Sport in the United Kingdom
Sport in the United Kingdom plays an important role in British culture, and many people make an emotional investment in their favourite spectator sports. The most popular sport is football, except in
Northern Irelandwhere Gaelic gamesare the most popular sports and Wales, where rugby unionis generally perceived from outside as being the national sport, although there are more registered football clubs than rugby clubs. Cricketis popular in Englandand Wales, but is less popular in the other home nations. Rugby unionand rugby leagueare the other major team sports. Major individual sports include athletics, golf, motorsport, and horseracing. Tennisis the highest profile sport for the two weeks of the Wimbledon Championships, but otherwise struggles to hold its own in the country of its birth. Many other sports are also played and followed to a lesser degree.
The United Kingdom has given birth to a range of major international sports including: football, rugby (union and league),
cricket, golf, tennis, badminton, squash, baseball, hockey, boxing, snooker, billiardsand curling. It has also played a key role in the development of sports such as Sailingand Formula One.
England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Irelandhave separate teams in most team sports, including separate teams at the Commonwealth Games, though a combined team represents the United Kingdom at the Olympics which is formally "Great Britain and Northern Ireland" but commonly referred to as " Great Britain". In rugby union, Ireland also competes as a single nation. 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 Championshipno longer takes place.
The club competitions in most team sports are also organised on a national basis rather than on a United Kingdom wide basis. 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; a Northern Ireland club in the Republic's league, the FAI League of Ireland; a club in the Welsh Premier Leagueplaying their home matches in England; and the Magners League in rugby union, which includes clubs from Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland (note that rugby union in Ireland is organised on an all-Ireland basis).
Administration and funding
Political responsibility for sport in England is with the UK
Department of Culture, Media and Sportwhich is headed by a cabinet minister though the Minister for Sport and Tourismis not in the cabinet.
Political responsibility for Sport in
Scotlandlies with the Scottish Government Minister for Communities and Sport, currently Stewart Maxwell.
A large majority of the funding for elite sport in the United Kingdom is commercially generated, but this is concentrated heavily on a few sports. The Premiership football clubs had an estimated combined turnover of £1.25 billion for the 2003-04 season according to Deloitte, and British professional football's total income is in the region of £2 billion. Other major sports have a turnover in low nine figures or the tens of millions. For example
cricketis highly dependent on its TV contract, which will be worth £55 million a year for the 2006-09 seasons.
Athletics, and also most sports outside the top ten or so in popularity, are heavily dependent on public funding. The government agency which funnels this is
UK Sport, which has affiliates in each of the home nations, for example Sport England. These agencies are also responsible for distributing money raised for sport by the National Lottery. In 2005, UK Sport announced funding plans for the next few years which are more focused than ever before on rewarding sports which have delivered Olympic success, and as a corollary penalising those which haven't. UK Sport also provides money for the recreational side of the main team sports, even football.
Other sports benefit from special financial provision. British tennis is subsidised by the profits of the Wimbledon Championships, which are in the tens of millions of pounds each year. Horseracing benefits from a levy on betting.
Following the Budget from 21 March 2007 there will be only few tax breaks to British sport in the near future. [http://www.thisisstaffordshire.co.uk/displayNode.jsp?nodeId=158316&command=displayContent&sourceNode=158309&contentPK=16954890&folderPk=87603&pNodeId=158332]
A recent MORI poll [ [http://www.ipsos-mori.com/sport/sports-tracker-05.pdf MORI Sports Tracker 1996-2005 ] ] found:
The British media is dominated by national outlets, with local media playing a much smaller role. Traditionally the BBC played a dominant role in televising sport, providing extensive high-quality advertisement free coverage and free publicity, in exchange for being granted broadcast rights for low fees.
ITVbroadcast a smaller portfolio of events. In the early 1990s this arrangement was shaken up by the arrival of pay-TV. BSkyB based its early marketing largely on its acquisition of top division English league football, which was renamed The Premiershipas part of the deal. It has subsequently acquired many more top rights in other sports. However, Sky tends to focus on competitions which can fill its specialist sports channels on a regular basis, and many events are still shown on free to air television, especially annual and quadrennial events such as Wimbledon and the Olympics. There are also regulations which prevent certain listed events from being sold exclusively to pay television. In 2006 the Irish company Setanta Sportsmade a major move into the British market by paying £392 million [http://www.timesonline.co.uk/newspaper/0,,176-2179164,00.html] for rights to certain Scottish Premier Leagueas well as one third of live Premier League matches for the three year period from summer 2007 to summer 2010.
Radio sports coverage is also important. The BBC's
Radio Five Livebroadcasts almost all major sports events. It now has a commercial rival called TalkSport, but this has not acquired anywhere near as many exclusive contracts as Sky Sports. BBC Local Radioalso provides extensive coverage of sport, giving more exposure to second-tier clubs which get limited national coverage.
The United Kingdom does not have a tradition of specialist sports newspapers, but all of the national newspapers except the
Financial Timesdevote many pages to sport every day. Local newspapers cover local clubs at all levels and there are hundreds of weekly and monthly sports magazines.
Elite level sport
Elite level team sports
Four sports in the United Kingdom operate high profile professional leagues. Football is the most popular sport and is played from August to May.
Rugby unionis also a winter sport. Cricketis played in the Summer, from April to September. Rugby leagueis traditionally a winter sport, but since the late 1990s the elite competition has been played in the summer to minimise competition for attention with football. There are also professional leagues in basketballand 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.
:"See main articles
Football in the United Kingdom, Football in Englandand Football in Scotland."
The modern global game of football evolved out of traditional football games played in England in the 19th century and today is the highest profile sport 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.
Football is organised on a separate basis in each country of the United Kingdom. The governing bodies for football are
The Football Association(of England), the Scottish Football Association, the Football Association of Walesand the Irish Football Association. These bodies run the 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. The first ever international football match was between Scotland and England in 1872. The only major national team competition won by a Home Nationis the 1966 World Cup, which England hosted and won.
Club football is also organised separately in each country. English football has a league system which incorporates thousands of clubs, and is topped by four fully professional divisions. The elite
Premier Leaguehas 20 teams and is the richest football (soccer) league in the world. The other three fully professional divisions are the run by The Football Leagueand include another 72 clubs. Annual promotion and relegationoperates 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 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.
Scotland has a similar but smaller club football structure. The main league is the single-division, twelve-club
Scottish Premier League(SPL), which is dominated by the two Old Firm Glasgowclubs Rangers F.C.and Celtic F.C.who dwarf their rivals in support and financial resources. Below the SPL is the Scottish Football League, which has three divisions with a total of thirty clubs, not all of which are fully professional. The two main cup competitions are Scottish Cupand the Scottish League Cup.
The top level league in Wales is the
Welsh Premier League. This league has a relatively low profile as rugby unionis the national sport of Wales and the top three Welsh football clubs play in the English league system. The main Welsh Cup competitions are the Welsh Cupand the FAW Premier Cup.
In Northern Ireland the main league is the
Irish Football League, which despite its name is open only to teams from Northern Ireland, as opposed to the Republic of Ireland. It has three divisions.
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 Leagueand the UEFA Cup. England and Scotland have both produced winners of each of these competitions.
:"See main articles
Cricket in England, Ireland cricket team, Cricket in Scotlandand Cricket in Wales."
was the most celebrated British sportsman of the 19th century]
The early reference to the separate national identities in the UK is perhaps best illustrated by the game of cricket.
Cricketwas invented in England. The national sport of England is cricket. There is no UK team, although the England team also represents Wales. England is one of the test-playing nations, whilst Scotland and Ireland are associate members of the ICC and compete at One Day Internationallevel. 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.There are 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. English cricketgrounds include Lords, The Oval, Headingley, Old Trafford, Edgbaston and Trent Bridge. Cardiff's Sophia Gardensground has also become increasingly popular in recent years. It is by no means equal to football in finance, attendance or coverage, but it has a high profile nonetheless. 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.
:"See main articles:
History of rugby unionand History of rugby league."
Like association football,
rugby unionand rugby leagueboth 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 Boardopened rugby union to professional players.
:"See main articles:
Rugby union in England, Rugby union in Ireland, Rugby union in Scotlandand Rugby union in Wales."The four home nations compete separately at international level, with Northern Ireland fielding a combined Ireland team with the Republic of Ireland. All four teams are among the top ten in global rugby union. They take part in the main European international rugby union competition, the Six Nations Championship, which also includes Italy and France, and regularly play the other leading rugby union nations—the "Southern Hemisphere" trio of South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, plus the geographically isolated emerging power Argentina—as well as other rugby playing countries. England won the 2003 Rugby World Cup, the first victory in the competition by a British team (or, for that matter, any Northern Hemisphere country), and were runners-up to South Africa in 2007. Rugby union is generally regarded as the national sport of Wales.
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. By contrast, the professional era has had a traumatic effect on the traditional structure of club rugby in Wales, Scotland and Ireland, as the clubs lacked the financial resources to compete with their English and French rivals. The three countries now share a single top flight rugby structure made up of regional teams: four from Wales, four from Ireland and two from Scotland. These teams play in the Magners League and the Celtic Cup.
British club and provincial rugby sides also take part in the two European wide club rugby competitions, the
Heineken Cupand the European Challenge Cup.
Rugby league football
:"See main articles:
Rugby league in England, Rugby league in Ireland, Rugby league in Scotlandand Rugby league in Wales."The governing body of rugby league in the United Kingdom in the Rugby Football League. Overall rugby league is a smaller sport than rugby union in the United Kingdom, but it draws healthy crowds in its heartlands in Yorkshireand North West England, and is popular with armchair sports fans nationwide. The top level league is the 12-team Super League. As of the 2008 season, 10 of the teams are based in the heartlands, one team is in Londonand one team is in France. In 2009, Super League will expand to 14 teams, with the 12 teams from 2008 joined by an additional heartland team and one team from Wales. Below this level are the National Leagues, consisting of three divisions, each with ten teams. There is promotion and relegation between Super League and the National Leagues. The main knock-out competitions is the Challenge Cup, which also includes clubs from Franceand 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 Conferencethe sport is heading towards a national spread, at amateur level at least [http://www.rfl.uk.com/Templates/RFLDefault.asp?modeID=News&RFLMode=ShowNews&Pkey=434&CompName=] .
Internationally, only England (and sometimes Wales) field truly competitive teams 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 Cupin 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).
Other team sports
Gaelic Athletic Associationsports such as Gaelic footballand hurlingare widely played in Northern Ireland, although they are minority games in Britain. Football in particular is very popular in all xix counties. The GAA sports are administered in Northern Ireland by Ulster GAA, which is also in charge of the rest of Ulster. Northern Irish teams have been successful in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championshipin recent years, with Armagh GAAwinning the title in 2002 and Tyrone GAAvictorious in 2003 and 2005. Antrim GAAhave been the most successful hurling side. The GAA in Great Britainis administered by Britain GAA. The most successful team is London GAA, which also competes in the All-Ireland championships. Basketballis a minor sport in the United Kingdom. As of the 2006-07 season the top level league is the ten team British Basketball Leagueand 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. Currently, British players in the North American NBA are Ben Gordon(who was raised in the United States) and Luol Deng(a Sudanese refugee who is now naturalised in the UK). Another NBA player, Kelenna Azubuike, was born in London (leaving for the United States as a teenager to further his basketball career), but was denied British citizenship in December 2007 because of problems with his parents' immigration status at his birth. Ice hockeyis also a minor sport in the United Kingdom. The main league is the ten team professional Elite Leaguewhich features many former NHL players.
Hockey is the second most popular team recreational sport in the United Kingdom. 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 footballis a minor amateur sport in the United Kingdom. The British Australian Rules Football League(BARFL), formed in 1989 has Premier, Regional and Conference divisions. The Grand Finalis an event that regularly attracts growing audience of up to 5,000, consisting primarily of ex-patriate Australians. The British Bulldogs national team has competed in the Australian Football International Cup. Exhibition matches are regularly scheduled for The Ovalin London, and despite the fact that few Britons know of the sport, the most recent match attracted a record crowd of 18,884 [http://www.surreycricket.com/news/the-brit-oval/a-simple-guide-to-aussie-rules,3889,NS.html] , helped by the presence of a large Australian community in London.
Elite level individual sports
Athletics does not have a very high profile in Britain on a week-in week-out basis, but it leaps to prominence during major championships. The level of attention received by successful British athletes is illustrated by the fact that athletes have won far more
BBC Sports Personality of the Yearawards than practitioners of any other sport. The governing body of British Athletics is UK Athletics. There are also semi-independent athletics associations in each of the home nations.
Over the last few decades British athletes have usually won between one and three gold medals at the Olympics. Traditionally Britain was strongest in men's athletics, especially middle distance running, but over the last 20 years success has been achieved in a wide range of events and British women have closed the attainment gap on the men. However, there remain serious concerns about the depth of the sport in Britain, with the number of club athletes reportedly in decline.
Two high profile annual athletics events are the
London Marathonand the Great North Run, which is a half marathon.
golforiginated in Scotland. In the early 20th century British golfers were the best in the world, winning nearly all of the U.S. Open championships before World War I. American golfers later became dominant, but Britain has continued to produce leading golfers, with an especially strong period in the 1980s and 1990s. There are usually more British golfers than Americans in the top 100 of the Official World Golf Rankingsrelative to population, that is to say more than a fifth as many, but Britain has not yet produced a major new golf star this century (although two Englishmen, Justin Roseand Luke Donald, have been in the Top Ten in the recent past). The Open Championship, which is played each July on a number of British golf courses on a rotating basis, the majority of them in Scotland, is the only men's major golf tournament which is played outside of the United States. The most famous of these courses is St Andrews, which is known as "The Home of Golf". The R&A, the governing body of golf outside the United States and Mexico, is based in St Andrews. The PGA European Touris headquartered in England, and the main European Tourplays more events in the United Kingdom than in any other country. In international team competition the United Kingdom provides a large part of the European Ryder Cupteam, which has beaten the United Statesteam in five of the last six events.
Women's golf does not have as high a profile as the men's game, but British players, most notably
Laura Davies, have found success on both the Europe-wide Ladies European Tourand the overwhelmingly dominant women's tour, the LPGATour in the U.S. The Women's British Openis the only event recognised as a major by both the Ladies European Tour and the U.S. LPGA.
Tennis is yet another sport which originated in the United Kingdom, but it has not flourished there in recent decades, and its profile is highly dependent on the Wimbledon Championships. However, no British man has won Wimbledon since 1936 and no British woman since 1977. The governing body of the sport is the
Lawn Tennis Association(LTA), which invests the vast profits from the tournament in the game in the hope of producing British champions, but a sting of revamps of the coaching system have failed to raise the standard of LTA-trained players. The only British players of either sex to reach the world top 50 in recent years are Greg Rusedski, who learnt his tennis in Canada, and Tim Henmanand Andy Murray, who did not pass through the LTA system either. Outside of Wimbledon fortnight tennis's profile in Britain is low and is now largely dependent on Murray, as both Rusedski and Henman retired in 2007.
"Great Britain" or "British Isles" teams have won the
Davis Cupnine times, but all of them were before World War IIand there is no prospect of another victory in the foreseeable future. The Great Britain women's team made the final of the Fed Cupfour times, losing all four, but their last finals appearance was in 1981 when the competition was known as the Federation Cup, and the women's prospects for future victory are every bit as dim as those of Britain's men. Neither team are currently in their respective World Groups for Davis and Fed Cup competition.
Britain is the centre of
Formula One, with the majority of the Formula One teams based in England, and more world titles won by drivers from Britain than from any other country, including Mike Hawthorn, Graham Hill(twice), Jim Clark(twice), John Surtees(who was also world champion in motorcycling), Jackie Stewart(three times), James Hunt, Nigel Mansell, and Graham Hill's son, Damon Hill. The British Grand Prixtakes place at Silverstone each July, although from 2010 onwards will take place at Donington Park.
Major motor racing series based in the UK include the
British Formula Three Championshipand the British Touring Car Championship.
British drivers have achieved success in the
World Rally Championshipwith the late Colin McRaeand the late Richard Burnswinning the title. The British leg of the competition is the Wales Rally Great Britain.
Since 2000 the
British Superbike Championshiphas become increasingly popular, surpassing its four-wheeled rivals in terms of spectator receipts and television coverage. Britain hosts one round of the MotoGPchampionship at Donington Park, and usually two rounds of the Superbike World Championship, at Silverstoneand Brands Hatch. In SBK|2007 a third Superbike World Championshipround was added at Donington Park, in SBK|2008 Silverstonewas dropped, Brands Hatchand Donington Parkcontinue to be part of the championship.
The United Kingdom 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, are now almost invisible to the general sporting public.
The swimming organizations of the home countries have recently formed an umbrella organisation called British Swimming. Britain sends large teams to all the major international swimming events, and enjoy some successes, but it is not currently a leading swimming nation. The sport's profile is highest during the
Commonwealth Games, when British swimmers have their best chance to win gold medals, and during the Olympics.
The provision of 50 metre pools in the United Kingdom is very poor for a developed country, with just 22 as of early 2007, only two of which conform to the full Olympic standard. There are however far more 25 metre short course pools and other sub Olympic-size competition pools. (See
List of Olympic size swimming pools in the United Kingdom.)
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 Taylorversus Steve DavisWorld Championship final even though it ended after midnight. All but two events on the professional snooker tour in 2007/2008 are played in the United Kingdom, and the World Championship has been played at The Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, since 1977. All but three World Champions, Horace Lindrum(officially, but not considered a World Champion in modern times), Ken Dohertyand Cliff Thorburnhave been born in the United Kingdom. There are many amateur leagues set up across the country, featuring team matches between snooker clubs. Dartsis another British centred sport with an assured place in the attention of the British sporting public. The two rival Darts World Championships have been held in the United Kingdom since their inception. Phil Taylorof Stoke has won more World Championships than any other player. Sailingis also a well regarded sport in the UK. It is governed by the RYA, and there are many locations in the UK where sailing can take place, both inland and coastal. Media coverage tends to be low, but if this was to be increased, some feel that support for the sport would increase. Cyclingis a minority sport with which Britain has had limited success in road racing in such races as the Tour de France. But there is a strong race scene in Britain with several professional teams. Britain has produced some notable road racers in the past such as Tom Simpson, Robert Millar, Malcolm Elliot, Chris Boardmanand more recently David Millarand Mark Cavendish. Britain has also had success in women's cycling with the late Beryl Burtonwho won many world titles in her career and more recently Nicole Cookewho is regarded by many as being the best female cyclist in the world. But Britain's main success in cycle racing is in the velodromewhere Britain has one of the best track cycling teams in the world which has produced successful riders like Bradley Wiggins, Chris Hoy, Jamie Staff, Jason Queally, Victoria Pendleton, and Graeme Obree. Orienteeringis now a major sport in the UK. It is regulated by the British Orienteering Federation, and Britain generally puts on a very strong show at the World Orienteering Championshipswith Jamie Stevenson, second at WOC in 2006. Yvette Bakeris generally consideredby who the best British orienteer of all time.
There are many other sports in which Britons compete, sometimes with success, but which do not receive much attention outside a small number of aficionados except during major events such as the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games, or when a British athlete does something extraordinary such as breaking a world record. Examples include
judo, gliding, modern pentathlon, figure skatingand sailing.
Elite level equestrian sports
:"See main article
Horseracing in Great Britain."
Horseracing occupies a key place in British sport, probably ranking in the top four or five sports in terms of media coverage. There are sixty racecourses in Great Britain and two in Northern Ireland, and annual racecourse attendance exceeds six million. The sport in Great Britain is governed by the
British Horseracing Authority. The two racecourses in Northern Ireland are governed by Horse Racing Ireland, which runs horse racing on an All-Irelandbasis.
The two forms of horseracing in the United Kingdom are National Hunt, which involves jumping over fences or hurdles, and the more glamourous flat racing. National Hunt is a winter sport and flat racing is a summer sport, but the seasons are very long and they overlap.
In flat racing the three races which make up the Triple Crown are the 2,000 Guineas, the
Epsom Derby, and the St. Leger Stakes. Other leading flat races include the 1,000 Guineas and the Epsom Oaks. Apart from the meetings at which the aforementioned races are staged, major flat racing meetings include Royal Ascot, Glorious Goodwood, and the Ebor Festivalat York Racecourse. The highlights of the National Hunt season are the Cheltenham Festivaland the Aintree Grand National.
Eventing and showjumping
The United Kingdom also played a key role in the evolution of three-day eventing and showjumping. Two of the six annual three-day event competitions given the highest classification by the FEI are British, namely the
Badminton Horse Trialsand the Burghley Horse Trials. Badminton attracts crowds of up to a quarter of a million spectators on cross country day, which is the largest for any paid-entry sports event in Britain.
Great Britain at the Olympics
The United Kingdom usually competes in the Olympics as "Great Britain and Northern Ireland" or simply "Great Britain" during Olympic competition. The
British Olympic Associationdoes not play as central a role in British sport as some other National Olympic Committees play in their nation's sporting life.
After the 2004
Summer OlympicsGreat Britain was third in the all-time Summer Olympic medal count (ranked by gold medals), although the majority of the medals are accounted for by some very large tallies in the first few Olympic Games. British medal tallies for much of the post-war period were generally considered disappointing, but the 2000 Summer Olympicsmarked an upturn and this was sustained at the 2004 Summer Olympics when Great Britain finished tenth in the medal table. This was seen as a great success, and there was a victory parade through the streets of London. It was largely overlooked that the team had come fourth out of the five largest West European nations. The sports in which the British team has won most medals in recent Summer Olympics include rowing, sailing, cyclingand athletics. London hosted the Summer Olympics in 1908 and 1948 and will do so again in 2012. Winter sportsonly play a minor role British sporting life because the winters are not cold enough for them to be practised out of doors very much. Great Britain is not a leading nation at the Winter Olympics, but has had a few successes in sports such as figure skatingand curling.
Scottish National Party(SNP) government in Scotland favours the idea of Scotland competing in the Olympics as a separate team, and not as part of a Great Britain team.
The United Kingdom has played a major role in the development of disability sport. The
Paralympic Gamesoriginated in the Stoke Mandeville Games, which were held at Stoke Mandeville Hospitalin Buckinghamshirein 1948. The Great Britain team does much better in the medal table at the Summer Paralympicsthan at the Summer Olympics. It has never finished outside the top five and has been second several times, including the last two games in 2000 and 2004. The BBCis an enthusiastic promoter of disability sport.
Major sports facilities
In the early 20th century the United Kingdom 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 British facilities have made a relative improvement since the 1980s, and this is ongoing.
Most of the best stadia in the United Kingdom were built for national teams, and are not used at club level:
Wembley Stadium(England football team) 90,000. Wembley has also been used by the Great Britain rugby league team, and for major club matches in that sport.
* Twickenham (England rugby union team) 82,000.
Millennium Stadium(Wales football and rugby union teams) 75,000.
* Murrayfield (Scotland rugby union team and
Edinburgh Rugby, a professional club team in the same sport) 67,000.
Hampden Park(Scotland football team and Queen's Park F.C., an amateur club football team) 52,000.
Northern Ireland's national stadium
Windsor Park, which is actually owned by Linfield F.C.and leased by the Irish Football Association, is much smaller with a 20,000 capacity.
Club football grounds
British 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 2007 there are approximately 35 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 over 76,000.
English cricket grounds are smaller than the largest in some other countries, especially
Indiaand 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 unionand rugby leagueclubs are generally poorer than their 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.
The United Kingdom has many world class golf courses which can accommodate crowds in the tens of thousands for tournaments. The greatest concentration of these is in Scotland. The Open Championship is always played over a links course, the most famous venue being the
Old Course at St Andrewson the east coast of Scotland. The Belfryin the English Midlandshas hosted the Ryder Cup more times than any other site. Wentworth Clubnear London is the only venue which hosts two European Tourevents each season.
The provision of athletics stadiums in the United Kingdom 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 Stadiumbuilt 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 Stadiumin 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.
There are 62 racecourses in the UK. The best of them are world class. For example
Ascot Racecourseis being redeveloped in 2005 and 2006 at a cost of £185 million.
In the United Kingdom 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 now The O2 in London with a capacity of over 20,000, surpassing the former leader, the
Manchester Evening News Arenain Manchester. The National Ice Centre in Nottingham, Odyssey Arena in Belfastand the Sheffield Arenaall host ice hockey, the largest being the Sheffield Arena which holds in the region of 8,500 spectators. Several smaller arenas hosting ice hockey and basketballare found around the United Kingdom though these generally hold only a few thousand fans.
* [http://www.worldstadiums.com/europe/countries/united_kingdom.shtml A website with details of UK stadia]
* [http://www.footballgroundguide.co.uk/ An illustrated guide to English football grounds]
* [http://www.scottishgroundguide.co.uk/ An illustrated guide to Scottish football grounds]
Apart from a couple of
Oxbridgeevents, student sport has a very low profile in the United Kingdom. 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 Sporton the same basis as anyone else. The university most focused on sports provision is Loughborough University. Budding professionals in the traditionally working classteam sports of football and rugby leaguerarely go to university. Talented youngsters in the more middle classsports of cricketand rugby unionare 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 British teenagers attend university than in the past, notably cricket, which has established several university centres of excellence.
Sport is compulsory for all students up to the age of sixteen, but the amount of time devoted to it is often small. 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 stronger in independent schools in the United Kingdom, and these schools contribute disproportionate numbers of elite competitors in almost all sports with the exceptions of football, rugby league, boxing and perhaps athletics.
In addition to the many of the sports already mentioned, popular sports at junior level include
netballand 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, but also others such as rugby.
The leading body for physical education in the
United Kingdomis the Association for Physical Education.
In 2006 the
UK School Gameswas established by the Youth Sport Trustas an annual sporting competition for elite school age athletes in the UK, and for 2008 was expanded to include nine sports over four days.
Sport in England
Sport in Ireland
Sport in Scotland
Sport in Wales
Sport in the Isle of Man
Sport in Jersey
Sport in Guernsey
Sport in Gibraltar
* [http://www.afpe.org.uk Association for Physical Education]
Association for Physical Education afPEOfficial website
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