Sport in England

Sport plays a prominent role in English life. Cricket is an unofficial national sport, along with association football. The most popular team sport is definitely association football (commonly known as football).Then comes cricket, rugby union and rugby league. Major individual sports include athletics, tennis, golf, motorsport, and horseracing.

A number of modern sports were codified in England during the nineteenth century, among them cricket, rugby union, rugby league, association football, tennis and badminton.


England has its own national team in most team sports, but the United Kingdom sends a combined team to the Olympics, which is formally "Great Britain and Northern Ireland" but commonly referred to as "Great Britain". Competition between the home nations was traditionally at the centre of British sporting life, but it has become less important in recent decades. In particular, football's British Home Championship no longer takes place.

The club competitions in most team sports are also English affairs rather than British ones. There are various anomalies however, such as the participation of the three largest Welsh football clubs in the English league system; an English club in the Scottish Football League.

The relative prominence of national team and club competition varies from sport to sport. In football, club competition is at the centre of the agenda most of the time because clubs plays more matches each year, but the four national teams are also followed avidly. In cricket the national team is much more widely followed than the county competitions, which have a limited profile, whereas in rugby league club competition generally overshadows international fixtures. Rugby union falls between these two with very high profile international competitions and a strengthening club game.

Sport England is the governing body responsible for distributing funds and providing strategic guidance for sporting activity in England. There are five National Sports Centres: Bisham Abbey, Crystal Palace, Holme Pierrepont National Watersports Centre, Lilleshall and Plas Y Brenin National Mountain Centre. Everyday Sport is Sport England’s physical activity campaign. There are 49 County Sport Partnerships in England with areas for responsibility separated by Local Authority County boundaries.

The English Institute of Sport is a nationwide network of support services, aimed at improving the standard of English athletes. Services include sports medicine, physiotherapy, sports massage, applied physiology, strength and conditioning, nutrition, psychology and Performance Lifestyle support. It is based at 8 regional hubs and other satellite centres.

The Minister for Sport and Tourism and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have responsibility for sport in England.

The role of sport in the formation of an English identity

England, like the other nations of the United Kingdom, competes as a separate nation in some international sporting events. The English association football, cricket (the England Cricket team represents England and Wales) [ [ England Cricket Team Profile] ICC World Cup 2007 website. Retrieved 13 September 2006.] and rugby union teams have contributed to an increasing sense of English identity. Supporters are more likely to carry the St George's Cross whereas twenty years ago the British Union Jack would have been the more prominent. [ [ "Daily Mirror" newspaper (UK)] , article by Billy Bragg, 17 September, 2005 - Accessed November 2006. "Watching the crowd in Trafalgar Square celebrating the Ashes win, I couldn't help but be amazed at how quickly the flag of St George has replaced the Union Jack in the affections of England fans. A generation ago, England games looked a lot like Last Night of the Proms, with the red, white and blue firmly to the fore. Now, it seems, the English have begun to remember who they are."]

Elite level team sports

There are four sports in England which operate high profile professional leagues. Association football is the most popular sport and is played from August to May. Rugby union is also a winter sport. Cricket is played in the Summer, from April to September. Rugby league is traditionally a winter sport, but since the late 1990s the elite competition has been played in the summer to appeal to the family market, and take advantage of the faster pitches. There are also professional leagues in basketball and ice hockey, but while these have small but loyal fanbases, they struggle to attract attention from the general media. Many other sports have amateur leagues.

Association football

The modern global game of Association Football was first codified in 1863 in London. The impetus for this was to unify English public school and university football games. There is evidence for refereed, team football games being played in English schools since at least 1581. An account of an exclusively kicking football game from Nottinghamshire in the fifteenth century bears striking similarity to football. The playing of football in England is documented since at least 1314. England is home to the oldest football clubs in the world (dating from at least 1857), the world's oldest competition (the FA cup founded in 1871) and the first ever football league (1888). The modern passing game of football was developed in London in the early 1870s [cite book |last= Wall|first= Sir Frederick|authorlink= |title= 50 Years of Football, 1884-1934|year= 2005|publisher= Soccer Books Limited|location= |id= ISBN 1-8622-3116-8 ] For these reasons England is considered the cradle of the game of football.

Football is the highest profile sport in England by a very wide margin. This has been the case for generations, but the gap is widely perceived to have increased since the early 1990s and football's dominance is often seen as a threat to other sports.

The governing body for football in England is The Football Association which is the oldest football organisation in the world. It is responsible for national teams, the recreational game and the main cup competitions. They have however lost a significant amount of power to the professional leagues in recent times.

English football has a league system which incorporates thousands of clubs, and is topped by four fully professional divisions. The elite FA Premier League has twenty teams and is the oldest and richest football league in the world. The other three fully professional divisions are the run by The Football League and include another seventy two clubs. Annual promotion and relegation operates between these four divisions and also between the lowest of them and lower level or "non-League" football. There are a small number of fully professional clubs outside the top four divisions, and many more semi-professional clubs. Thus England has over a hundred fully professional clubs in total, which is considerably more than any other country in Europe.

The two main cup competitions in England are the FA Cup which is the oldest football competition in the world. It is open to every men's football team in England, though only professional clubs ever reach the last few rounds, and the League Cup (currently known as the Carling Cup), which is for the ninety-two professional clubs in the four main professional divisions only.

Each season the most successful clubs from each of the home nations qualify for the two Europe wide club competitions organised by UEFA, the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Cup. England has both produced winners of each of these competitions.

The England national football team won the World Cup in 1966 when it was hosted in England. Since then, however, they have failed to reach a final of a major international tournament, though they reached the semi-finals of the World Cup in 1990 and the quarter-finals in 2002 and 2006 and Euro 2004.

The FA hopes that the completion of the National Football Centre will go some way to improving the national team's performance.


Cricket was invented in England and is England's most popular summer game and it is the national sport. It is probably the second most widely covered sport, and the fortunes of the England team are closely followed by many people who never attend a live game.

There are thousands of teams but there eighteen professional county clubs, seventeen of them in England and one in Wales. Each summer the county clubs compete in the first class County Championship, which consists of two leagues of nine teams and in which matches are played over four days. The same teams also play the one day National League, a one day knock out competition called the Friends Provident Trophy, and the short-form Twenty20 Cup. These clubs are heavily dependent on subsidies from the England and Wales Cricket Board, which makes its money from television and endorsement contracts and attendances at international matches.

England is one of the test-playing nations, whilst Scotland and Ireland are associate members of the ICC and compete at One Day International level. Each summer two foreign national teams visit England to play seven test matches and numerous one-day internationals. In the British winter the England team tours abroad. The highest profile rival of the England cricket team is the Australian team, with which it competes for The Ashes, one of the most famous trophies in British sport.

The cricket team won The Ashes in 2005, and are ranked the 4th best Test nation in the world.


Like football, rugby union and rugby league both developed from traditional British football games in the 19th century. Rugby union was codified in 1871. Rugby league was established in 1895 by a number of clubs which wished to be allowed to pay their players, and subsequently developed somewhat different rules. For much of the 20th century there was considerable antagonism between rugby league, which was a mainly working class game based in the industrial regions of northern England, and rugby union, which is a predominantly middle class game in England, and is also popular in the other home nations. This antagonism has abated since 1995 when the International Rugby Board opened rugby union to professional players.

Rugby union

The four home nations compete separately at international level. They take part in the main European international rugby union competition, the Six Nations Championship. England won the 2003 Rugby Union World Cup, the first victory in the competition by a British team (or, for that matter, any Northern Hemisphere country).

The main rugby union club competition in England is a 12-team league called the Guinness Premiership, and there is also a cup competition, the EDF Energy Cup, which since 2005 has included teams from Wales. Attendances at club rugby in England have risen strongly since the sport went professional. English club sides also take part in the two European wide club rugby competitions, the Heineken Cup and the European Challenge Cup.

Rugby union clubs such as Leicester Tigers,Bath Rugby, London Wasps and the Northampton Saints have had success in the Europe-wide Heineken Cup.

Rugby league

The governing body of rugby league in the United Kingdom is the Rugby Football League. Overall rugby league is about as popular as rugby union in England, but draws most of this support from its heartlands in Yorkshire, North West England, and Cumbria, and is very popular with armchair sports fans nationwide (as can be seen by the fact that Super League viewing figures dwarf the rugby union equivalent on Sky Sports).

The top level league is the twelve team Super League. Ten of the teams are based in the heartlands, one team is in London and one team in France. Below this level are the National Leagues, consisting of two divisions, with ten and twelve teams respectively. There is promotion and relegation between the National Leagues, but from the 2009 season the Super League will consist of 14 franchises, based on renewable three year licenses. The main knock-out competition is the Challenge Cup, which also includes clubs from France and Russia.

Rugby league is also played as an amateur sport, especially in the heartland areas, where the game is administered by BARLA. Since the rugby union authorities ended the discrimination against playing rugby league amateur numbers in the sport have increased, particularly outside the heartland areas. Through competitions such as the Rugby League Conference, consisting of one nationwide league of ten teams and twelve other regional leagues, including one Welsh and one Scottish league, the sport now has a national spread, at amateur level at least [] .

Internationally, England fields a competitive team in international rugby league. For many tournaments the home nations are combined to compete as Great Britain. The Great Britain team won the Rugby League World Cup in 1954, 1960 and 1972, but England and Wales now compete separately in this tournament and Australia has held the title since 1975.

The Great Britain team competes with Australia and New Zealand in the more recently founded Tri-Nations competition. Great Britain also competes as a single team in test series such as the Ashes (against Australia) and the Baskerville Shield (against New Zealand).

The England national rugby league team will compete more regularly as a full test nation, in lieu of the Great Britain national rugby league team, which, following the 2007 Centenary Test Series against New Zealand will only reform as an occasional southern hemisphere touring side.

Other team sports

Basketball is a minor sport in England. As of the 2006-07 season the top level league is the ten team British Basketball League and second league is the twelve team English Basketball League. The teams are professional or semi-professional but have modest resources. British international basketball teams have not achieved any major successes.

Ice hockey is a minor sport in England. Six teams out of the ten-team professional Elite League which features many former NHL players.

Hockey is a moderately popular recreational sport in England. The Great Britain men's team won the hockey tournament at the 1988 Olympics. However British hockey has gone backwards since then, partly because of conflicts between the need to foster a combined team to compete in the Olympics, and the commitment of the hockey associations of each of the home nations to the retention of separate national teams to compete in other international competitions.

Australian rules football is a team and spectator sport with a long but obscure history in England and has grown since 1989 to several amateur leagues.
Australian Football League exhibition matches have been held in London every few years since 1972. (see Australian rules football in England).

The Irish sports of Gaelic Football and Hurling are also organised on a similar basis. Dating back to the 1880s London GAA teams compete in top level competitions in Ireland. During the 1970s and 80s there were as many as 85 GAA clubs in the London area and hundreds around Britain, but due to the fall off in Irish immigration in the 1990s the number has fallen considerably.

English national teams also boast top-eight world rankings, as of autumn 2008, in the smaller team sports of Korfball (mixed), Ultimate Frisbee (both the men's, women's and mixed disciplines, competing as Great Britain), and Lacrosse (both the men's and women's versions).

Elite level individual sports


Tennis is also one of Englands major sports, this can be seen through one of the most prestigious tournaments in tennis, Wimbledon, one of the four Grand Slams, being held in England.


The majority of the Formula One teams are based in England. English drivers have won seven Formula One World Championship drivers titles. Lewis Hamilton is the most notable current English driver. The British Grand Prix takes place at Silverstone, most frequently in July.

Major motor racing series based in the UK include the British Formula Three Championship and the British Touring Car Championship.

English drivers (most notably Richard Burns) have achieved success in the World Rally Championship.

Since 2000 the British Superbike Championship has become increasingly popular, surpassing its four-wheeled rivals in terms of spectator receipts and television coverage. Britain hosts one round of the MotoGP championship at Donington Park, and usually two rounds of the Superbike World Championship - at Donington and Brands Hatch in SBK|2008, while SBK|2007 also featured Silverstone.

England is commonly seen as the widely dominant country for building racing cars. In addition to Formula One successes, historic names such as Lola, March, Reynard and Chevron has supplied numerous teams. Universities offering motorsport courses always back up this claim. Between the mid 1980's to the 1990s cars built in Britain were widely dominant in CART racing and the Indianapolis 500 in the United States.


England played a key role in the evolution of modern boxing, with the codification of the rules of the sport known as the Queensberry Rules in the 19th century.

British professional boxing offers some of the largest purses outside the United States to a few elite professional boxers who become nationally known. British heavyweight contenders are especially popular, but most British world champions have fought in the middling weight brackets. The governing body of professional boxing is the British Boxing Board of Control. It is generally felt that British professional boxing is in decline in the early years of the 21st century. The reasons for this include: the fact that football now offers a relatively large number of sportsmen the chance to make the sort of income traditionally only available to world boxing champions, reducing the incentive for athletic youngsters to accept the greater risks of a boxing career; the acquisition of the rights to most major fights by Sky Sports, which means that fewer boxers become national figures than in the past; and the knock the sport's credibility has taken from the multiplicity of title sanctioning bodies.

Amateur boxing is governed by the Amateur Boxing Association of England (ABA) and the equivalent bodies in the other home nations. British amateurs have only enjoyed a very modest amount of success in international competition in recent decades, partly due to the tendency for them to turn professional at an early stage. The amateur sport is in a very poor state, with dramatic declines in boxer numbers. National amateur boxing championships and international team matches, which were once highlights of the British sporting calendar, receive only limited national recognition.

Olympic Games

England does not compete at the Olympic Games, English athletes compete as part of the Great Britain team instead. However London hosted the Summer Olympics in 1908 and 1948. In July 2005 London was chosen to host the Games in 2012, making it the first city in the world to host the Summer Olympics three times.

Other individual sports

Other sports with loyal followings include snooker, which is popular with television companies as it fills swathes of their schedules at a very low cost, and also attracts good audiences. However, its popularity has waned somewhat since 1985, when nearly a third of the British population watched the conclusion of the celebrated Dennis Taylor versus Steve Davis World Championship final even though it ended after midnight. Darts is another British centred sport with an assured place in the attention of the English sporting public.

Major sports facilities

In the early 20th century England had some of the largest sports facilities in the world, but the level of comfort and amenities they offered would be considered totally unacceptable by modern standards. After a long period of decline relative to other developed countries English facilities have made a relative improvement since the 1980s, and this is ongoing.

National stadium

* Wembley Stadium (England football team) The newley reconstructed Wembley has also been used by the Great Britain rugby league team, and for major club matches in that sport. It can seat 90,000 people, second largest capacity in Europe. Wembley is also the most expensive stadium in the world, costing nearly £780 million.
* Lord's Cricket Ground (England and Wales Cricket Team). Lord's is considered to be the spiritual 'home of Test Cricket' and is the home of the MCC. It has a seating capacity of 30,000
* Twickenham (England rugby union team) has a capacity of 82,000.

Club Association football grounds

English football grounds are almost always football-only facilities in which the spectators are close to the action. Since the late 1980s there has been a dramatic spurt of reconstruction and replacement of league grounds, which is ongoing, and the Premiership's facilities are among the best of any sports league. As of early 2005 there are approximately 30 all-seater club grounds in England with a capacity of 25,000 or more, and three in Scotland. The largest is Manchester United's Old Trafford, which has a capacity of 76,000.

Cricket grounds

English cricket grounds are smaller than the largest in some other countries, especially India and Australia, but the best of them have been modernised to a high standard, and two new international grounds have been built in recent years. The largest English cricket ground, Lord's in London, is internationally regarded as the "home of cricket".

Club rugby grounds

Rugby union and rugby league clubs are generally poorer than their cricket and football counterparts. Some clubs have good all seater grounds in the 10,000-25,000 capacity range; some have older grounds which are still partly terraced, and others play in council-owned joint-use stadia (eg. the KC Stadium). Some clubs (mostly rugby union ones) rent stadia from football clubs.

Golf courses

The Belfry in the English Midlands has hosted the Ryder Cup more times than any other site. Wentworth Club near London is the only venue which hosts two European Tour events each season.

Athletics stadiums

The provision of athletics stadiums in England is very poor compared to most other developed countries. The main reason for this is that it is not considered acceptable to ask football or rugby fans to sit behind an athletics track. This means that athletics stadiums have to be separately financed and this can only be done with public funds, which have not been forthcoming on a large scale. The largest athletics stadium built in the UK since the Second World War, the 38,000-capacity City of Manchester Stadium built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, was reconfigured for football-only use after that event. The largest existing stadium is the 25,000 seat Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield. London's largest athletics venue is Crystal Palace, which has just 15,500 permanent seats. It will be superseded by the Olympic Stadium, which will be built as an 80,000 seater for the 2012 Summer Olympics, but will be reduced to 25,000 seats after the Games.

Indoor arenas

In England there is no indoor sport capable of attracting five-figure attendances on a regular basis, and this restricts the development of large indoor arenas. Nonetheless a number of 10,000+ seater arenas have been built in recent years and more are planned. These facilities make most of their income from pop concerts, but they occasionally stage boxing matches and other sporting events. The largest is the Manchester Evening News Arena in its eponymous city, with a capacity of over 20,000 for court events. The O2 in London (the former Millennium Dome), reopened in 2007, contains an arena that seats 17,500, but can be reconfigured to seat more than the MEN Arena. There are some specialist ice hockey and basketball arenas, but they only seat a few thousand spectators. Several of the 2012 Olympic arenas will be relocated outside London after the Games.

External links

* [ A website with details of UK stadia]
* [ An illustrated guide to English football grounds]

tudent sport

Apart from a couple of Oxbridge events, student sport has a very low profile in England. While universities have significant sports facilities, there is no system of sports scholarships. However students who are elite standard competitors are eligible for funding from bodies such as UK Sport on the same basis as anyone else. The university most focused on sports provision is probably Loughborough University. Budding professionals in the traditionally working class team sports of football and rugby league rarely go to university. Talented youngsters in the more middle class sports of cricket and rugby union are far more likely to attend university, but their sports clubs usually play a greater role in developing their talent than their university coaches. Some sports are attempting to adapt to new conditions in which a far higher proportion of English teenagers attend university than in the past, notably cricket, which has established several university centres of excellence.

chool sport

Sport is compulsory for all students up to the age of sixteen, but the amount of time devoted to it is often small.

The leading body for physical education in the United Kingdom is the Association for Physical Education. Sportsmark is Sport England's accreditation scheme for secondary schools. The scheme recognises a school's out of hours sports provision.

There are frequent complaints that state sector schools do too little to encourage sport and a healthy lifestyle. Since the 1980s it has become a cliché to complain about sales of school playing fields for development.

Sports culture is strong in independent schools in the United Kingdom, and these schools contribute disproportionately high numbers of competitors in sports which are traditionally considered 'elitist', such as cricket and rugby union. Participants of other sports, notably association football, rugby league, boxing and athletics, are much more likely to come from state schools.

In addition to the many of the sports already mentioned, popular sports at junior level include netball and rounders, both of which are played almost entirely by girls. However, in recent times schoolgirls have increasingly played sports which are traditionally male, especially football and cricket, but also others such as rugby.


ee also

*Sport in the United Kingdom
*Sport in Leeds
*Sport in London
*Sport in Manchester
*Sport in Sheffield
*Association for Physical Education afPE

External links

* [ The Tug of War Association]
* [ 2007 European Outdoor Tug of War Championships - 20-23 September 2007 - Minehead - Somerset]
* [ Association for Physical Education] Association for Physical Education afPE Official website

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