote Active, Healthy Living

  • Most Western governments recognize sport as a powerful means of enhancing a society’s health and well-being, extending life expectancy, and reducing the impact on the health-care system.

  • The Canadian government, through the Sport Canada (a branch of the Department of Canadian Heritage that develops federal sport policy, provides funding programs in support of sport, and administers special projects related to sport) program, has been involved in sport since the early part of the 20th century.

  • By the second half of the 20th century, much of the Canadian population had become sedentary after finishing school. The Canadian government under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, decided to create a non-profit organization to address the problem. ParticipACTION was created in 1971 to encourage the public to become more physically active on a regular basis.

  • It was estimated that, when ParticipACTION started their first campaign, only 5% of the population exercised enough to reap any health benefits.

  • ParticipACTION urged Canadians to incorporate some form of activity into their daily lives. Initiatives such as Canada’s Fitweek and SummerActive encouraged communities and individuals to compete with each other in terms of physical activity.

  • ParticipACTION also encouraged in-school participation in track-and-field competitions that awarded badges and pins.

  • Since around 2000, obesity has become widespread in Canada mostly due to poor diets and sedentary lifestyles. As a response, in 2005 the Canadian government launched the Integrated Pan-Canadian Healthy Living Strategy. The plan focused on the relationship of healthy eating and physical activity to healthy weights.

  • Canadian Sport for Life (CS4L) promotes physical activity and sport for all Canadians based on principles that include a focus on developmental age rather than chronological age cut-offs. It also advises exposure to multiple sports rather than early specialization, and continued participation rather than progressive elimination with age.

  • The Canadian Sport Policy 2012 sets a direction for 2012-2022 for all governments, institutions, and organizations dedicated to realizing the positive effects of sport on individuals, communities, and society. It includes a full range of sport and physical activity, including introduction to sport, recreational sport, competitive sport, and sport development.

  • The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) is a private, non-profit corporation that represents Canada in the international Olympic sports movement. It is the largest private-sector funder of elite sports in Canada. It is partners with the Canadian Sports Centres established by Sports Canada to create centres to support elite athletes in many ways so that they can attain their highest potential in important international competitions.

  • The not-for-profit organization Own the Podium was created in 2005 and is the driving force behind Canada’s evolution into a world-leading sport nation, especially in winter sports. It provides potential medal-winning athletes with additional finances and programming to help them succeed. It also invests in sport research.




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