Sport in the United Kingdom
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The United Kingdom has given birth to a range of major international sports including: association football, rugby (union and league), cricket, golf, tennis, table tennis, badminton, squash, rounders, hockey, boxing, snooker, billiards and curling.
This has meant that in the infancy of many sports, England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland formed among the earliest separate governing bodies, national teams and domestic league competitions. After 1922 some sports formed separate bodies for Northern Ireland though some continued to be organised on an All-Island basis.
As a result, notably in certain teams sports such as association football and Rugby, but also in the multi-sport Commonwealth Games, international sporting events are contested not by a team representing the United Kingdom, but by teams representing the separate "home nations". At Olympic level, however, the United Kingdom is represented by a single national organising committee the British Olympic Association, and competes as Great Britain and Northern Ireland (although some Northern Ireland athletes are eligible for, and compete on behalf of, Ireland).
Major individual sports include athletics, golf, motorsport, and horseracing. Tennis is 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. There is much debate over which sport has the most active participants with swimming, athletics, cycling all found to have wider active participation than association football in the 2010 Sport England Active People survey.
- 1 Administration and funding
- 2 Popularity
- 3 Sports media
- 4 Elite level sport
- 4.1 Elite level team sports
- 4.2 Elite level individual sports
- 4.3 Elite level equestrian sports
- 4.4 Great Britain at the Olympics
- 5 Disability sport
- 6 Major sports facilities
- 7 External links
- 8 Student sport
- 9 School sport
- 10 See also
- 11 External links
- 12 Notes
Administration and funding
Political responsibility for sport is a devolved matter. As England has no parliament of her own, the United Kingdom Department of Culture, Media and Sport which is headed by a cabinet minister -though the Minister for Sport and Tourism is not in the cabinet- deals with English sport in addition to United Kingdom-wide sports.
Political responsibility for sport in Wales lies with the Welsh Assembly Government Minister for Heritage, currently Alun Ffred Jones. The Minister sets out the strategic policy objectives for Sport Wales, who are responsible for the development and promotion of sport and active lifestyles in Wales. Sport Wales work closely with the Governing bodies of sports in Wales to whom they distribute government and National Lottery funding, through grants and awards.
The Northern Ireland Executive Minister for Culture, Arts & Leisure is currently Carál Ní Chuilín, however virtually every team sport is organised on either an all Ireland or United Kingdom-wide basis, with football and netball being the only exceptions. As such responsibility for most sports lies with either the United Kingdom minister or the Irish minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport.
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. For example the English Premiership's 20 clubs had an estimated combined turnover of £1.25 billion in 2003-04 according to Deloitte, and British professional football's total income was in the region of £2 billion. Other major sports have a turnover in low nine figures or the tens of millions. For example cricket is highly dependent on its TV contract, which was 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, when it was announced London would host the 2012 Games, UK Sport announced funding plans which were more focused than ever before on rewarding sports which have delivered Olympic success, and as a corollary penalising those which have not. 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. Horse racing benefits from a levy on betting.
A 2003 MORI poll found:
|Sport||TV Viewing||Participating||Interested In|
The British media is dominated by United Kingdom-wide 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. ITV broadcast 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 Premiership as 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. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have their own feeds for BBC1 and BBC2, allowing the BBC to opt out of the United Kingdom-wide programming to show a match in that area. This is often used when all four nations have an International football match on the same evening, but can also be used to show minority interest sports in the country where they are most appreciated (for example BBC One Scotland may show the shinty cup final, while BBC One Wales shows a rugby union match between two Welsh sides). In Scotland the BBC also operates BBC Alba, a Gaelic-language channel which often broadcasts Scottish sports fixtures.
There are also regulations which prevent certain listed events from being sold exclusively to pay television. In 2006 the Irish company Setanta Sports made a major move into the British market by paying £392 million for rights to certain Scottish Premier League as 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 Live broadcasts 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 Radio also 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 Times devote 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 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 minimise competition for attention with football. There is also a professional Ice Hockey league operating in Great Britain called the Elite Ice Hockey League
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 in England and Scotland 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 also very popular in Wales and Northern Ireland, though Rugby Union and Gaelic Games respectively attract much larger crowds and television audiences.
Each country organises its own football league, there are a few teams who chose to play in another country.
The only major national team competition won by a Home Nation is the 1966 World Cup, which England hosted and won, though clubs in both the Scottish and English domestic leagues have had success in European club competitions, most notably Glasgow's Celtic FC and Rangers FC, with Celtic winning the 1967 European cup, becoming the first British team to do so, and the first team to be composed of players born and raised entirely within the local area around the club's stadium (all within 30 miles) as well as Merseyside's Liverpool FC and Manchester United, with Liverpool winning the Champion's League a total of 5 times, making them the most successful British club in European competitions.
The Welsh football league system includes the Welsh Premier League and regional leagues. These leagues have a relatively low profile as rugby union is the national sport of Wales and the top three Welsh football clubs play in the English league system, for example Welsh Premiership club The New Saints play their home matches on the English side of the border in Oswestry. The Welsh clubs of Cardiff City F.C., Colwyn Bay F.C., Merthyr Tydfil F.C., Newport County A.F.C., Swansea City A.F.C. and Wrexham F.C. play in the English system. The main Welsh Cup competitions are the Welsh Cup and the FAW Premier Cup. Cardiff's 76,250 seater Millennium Stadium is the principal sporting stadium of Wales.
The Northern Ireland football league system includes the IFA Premiership, often known colloquially as the "Irish League". One Northern Irish club, Derry City, plays its football outside of the United Kingdom in the Republic of Ireland football league system. Windsor Park, Linfield F.C.'s 20,332-seater stadium, is also the home stadium of the national team.
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 Europa League (formerly the UEFA Cup). England and Scotland have both produced winners of each of these competitions.
For 100 years until 1984, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland competed annually in the British Home Championships but these ended for a variety of reasons. 2011 saw the inaugural Nations cup, in many ways a reboot of the old tournament. When the idea was first proposed to bring back the competition, the English FA had reservations, and so it was contested by the other three home nations and the Republic of Ireland, who were the first host nation and winners. The tournament was intended to be played biennially to prevent fixture congestion during World Cup qualification years with the 2013 event to be held at the Millennium stadium in Cardiff, the tournament was cancelled after the first year as very few fans were prepared to travel and the tournament did not create the expected revenues. Scotland and Wales were drawn against each other in World Cup qualification anyway, and a 150th anniversary friendly was organised between Scotland and England to celebrate the anniversary of the formation of the English F.A.
No United Kingdom national team is regularly formed for football events in the Olympics. Proposals to have the United Kingdom (designated by the IOC as Great Britain) take part in the 2012 Summer Olympics with men's and women's teams were not supported by the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish football associations. The three bodies feared that Great Britain teams would undermine their independent status—a fear confirmed by FIFA president Sepp Blatter. England has been the most successful of the home nations, winning the World Cup on home soil in 1966, although there has historically been a close-fought rivalry between England and Scotland.
The early reference to the separate national identities in the United Kingdom is perhaps best illustrated by the game of cricket. Cricket is claimed to have been invented in England. The national sport of England is cricket, but England has no team of its own, instead fielding a joint team with Wales. The England & Wales cricket team, controlled by the England and Wales Cricket Board, (commonly shortened to just "England" and "ECB" respectively) is the only national team in the United Kingdom with Test status. Each summer two foreign national teams visit and play seven test matches and numerous one-day internationals, and in the British winter the team tours abroad. The highest profile rival of the 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 cricket grounds include Lords, The Oval, Headingley, Old Trafford, Edgbaston and Trent Bridge. Cardiff's Sophia Gardens ground has also become increasingly popular in recent years. Team members are drawn from the main county sides, and include both English and Welsh players. 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 in England and third most widely covered sport in Wales and the fortunes of the England team are closely followed by many people who never attend a live game.
Scotland and Ireland both have their own cricket teams, but the game is neither as popular nor their teams as successful as the English & Welsh team. Neither team has Test Status. As Scotland and Ireland do not play test matches, and both have only recently started to play in full One Day Internationals, many Scots and Irish previously played in, and captained, the England & Wales side; the current side for example includes Eoin Morgan, a Dublin-born cricketer who has represented Ireland against England at the 2007 Cricket World Cup, and captained England against Ireland in 2011.
Like association football, rugby union and rugby league both developed from traditional British football games in the 19th century. Rugby football was codified in 1871. Dissatisfaction with the governance of the sport led, in 1895, to a number of prominent clubs establishing what would become rugby league. The estranged clubs, based in mainly working class industrial regions of northern England, had wished to be allowed to compensate their players for missing work to play matches but they had been opposed by those clubs that were predominantly middle class and often based in the south of the country. Subsequently rugby league developed somewhat different rules. For much of the 20th century there was considerable antagonism towards rugby league from rugby union. One Member of Parliament described it as "one of the longest (and daftest) grievances in history" with anyone over the age of 18 associated with rugby league being banned forever from rugby union. This antagonism has abated since 1995 when the International Rugby Board, rugby union's international governing body, "opened" rugby union to professionalism.
England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland all field separate teams and are collectively known as the Home Nations. All four teams are among the top ten in global rugby union. The Six Nations Championship played between the Home Nations, Italy and France is the premier international tournament in the northern hemisphere. The Triple Crown is awarded to any of the Home Nations who beats the other three in that tournament. Games are also often played against the "Southern Hemisphere" quartet of South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and 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 Australia in 1991 and South Africa in 2007. In 1987, Wales achieved a best of third place and Scotland a best of fourth place. Ireland has not progressed beyond the quarter finals. England (1991) and Wales (1999) have both hosted the Rugby World Cup in conjunction with the other Home Nations. In 2015, England will host the Rugby World Cup, however some games will be played in Wales.
In the 2011 Rugby World Cup Wales was the only home nation to progress beyond the Quarter Finals.
Rugby union is a minority sport but has a number of heartlands, notably South Wales, the Scottish Borders, the English West Country, London and the Midlands. Rugby union is generally regarded as the national sport of Wales. England organises its own league, and also a cup competition whose current identity as the Anglo-Welsh Cup reflects its expansion in 2005 from an England-only competition to one also involving teams from Wales. The other Home Nations now have a single professional league, currently known as RaboDirect Pro12. Attendances at club rugby in England have risen strongly since the sport went professional and by contrast, the professional era has had a traumatic effect on the traditional structure of club rugby in Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Following the regional model of Wales and Ireland, Scotland also originally established four regional teams for North, East, South and West Scotland. Due to the demographics of the country, the Northern region was too vast for a single club to serve (over twice the size of Wales but with only a quarter the population) and the 5% of the population who happened to live in the rugby-loving borders were not enough to sustain the Southern franchise, leaving just West and East. There was some talk of the regions being redrawn, with the North being divided in two and the South being absorbed into the West and East regions, but recently two Italian sides have instead taken the vacated places.
All of the home nations play in large, state-of-the-art venues. Twickenham in London, home to the England national team and the country's governing body, the Rugby Football Union, currently seats 82,000, making it the second-largest stadium in the country after Wembley. Wales and its governing body, the Welsh Rugby Union, make their home at Millennium Stadium, which is owned by the WRU. Scotland's largest stadium, with a capacity of over 67,000, is Murrayfield in Edinburgh, home to the national team and the Scottish Rugby Union. Ireland currently play all their home matches in the Republic's capital of Dublin at Aviva Stadium, built on the site of Irish rugby's historic home of Lansdowne Road. During the construction of the Aviva in the 2000s, Ireland played many home games in the GAA stadium, Croke Park.
As the International Rugby Board (IRB) governing the sport is based in Dublin and is heavily dominated by the Home Nations, there has never been a threat to the independence of each country's team and a joint team, known as the British and Irish Lions, will tour a Southern Hemisphere nation every four years. The Lions games however do not compete in any major tournaments, and will play local clubs as well as the host nation's First XV.
The four home nations also field national sevens teams. England, Scotland and Wales are all "core teams" that compete in all events of the annual IRB Sevens World Series for men, and England have been a core team in the IRB Women's Sevens World Series since the latter competition's creation in 2012. Ireland have not been as competitive in men's sevens, but the women's sevens team made the quarter-finals of the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens, giving them core status alongside England in the 2013–14 series. The United Kingdom is also the only country which hosts two events in the men's IRB Sevens, with Glasgow and London hosting the final two tournaments of each season. Rugby union will return to the Olympics in 2016 with sevens tournaments for both men and women. In a contrast with football, the participation of Great Britain sevens teams at the Olympics was endorsed by the IRB in 2011. In the Rugby World Cup Sevens, the men's teams of England and Wales have both been victorious—England in the inaugural tournament in 1993 and Wales in 2009.
- See main articles: Rugby league in England, Rugby league in Scotland, Rugby league in Wales and Great Britain national rugby league team.
Like Rugby union, England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland all field separate teams Rugby league sides. Overall rugby league is a smaller sport than rugby union in the United Kingdom, but it draws healthy crowds in its heartlands in Yorkshire and North West England, and is popular with armchair sports fans nationwide. The top level league is Super League, which expanded to 14 teams for the 2009 season—11 in the heartlands, one in London, one in Wales, and one in France. The Welsh team, however, folded after the 2011 season, and was replaced by a heartland team in 2012. Below this level are the Co-operative Championship and Championship 1 (formerly the National Leagues). Whilst a team from France competed in the Championship from 2009 through to 2011, that team chose not to compete in the British leagues in 2012, meaning that the Championship now consists of 10 teams, all from the heartlands. In 2012, Championship 1 also has 10 teams, but four are from outside the heartlands—one from Tyne and Wear, another from London, and two from Wales. The Championship is slated to expand to 14 teams in 2013, with Championship 1 remaining at 10. Until 2008, automatic promotion and relegation existed between Super League and the Championship when it was replaced by three-year licences for clubs to play in the former. 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 the sport is heading towards a national spread, at amateur level at least.
A single 'Great Britain Lions' team had competed in the Rugby League World Cup and Test match games, but this changed slightly in 2008 when England, Scotland and Ireland competed as separate nations. 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 Cup in 1954, 1960 and 1972, but England and Wales now compete separately in this tournament and Australia held the title from 1975 until being upset by New Zealand in 2008. The Great Britain team is retained for some competitions, such as with Australia and New Zealand in the recently founded Tri-Nations competition, and in test series such as the Ashes (against Australia) and the Baskerville Shield (against New Zealand). In 2013, The United Kingdom will host the Rugby League World Cup for the 5th time.
Ice hockey is Britain's largest indoor spectator sport, and the only team sport to have a United Kingdom-wide league with at least one team from every nation. It has a long history in the United Kingdom and it is reasonably well supported, with the larger teams attracting thousands of fans to every game. The main league is the ten-team professional Elite League containing, four Scottish, four English, one Northern Irish and one Welsh club. The league has featured many former NHL players, predominantly during the NHL lock out season. At the moment the Great Britain men's national ice hockey team is in division 1 of the Ice Hockey World Championships. The team is ranked 21st in the world in the IIHF World Ranking system.
Media support for ice hockey has improved on a national level, although the majority of news is still found on the internet. Sky Sports has been covering the Elite league since the 2006/07 season, with a weekly highlights programme. In that past Sky did show a small number of live games, but this has not happened since the 2011/12 season.
The Elite Ice Hockey League is reasonably well recognised around the ice hockey world, highlighted by the 2010 visit of the Boston Bruins of the NHL who took on the Belfast Giants at the Giants Odyssey Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland, winning 5-1 over the Elite League All-Stars.
Gaelic games such as Gaelic football and hurling are organised on an all-Ireland basis and are highly popular in Northern Ireland, with a smaller presence in Great Britain. They are regulated by the Gaelic Athletic Association. Six Northern Ireland teams (Tyrone, Fermanagh, Armagh, Antrim, Down and Derry) feature in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, as do the London senior football team from Great Britain. In hurling, London beat Cork in the 1901 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship final, nowadays their hurlers compete in the third tier Nicky Rackard Cup. Antrim are the only Northern Ireland team in the first tier. The female equivalent of hurling is called camogie and is played by teams from Northern Irish and London. Gaelic handball with its roots in Scotland is still played at a competitive level in Northern Ireland.
Shinty (or camanachd) is an amateur sport indigenous to the Scottish Highlands. Although it is mostly restricted to this area it is highly popular within the Highlands, sometimes attracting crowds numbering thousands in what is the most sparsely populated region of the United Kingdom. It is administered by the Camanachd Association. Its main trophies are the Camanachd Cup and the Premier Division. There are clubs in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London however and it was once played throughout Scotland and England until the early 20th Century.
Composite rules shinty-hurling is a hybrid sport which was developed to facilitate international matches between shinty players and hurling players. International rules football is a team sport consisting of a hybrid of football codes, which was developed to facilitate international representative matches between Australian rules football players and Gaelic football players.
Other team sports
Field 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[dubious ], and the commitment of the hockey associations of each of the home nations to the retention of separate national teams[dubious ] to compete in other international competitions. It also suffers due to the lack of television of coverage, relative to its participation level.
Shinty is Scotland's home grown team game. Once played throughout Scotland, Antrim and northern England, it is now mostly played in the Scottish Highlands, with teams in Scotland's big cities and London. It is highly neglected by the Scottish media.
Australian rules football
Australian rules football is a growing amateur sport in the United Kingdom. The British Australian Rules Football League (BARFL) formed in 1989 and has Premier, Regional and Conference divisions. The Grand Final is an event that regularly attracts growing audience of up to 5,000. Great Britain has a national team the British Bulldogs, it regularly competes in international matches and has competed in the Australian Football International Cup since its inception in 2002. Exhibition matches are regularly scheduled for The Oval in London, and despite the fact that few Britons know of the sport, the most recent match attracted a record crowd of 18,884 .
American football is a minor amateur sport, with two League associations BAFA National Leagues and BAUFL (University league). The BAFA League has 3 divisions: Premier, 1 and 2, with Premier and 1 divided into a North and South conference (with Coventry being the Most Southern of the Northern teams) while division 2 is further split into 4 conferences, North becoming North (Scotland and Carlisle) and Central and the South being split into East and West. The Championship participants are promoted to the divisions above and the lowest-ranking teams in each division are relegated. Previously, many of these teams competed in the BAFL which entered administration in 2010.
Despite the minor status of the sport in the United Kingdom, the NFL has played one game each season at Wembley Stadium since 2007. Wembley is hosting two games in the current 2013 season, and the stadium is set to host at least one game in the 2014, 2015 and 2016 seasons.
Basketball is a minor sport in the United Kingdom. The top level league is the thirteen team semi-professional British Basketball League with the English Basketball League and Scottish Basketball League below them. While following an American franchise format rather than using promotion and relegation like most European leagues, the majority of recent additions and replacements for failing clubs have come from the English league. The teams are professional or semi-professional but have modest resources. As with football, the home nations teams were encouraged to work together for the Olympics, while British international basketball teams have not achieved any major successes since then, FIBA officials stated that if they re-enter the European competition after the Olympics as individual nations, they will be treated as unranked newcomers. After meeting with FIBA officials, Basketball Wales voted against making the merger permanent citing amongst other things, the lack of opportunity for Welsh players within a United Kingdom framework (no players in either the men's or women's Olympic squad were Welsh) and for the advancement of the game domestically (The BBL announced intentions to expand into several United Kingdom cities but neither Cardiff nor Swansea had been suggested).
Currently, British players in the North American NBA are Ben Gordon (who was raised in the United States), Luol Deng (a South Sudanese refugee who is now naturalised in the United Kingdom), Byron Mullens (born and raised in the U.S., but a dual citizen from birth through his English mother) and Joel Freeland (both born and raised in England). 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.
As with American football the NBA have arranged regular season matches in London for several years now, the most recent being a two game series between the New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons at the O2 Arena, London. NBA Commissioner David Stern, has enthusiastically discussed the possibility of the NBA expanding into Europe, at one point envisioning a new division of 5 teams based in London, Paris, Berlin, Italy (Rome or Milan), and Spain (Madrid or Barcelona). Though in 2012. Stern went on to say that of the sites suggested only London and Berlin had arenas of the standard expected in the NBA, while Spain and Italy's domestic leagues had become increasingly popular. The idea of a single team or pair of teams relocating to London and Berlin was dismissed as uneconomical due to the distances involved for away fixtures.
Motorcycle speedway, usually referred to as speedway, is a motorcycle sport involving four and sometimes up to six riders competing over four anti-clockwise laps of an oval circuit. Speedway motorcycles use only one gear and have no brakes and racing takes place on a flat oval track usually consisting of dirt or loosely packed shale. The United Kingdom has three domestic leagues, the Elite League. the Premier League, and the National League. The Speedway Grand Prix is the main world championship for standalone riders with an event taking place in Cardiff each year. The Speedway World Cup takes place once a year and England hosts a semi final stage in Peterborough and more recently in King's Lynn.
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 Year awards 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; the 2012 Games in London saw three British athletes win four golds (single golds by Jessica Ennis and Greg Rutherford, and two by Mo Farah). 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.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (June 2009)|
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 separate bodies in the each home nation. 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.
Mixed Martial Arts
Mixed martial arts (MMA) has come a huge way. The sport was on the verge of being sent into oblivion in the early 1990s but has since clawed its way back and become one of the most popular sports in the USA.
In Great Britain, MMA failed to capitalise on this momentum and has not seen anywhere near the popularity levels MMA has received in USA. It is hard to pinpoint the main reason why exactly this has happened. The failure of MMA promoters to secure a substantial and locked TV deal until late last year. The reluctance of broadcasting powerhouses BBC and Sky Sports to fully support the sport? The stereotype of extreme violence that they have been unable to shake off? All of these are valid reasons why MMA failed to capture the public’s imagination.
However, things slowly started to change when Michael Bisping came onto the scene and won The Ultimate Fighter 3. Bisping built UK MMA a bit quicker alongside Ross Pearson and James Wilks. The 2 winners of The Ultimate Fighter: United States vs. United Kingdom. UK MMA is being pushed further with the likes of Dan Hardy, Brad Pickett, John Hathaway, Jimi Manuwa, Rosi Sexton plus many more, including Northern Ireland's Norman Parke, winner of The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes Lightweight tournament.
It is now considered to be the fastest growing sport on the planet.
Britain had limited success with cycle racing in the 20th century. This has changed when the performance director of British cycling David Brailsford obtained lottery funding which helped cycling at both grass roots and at an elite level. This paid off in the 2008 Olympics; British cyclists brought home gold medals in seven events, most notably Chris Hoy who became the first British Olympian to win three golds at one Olympiad, earning him a knighthood. Other successes include Rebecca Romero and Victoria Pendelton. Success at road racing was also limited, with the United Kingdom being the only major nation not to have a Tour de France champion, until Bradley Wiggins' victory in the 2012 Tour de France. This newfound British success continued with Chris Froome's victory in the 2013 Tour. In addition to Wiggins and Froome, other British riders to enjoy a level of success include Tom Simpson, Barry Hoban, Robert Millar, Chris Boardman, David Millar, and Mark Cavendish. In women's cycling, Nicole Cooke is regarded to be the best female cyclist in the world.
Because of the increasing interest in cycling, a British UCI ProTeam (Team Sky) was formed for the 2010 cycling season. Major names in the roster included the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Edvald Boasson Hagen and the 2010 British men's Road Race champion, Geraint Thomas.
Cycle racing is organised by British Cycling, who govern most cycling events in the United Kingdom and organise the national team. Time trialling in England and Wales is organised by a separate body called Cycling Time Trials.
Modern competitive golf originated 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 Ranking relative to population, that is to say more than a fifth as many. However, Britain did not produce a major new golf star in this century until Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy emerged with record-setting performances in the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship, the latter of which returned him to the top of the world rankings. He went on to win the 2012 money titles on both the PGA and European Tours. Several other British golfers have reached the world's top 10 in the early 2000s. England's Lee Westwood ended Tiger Woods' five-year reign atop the rankings in autumn 2010. In May 2011, fellow Englishman Luke Donald reached the top of the rankings, and by the end of that year became the first golfer in history to top the money lists of both the PGA and European Tours in the same season. Other British golfers to have appeared in the top 10 in the 2000s are Paul Casey, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose, all from England; and Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland. McDowell also became the first European to win the U.S. Open in 40 years when he won that event in 2010, with Rose following suit in 2013.
Golf is the sixth most popular sport, by participation, in the United Kingdom. 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. Although The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, in Scotland, is the sport's home course, the world's oldest golf course is actually Musselburgh Links' Old Golf Course. The PGA European Tour is headquartered in England, and the main European Tour plays 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 Cup team, which has beaten the United States team in four 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 Tour (LET) and the overwhelmingly dominant women's tour, the LPGA Tour in the U.S. Through 2012, the Women's British Open was the only event recognised as a major by both the LET and the U.S. LPGA. (The other tournament recognised as a major by the LET, The Evian Championship in France, became an LPGA major in 2013.)
Tennis is yet another sport which originated in the United Kingdom, first originating in the city of Birmingham between 1859 and 1865. However, it has not flourished there in recent decades: its profile is highly dependent on the Wimbledon Championships, the most prestigious event of the global tennis calendar. After Fred Perry's Wimbledon win in 1936, no British man won the singles until Andy Murray did so in 2013. No British woman has won at Wimbledon since Virginia Wade in 1977. In addition, Perry's victory in the U.S. National Championships (predecessor to the modern US Open) later in 1936 was the last for any British man in a Grand Slam singles event until Murray won the US Open in 2012; Wade remains the last British woman to win such an event. 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 string 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 Henman and Murray, who did not pass through the LTA system either, and on the women's side Anne Keothavong and Elena Baltacha have both just slipped into the worlds top 50 with highest rankings of 48 and 49 respectively. Outside of Wimbledon fortnight tennis's profile in Britain is low, and since the 2007 retirement of Rusedski and Henman is now largely dependent on Murray.
Great Britain has won the Davis Cup nine times, but all of them were before World War II and there is no prospect of another victory in the foreseeable future. The Great Britain women's team made the final of the Fed Cup four 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 even more dim than those of Britain's men. Neither the men's nor women's team are currently in a position to actually compete for their respective cups. Both teams are currently in Group I of the Europe/Africa Zone in their respective tournaments. However, because the Davis Cup has only one 16-team World Group while the Fed Cup has two World Groups, with only the eight teams in World Group I actually competing for that trophy, the men are one promotion away from competing for the Davis Cup while the women are two promotions away from competing for the Fed Cup.
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, also a world champion in motorcycling; Jackie Stewart (three times); James Hunt; Nigel Mansell; Graham Hill's son, Damon Hill; Lewis Hamilton; and Jenson Button. The British Grand Prix takes place at Silverstone each June/July.
The United Kingdom hosted the very first F1 Grand Prix in 1950 at Silverstone, the current location of the British Grand Prix held each year in July. The country also hosts legs of the World Rally Championship and has its own touring car racing championship, the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC), and the British Formula Three Championship.
British drivers have achieved success in the World Rally Championship with the late Colin McRae and the late Richard Burns winning the title. The British leg of the competition is the Rally Great Britain. Derek Bell is a five-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner and one-time winner of the 1000 km Silverstone, the major endurance race of the country, formerly part of the World Sportscar Championship and currently part of the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Since 2000 the British Superbike Championship has become increasingly popular. Britain hosts one round of the MotoGP championship at Donington Park, and usually two rounds of the Superbike World Championship, at Silverstone and Brands Hatch. In 2007 a third Superbike World Championship round was added at Donington Park. In 2008 Silverstone was dropped; Brands Hatch and Donington Park were the venues used for the two rounds that took place in the United Kingdom that year, though in 2009 and 2010 only a single round will be held, at Silverstone, after the series organisers and the circuit owners of Brands Hatch failed to reach a commercial agreement on staging the event.
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 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. 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. There are many amateur leagues set up across the country, featuring team matches between snooker clubs.
Darts is 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.[clarification needed] Phil Taylor of Stoke has won more World Championships than any other player.
Sailing is also a well regarded sport in the United Kingdom. It is governed by the RYA, and there are many locations in the United Kingdom 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.
Orienteering is regulated by the British Orienteering Federation, and Britain generally puts on a very strong show at the World Orienteering Championships with Jamie Stevenson, second at WOC in 2006. Yvette Baker is generally considered[by whom?] the best British orienteer of all time.
The United Kingdom has proved successful in the international sporting arena in rowing. It is widely considered that the sport's most successful rower is Steve Redgrave who won five gold medals and one bronze medal at five consecutive Olympic Games, as well as numerous wins at the World Rowing Championships and Henley Royal Regatta.
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 skating and sailing.
Elite level equestrian sports
Thoroughbred racing, which originated under Charles II of England as the "sport of kings", 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 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 the sport on an All-Ireland basis. The town of Newmarket is considered the centre of English racing, largely because of the famous Newmarket Racecourse.
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 Festival at York Racecourse. The highlights of the National Hunt season are the Cheltenham Festival and 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 Trials and 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 competes in the Olympics as Great Britain during Olympic competition. The British Olympic Association is responsible for the promotion of the Olympic Movement within the United Kingdom and for the selection, leadership and management of Great Britain and Northern Ireland at every Olympic accredited event.
After the 2004 Summer Olympics Great 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 Olympics marked an upturn and this was sustained at the 2004 Summer Olympics when Great Britain finished tenth in the medal table and the 2008 where it finished fourth behind only China, the USA and Russia. This was seen as a great success, and there was a victory parade through the streets of London. This trend continued in the 2012 Games in London. Great Britain again finished fourth in the total medal table (behind the USA, China and Russia), but was third in the gold medal count behind the USA and China. The sports in which the British team has won most medals in recent Summer Olympics include rowing, sailing, cycling and athletics. In addition to the 2012 Summer Olympics, London hosted the Games in 1908 and 1948.
Winter sports only play a minor role in 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 skating, curling and bob skeleton. A number of athletes will represent Great Britain in the freestyle skiing discipline when it debuts at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Great Britain at the Paralympics
The United Kingdom has played a major role in the development of disability sport. The Paralympic Games originated in the Stoke Mandeville Games, which were held at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire in 1948. The Great Britain team does much better in the medal table at the Summer Paralympics than at the Summer Olympics. It has never finished outside the top five and has been second several times, including the last four games in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012. The BBC is an enthusiastic promoter of disability sport. International Paralympic Committee president Sir Philip Craven is British. London's successful bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics also meant that it hosted the 2012 Summer Paralympics.
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 many see little or no use at club level:
- Wembley Stadium (England football team, FA Cup finals, Football League Cup finals, FA Community Shield, Football League play-offs, and Football League Trophy) 90,000. Wembley has also been used by the Great Britain rugby league team, and for major club matches in both rugby codes. It also hosts at least one annual regular-season game of the National Football League, the major U.S. professional league of American football. In both 2011 and 2013, it hosted the UEFA Champions League Final. In the 2012 Summer Olympics, Wembley hosted a total of nine matches—six in the men's tournament and three in the women's tournament, including both gold-medal matches.
- Lord's (England cricket team, Middlesex County team) 32,000. Lord's is widely referred to as the "home of cricket" and is home to the world's oldest sporting museum. Bowls, baseball, tennis, archery and several other sports have been played at Lord's in the past. The archery competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics was held in front of the Pavilion.
- Twickenham (England rugby union team; occasionally used for major club matches, notably the London Double Header) 82,000.
- Millennium Stadium (Wales rugby union and football teams) 75,000. Also a football venue at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
- Murrayfield (Scotland rugby union team and Edinburgh Rugby, a professional club team in the same sport) 67,000.
- Hampden Park (Queen's Park F.C.; the building is owned by Queen's Park but also contains the offices for Scotland's national team) 52,000. Also a football venue at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
- Windsor Park (Northern Ireland football team and Linfield F.C.). Owned by Linfield and rented to the Irish Football Association for national team matches.
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 and the most recently built football stadia in the Premier League include the Emirates Stadium and the City of Manchester Stadium.
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 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 (e.g. the KC Stadium). Some clubs rent stadia from football clubs. In some cases, union and league clubs share grounds; current examples of this phenomenon exist in London and Salford.
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 Andrews on the east coast of Scotland. The Belfry in the English Midlands has hosted the Ryder Cup more times than any other site. Wentworth Club near London was once the only venue which hosted two European Tour events each season, but it now hosts only one.
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 United Kingdom 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. For many years, the largest existing stadium was the 25,000 seat Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield, and London's largest athletics venue was Crystal Palace, which has just 15,500 permanent seats. Both have since been superseded by the Olympic Stadium, which was built as an 80,000 seater for the 2012 Summer Olympics and will become the new home of West Ham United F.C. in 2016. When West Ham moves into the Olympic Stadium, the venue will have a reduced capacity of 60,000, and will retain its track. Since the retention of the track was a necessary condition for tenancy, the Olympic Stadium won the right to host the 2017 World Championships in Athletics.
There are 60 racecourses in Great Britain, with two more in Northern Ireland (the sport is governed on an all-Ireland basis). The best of them are world class. For example Ascot Racecourse was redeveloped in 2005 and 2006 at a cost of £185 million.
There are several outdoor velodromes for track cycle racing in the United Kingdom with Herne Hill in London being the only venue from the 1948 Olympics still in operation. There are also 4 indoor velodromes, one in Newport, the 3,500 seater Manchester Velodrome, part of the National Cycling Centre that serves as the headquarters of British Cycling, as well as the 6,000 seater arena built as part of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and the 2,500 seater venue built for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
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 Arena in Manchester. Most notably, The O2 hosted the 2013 Final Four of the continent-wide Euroleague in basketball. The National Ice Centre in Nottingham, Odyssey Arena in Belfast and the Sheffield Arena all 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 basketball are found around the United Kingdom though these generally hold only a few thousand fans. The largest arena in the basketball league is Glasgow's new 6,500 seater Emirates Arena built to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
- A website with details of United Kingdom stadia
- An illustrated guide to English football grounds
- An illustrated guide to Scottish football grounds
Apart from a couple of Oxbridge events, student sport has a very low profile in the United Kingdom. While universities have significant sports facilities, there was no system of sports scholarships, with tuition fees only being introduced in the late 90s. 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 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 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. In the 1980s, the government sold many schools sports fields to housing developers; as such, many older schools do not have outdoor facilities readily available.
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 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,[when?] schoolgirls have increasingly played sports which are traditionally male, especially football, but also others such as rugby.
In 2006, the UK School Games was established by the Youth Sport Trust as an annual sporting competition for elite school age athletes in the United Kingdom, and for 2008 was expanded to include nine sports over four days.
- Sport in England
- Sport in Scotland
- Sport in Wales
- Sport in Northern Ireland
- Sport in the Isle of Man
- Sport in Jersey
- Sport in Guernsey
- Sport in Gibraltar
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