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I was reading about Qutub Minar and came across the fact that its builder Qutb-ud-din Aibak died while playing polo. Upon reading more about polo itself, I realized it was around since 5th century BC or even earlier.

From Wikipedia:

The game first played in Persia at dates given from the 5th century BC. or much earlier.

When I tried to cross reference whether it was indeed the oldest sport, answers from other community-oriented question & answer sites provide contradictory answers. Yahoo Answers mentions about wresting being the oldest sport with the source link currently unaccessible. Whereas Wiki Answers states boxing was the oldest sport. Neither of the answers seem convincing enough with valid substantiations.

A Wikipedia article about History of Sport loosely mentions about archery, javelin, swimming and wrestling happening earlier than 5th century BC but it is not clear whether these activities were to be considered as a sport.

So, was polo the first recognizable sport to be played on earth? Or are there any other sport which is older than the polo?


For the scope of the question, I am defining sport as "competitive physical activity" if I may borrow from the Wikipedia. Suffix to say, it has to be essentially between human beings. So, sprinting among humans count as sport while pie-chucking among chimpanzees don't.

Whether or not the sport was played under well defined rules and regulations does not matter either as long as the sport is considered competitive and physical but I guess we all would agree that there needs to be some guidelines on how a sport has to be played.

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Interesting question, but to clarify, do you mean a sport that is still played in the modern day and age, or the first sport played by humans at all? –  rob Nov 21 '12 at 12:10
    
Just the first sport ever played. Whether it is still around or not is not really relevant. :) –  jokerdino Nov 21 '12 at 12:14
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Welcome to Skeptics! The question is too ill-defined to be answerable. For example, is sprinting a sport? If so, it was already established by the first Olympics (776 BC). When did boxing start? When people first had fist-fighting competitions, or only when the Marquess of Queensberry rules were drafted? Are three juvenile apes playfully tussling over a broken branch playing sport? The question is more about definitions than about facts. –  Oddthinking Nov 21 '12 at 12:16
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There is no notable claim here - no cited source for anyone other than the OP thinking that polo is the oldest sport. Flagging to close. –  EnergyNumbers Nov 21 '12 at 12:54
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This might be a better fit for history.SE. –  coleopterist Nov 21 '12 at 14:54
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1 Answer

up vote 3 down vote accepted

No. There are several sports that predate Polo, the most notable being various forms of wrestling.

As the Wikipedia article states Polo was first played around 5th century BC. The source, which I haven't been able to verify states

Its birth place was Asia and authorities credit Persia with having devised it about 2000 BC..

While Polo is a very old sport, it certainly isn't the first.

From Ancient Egypt and Sumer we have written and illustrated depictions of archery, boxing, wrestling, longjump and fishing all of which meet the modern definition of sport.

The Epic of Gilgamesh written in 2600 BC contains a scene where Gilgamesh engages in Belt Wrestling with Enkidu. There is a summary available here.

Earlier than that even, cave paintings dating back to 7000 BC in the Bayankhongor Province of Mongolia show two naked men grappling while surrounded by crowds. This is mentioned on several wiki pages, although I am so far unable to find a source

enter image descrisption here -Source

A limestone plaque from the Early Dynastic Period(~2900–2350 BC) in Mesopotamia depicts a bout of wrestling

Wrestling seems to be the earliest sport recorded, based on the available archaeological evidence. While it may not be the first sport, it certainly predates Polo by at least 500 years.

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Without actual text to backup the cave paintings it's probably hard to determine if the "two naked men grappling while surrounded by crowds" was a demonstration of sport, or if it's how they decided who would be the leader. Personally, sport is something where one competes simply to say they were better at the sport, where-as something like wrestling to become leader of a village isn't really sport. Same as we differentiate sport hunting from hunting for sustenance and survival. Otherwise, if we leave out the reason for the activity, we could say that longhorn sheep compete in sport. –  Kibbee Nov 22 '12 at 1:53
    
@Kibbee Sure. I have not been able to find anything about those cave paintings. I'll keep looking for a bit, maybe I'll be able to add some additional information. –  Sonny Ordell Nov 22 '12 at 5:34
    
I'll give it to you. Polo was probably the first team sport but not the first sport itself. –  jokerdino Feb 23 '13 at 17:46
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