10 oldest sports in the world: when were they invented?

10 oldest sports in the world: when were they invented?

Lenah Ann
updated at April 12, 2023 at 8:14 PM

Sports vary as much as the physical constraints of the human body will allow, ultimately leading to several subsets of the same activity, each with its fair share of records and accomplishments. Many athletes worldwide have transformed what was formerly done as a manner of enjoying and entertaining others into a full-time profession, which today is termed as sports. Which is the oldest sport today?

Oldest sports in the world
Photo: canva.com (modified by author)
Source: UGC

In the past, people played them for fun. Through archaeological discoveries, it was discovered that human works of art dating back to the Upper Paleolithic period, or around 15,300 years ago, had sculptures depicting individuals engaging in sports. When did people start playing sports?

The oldest sport in the world

According to various statistical data analyses, the compiled list below showcases some of the oldest games in the world that are still on the scene.

10. Horse riding

the oldest professional sport
Jockey Jerry wins race 9 of IWC Schaffhausen Excellent Handicap on 16 October 2022 in Hong Kong. Photo: Lo Chun Kit
Source: Getty Images

Yes! Horseback riding! It requires physical strength, skill, balance, and endurance. Though it fits every description of a game and is one of the oldest activities still practised today, horseback riding is frequently seen as a leisure activity. The use of horses as a form of transportation, particularly by the military, dates back to ancient times.

Apart from its mention in antiquity, horseback riding has developed into a popular activity in contemporary games. This game was immensely popular in ancient Greece and Rome. Furthermore, the Olympics Games initially featured it in 1900.

  • The earliest evidence found: 3500 BCE
  • The territory of Origin: Kazakhstan
  • Competitive debut: Olympics Games in 1900

9. Hockey

the oldest professional sport
Kevin Maguire and Right Wing in motion on the ice during the NHL Prince of Wales Conference Adams Division game against the Washington Capitals on 10 December 1989. Photo: Rick Stewart
Source: Getty Images

Although it has been called The National Sport of India, a version of this game may be seen in ancient Greek engravings depicting individuals participating in a sport using a curved stick or a horn and a ball.

However, the Middlesex Cricket Club in England created contemporary hockey regulations, which were then adopted by British colonies in Australia, Africa, and the Indian subcontinent. International hockey federations were created, and in 1908, hockey made its debut in the Olympic games.

  • The earliest evidence found: a crude form of the game was played in Egypt 4,000 years ago
  • The territory of Origin: England in the mid-18th Century
  • Competitive debut: first Hockey Association was formed in the UK in 1876

8. Hurling

the oldest sport in India
Yu Darvish of the San Diego Padres throws a pitch during the first inning against the Philadelphia Phillies on 18 October 2022 in San Diego, California. Photo: Ronald Martinez
Source: Getty Images

Another of the oldest games in the world is hurling, which is Ireland's national sport and has been practiced there for more than three thousand years. It is a cooperative game with a stick called a hurley, and a ball called a sliotar. Typically, the players must use their sticks to score goals into the opposing goalposts.

The game appears similar to hockey but has a separate set of rules, and the stick size is also different. Hurling is particularly well-liked in Ireland and has a well-documented history.

  • The earliest evidence found: earliest evidence found is 300 year old
  • The territory of Origin: Ireland
  • Competitive debut: with official rules and regulations since the early 1900s

7. Football

the oldest sports in the world
Jackson Irvine of FC St Pauli marks Yannik Keitel during the DFB Cup second round match against Sport-Club Freiburg on 19 October 2022 in Freiburg, Breisgau, Germany. Photo: Alex Grimm
Source: Getty Images

The FA Cup, England's football tournament, is the oldest football competition in the world, whereas Sheffield FC is the oldest football club, founded in 1857. According to FIFA, football is one of the oldest sports in the world and dates back to 200 - 300 BC. It is also considered the oldest sport in America.

  • The earliest evidence found: China
  • The territory of Origin: China
  • Competitive debut: England in the 19th Century

6. Gymnastics

the oldest sports in the world
A young female gymnast leaping in midair, arms outstretched, side view. Photo: Black 100
Source: Getty Images

The practice of gymnastics has its roots in ancient Greece and was initially used for military training, as is well known. Even yet, there is not much historical information on this game as the sport dates back to prehistoric times.

The origins of modern gymnastics may be traced back to two German physical educators who created and used apparatus to work out youths in the late 18th Century.

  • The earliest evidence found: 500 BC
  • The territory of Origin: Ancient Greece
  • Competitive debut: Olympics back in the 1890s

5. Boxing

the oldest professional sport
Buse Naz Cakiroglu competes with Maxi Klotzer of Germany in the 50 kg match of the European Women's Boxing Championships in Budva, Montenegro on 17 October 2022. Photo: Rusmin Radic
Source: Getty Images

This activity has a lengthy and illustrious past in the contemporary age. While evidence of fist fighting dates back to the second and third centuries BC, fist combat with hand protection is thought to have existed between 900 and 1500 BC.

Additionally, the Romans had boxing, where hands were bound together with leather thongs. However, during the Roman era, boxing was more of a fight to the death, making it somewhat weird to refer to it as a game.

  • The earliest evidence found: Ancient Mesopotamia from the Sumerian civilization
  • The territory of Origin: Sumerian civilization, which is modern-day Iraq
  • Competitive debut: Roman times when it was fought till death with leather-like wrappings on fists. The modern citation came when it was included as a competitive sport in the ancient Olympics back in 688 BC

4. Polo

when did people start playing sports?
Gonzalo Pieres Jnr and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, play polo during the Sentebale ISPS Handa Polo Cup 2022 on 25 August 2022 in Aspen, Colorado. Photo: Chris Jackson
Source: Getty Images

Polo is regarded as among the oldest professional sports today. It is referred to as the Rich Man's Game, symbolising a horse sport played on the Green Pitch. It is a copy of hockey. The main difference is that on horseback, each side attempts to score more goals by putting little wooden balls into the net.

The earliest known mention of the polo game in the Persian Empire was 316 AD. The first Polo club was established in India in 1833, although the current rules and regulations were created in India under the British Empire. Today, it is still the oldest sport in India.

  • The earliest evidence found: 4th Century (310's AD)
  • The territory of Origin: Oldest evidence is found in Persian Empire
  • Competitive debut: As a competitive sport, it was developed in the Indian subcontinent during the British Empire era

3. Javelin

when did people start playing sports?
Haruka Kitaguchi of Japan make a javelin throw during the Tokyo 2020 Games One Year Anniversary Event on 16 October 2022 in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Kenta Harada
Source: Getty Images

Track and field competitions have used javelin throwing since the 708 BC ancient Olympics. The poles' usage of the javelin, however, was first observed in Germany and Sweden in the 1870s, and by the next decade, it had spread to Sweden and Finland, where it was an annual national celebration. The modern Olympics first included it in 1906, while the women's Olympics in 1932 were the first to feature it.

  • The earliest evidence found: 280,000 years ago
  • The territory of Origin: Greece at the Ancient Olympics in 708 BC
  • Competitive debut: Olympics since 1908 as a men's event

2. Running

when did people start playing sports?
Some of the participants running the last kilometers of over 42 kilometers during the 46th edition of the TCS Amsterdam Marathon. Photo: Ana Fernandez
Source: Getty Images

Running was the sole event in the first-ever documented Olympics. Staged in Athens in 776 BC, it deserves a spot in the list of the top 10 oldest sports in the world. Its origins are from Greece, and as a sport, it includes numerous Olympic events with somewhat varied rules, including a marathon, a sprint, a long jump, and hurdling.

  • The earliest evidence found: 15,300 years ago, in the Upper Paleolithic era
  • The territory of Origin: France
  • Competitive debut: In Ireland back in 1831 as a recreation and competitive sport

1. Wrestling

the oldest sports in the world
Wrestlers in action during the 28th Rishipal Awana Dangal Championship at Sector 15, on 16 October 2022 in Noida, India. Photo: Sunil Ghosh
Source: Getty Images

Which professional sport is the oldest? According to archival data, wrestling is the oldest sport today. Of course, it has changed over the years, but in the 800 to 1200 BC period, it was included in the original set of Olympics. Professional wrestling circuits were initially launched at the same time in Paris, France, in the 1830s.

In the 21st Century, wrestling is a competitive professional sport and an Olympic activity. It is recognized as one of the world's best and most well-liked sports.

  • The earliest evidence found: 15,300 years ago, in the Upper Paleolithic era
  • The territory of Origin: Greece and France
  • Competitive debut: In Paris, France early 1830's

Which is the oldest sport in Africa?

Sports have been part and parcel of the human race. Showcasing a man's ability to push his physical and mental body's limitations through different challenges was initially meant to evaluate his capability on the battlefield.


Zamma is a traditional board game that uses a 9×9 or 8×8 square board, and each player has 40 playing pieces in black or white. These places are played on the intersections of the board lines to eliminate all of their opponent's pieces.

Sports have a long history dating back to the ancient world. Early ties to ritual, combat, and amusement may be found in the physical activity that gave rise to sports. Since the renaissance, several sports have been created and refined, leading to today's vast array of sports. Therefore, if there is a discussion about which is the oldest sport today, you sure will know your way around some of them.

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La Liga consists of 20 teams. The last three clubs often get relegated to the Segunda División to create room for three top teams from the second tier. Only three clubs have survived relegation from la Liga. Follow the above link to discover more.

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Lenah Ann
Lenah Ann is a Kenyan-based content creator with 2 years of experience. She graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Mass Media and Communication from Dedan Kimathi, Kenya in 2021.