- BBC World News
Football is the most popular sport on the planet.
It is a sport that was originally born in a pub in England in 1863, when some gentlemen decided to establish rules for a game that was already regularly played in that country, with the idea of distinguishing it from another very popular game: rugby.
The fact is that in less than four decades, Football already had a presence in many countries around the world.
One of the reasons for this spread was that football was born in the most powerful power on the planet at that time: the British Empire, which controlled large areas around the world.
However, football is not currently the most popular sport in many of the territories that belonged to this powerful empire.
In Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, for example, rugby is much more popular than football, while in India and Pakistan, cricket is almost a religion.
“What happened with Australia or India is that when the British arrived, the national sport in England was cricket, not football. Rugby was the sport of choice for the aristocrats who were sent to rule these places,” he tells the BBC. Historian Jan Williams.
Williams explains that football was a middle-class and working-class sport in the United Kingdom at the time.
“The spread of football in the world occurred for two reasons: first, because of the spread of railways built by British engineers, and second, because of the academic exchanges that took place with people from other countries, especially Latin America and Asia,” he points out. Williams.
Cricket and rugby, the sports of the empire
Cricket is a bat-and-ball sport (like baseball, but with fundamental differences in placement and strategy) played on an oval field in which the primary objective is to score runs.
that sport, Which has its roots Anddad Media, became the national sport in England from the 18th century onwards and of course during its heyday YoBritish Empire
Added to this is the popularity of another sport: rugby, which for decades was considered “a monster sport played by gentlemen.”
“These were sports among the upper classes and leaders of the time. What they did was almost officially introduce them to areas like Australia or India or South Africa,” Williams says.
Although cricket had already been brought to India, where it is now the most played sport, by British traders in the 17th century, it was with the conquest of those lands in the mid-19th century that it finally became what it is today.
Something similar happened with rugby, which also began to become very popular in the mid-nineteenth century, especially in Oceania and South Africa.
“Sports in the British Empire were a unifying force, often imbued with nationalist rhetoric, and sports served as concentrated representations of the climate of social and political struggle,” notes historian Patrick Hutchinson in his essay “Sport and British Colonialism.”
This influence makes India and Pakistan – and also Australia – powerful cricketing powers at the moment.
In rugby, the only men's teams to have been crowned world champions are New Zealand, South Africa, Australia (Besides England), all former British colonies.
In fact, the most popular sport in Australia is Australian rules football, a combination of cricket, rugby and soccer, which is very similar to the early version of English rugby.
now, Football had two characteristics that kept it away from those areas: It was codified much later (in 1863) and had more roots in the British middle and working class.
“By the time football became the most popular sport in the UK, cricket and rugby had already established themselves in the colonies and remained the favorite sports of the upper classes and aristocracy,” says Williams.
But this does not mean that the imperial authorities did not use football as a “unifying force”, especially in the British colonies in Africa.
“In Zanzibar, Egypt and other colonies, leagues were established with the aim of exercising a form of control through sport. Football was used for this purpose,” Hutchison says.
But football had other ways to expand.
And it wasn't just railways
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the main world power was still the British Empire., With territories that extended across Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.
In Europe, this sport has become very popular thanks to the presence of expatriates who have traveled to different countries such as Germany, France, Italy, Spain, etc.
However, in other latitudes, one of the main forms of influence was the construction of railways (a British invention).
The academic says: “Many believe that it was the railway workers who transported football to all parts of the world. But it was the engineers, because football was a middle-class sport in England.”
According to Williams, these professionals had enough influence not only to practice the sport, but also to teach and implement the sport in an organized manner in these countries, as aristocrats did through schools in the colonies with cricket and rugby.
At the beginning of the 20th century, especially in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, the first clubs began to be created, many of which had the English names they still have: River Plate or Boca Juniors (Argentina); Club Nacional de Fútbol (Uruguay) and Club Fluminense (Brazil), for example.
“What happened with football was that it was no longer divided into categories: it became popular at all levelsWilliams explains.
She herself points out that railways were not the only way football spread around the world: students and people visiting the UK were a widespread means of spread.
“A lot of people who went from Latin America or Asia to study English at some English university saw that the sport was very popular and wanted to take it to their home countries,” says Williams.
There are many examples: Cali Sports Club, one of the most traditional Colombian clubs, was founded by the Nazario brothers, Juan Pablo and Fidel Lallende Caldas, who traveled to the United Kingdom at the beginning of the 20th century and spent about five years in England.
He points out that “football, when it was born in England, became something that people who lived outside the British Empire aspired to, and in this way many football clubs were founded, from people who traveled to the United Kingdom.”
But there were areas that were once British influenced such as the United States or Canada, where football also failed to take root.
“Football has tried to enter American culture several times. “But I think its rules and number of goals had something to do with it not being more popular,” James Brown, a historian at the Association of American Soccer Historians, tells BBC Mundo.
For Brown, Americans love contact sports in which they can reach big numbers.
“But the reality is that until the age of 16, football is the sport most played by young people in this country, so it has a future.”
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