There’s a new sport invented almost daily, but only a handful truly catch on around the world and become massively popular. These days, there are about a dozen sports that millions of people watch regularly, though not many know the true origins. Instead, we associate these sports with the countries where the highest level of play is held.
If you’ve ever wondered where your favorite sports come from, you might be surprised by the answers, especially if you’re an American. Here are five sports with surprising country origins, who they’re typically associated with, and how popular those sports have become over the years.
There’s no sport that’s associated with the United States more than baseball (though there’s a different sport later in the list that could take that mantle). While baseball in its current form was invented in Cooperstown, New York in the mid-19th century. Many believe that it was Abner Doubleday who invented the sport, but that has proven to be a myth, and even Doubleday himself never said he was the inventor.
The first time that baseball received any mention was at the beginning of the 18th century in England. There were pamphlets and books about how to play the sport, and many who wrote in their diaries mentioned baseball during the middle part of the century. Rules were established over the years, but there was a branching off where England moved more toward cricket while America adopted the newer version of the original baseball game.
There are a few countries that come to mind when thinking about hockey, and ice hockey in particular. Many attribute Canada as being the home of ice hockey, but that’s just where it became more popular. In the late 18th century, people in North America were more enamored with lacrosse. Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, people were playing the first iteration of ice hockey called bandy.
When British soldiers were stationed in Canada, they introduced the sport to the country. Over the years, Brits almost entirely abandoned ice hockey when it became the national sport in Canada. It makes sense that it all went down that way, too, as there’s obviously a lot more opportunity to play ice hockey in Canada compared to England.
The first two sports we highlighted were thought to be native to North America but actually came from England. Now, we have a sport that many associate with England, but was invented elsewhere. England is responsible for the more modern version called lawn tennis which evolved over time, with historians have said that northern France is the home of the basics of the sport.
The original tennis played in France essentially had the same rules, though a racket wasn’t involved. Instead, the game was called jeu de paume and people played exclusively with the palms of their hands. Rackets were introduced during the 16th century in England, which is why the country has been credited with inventing the sport. Having the first major championships at Wimbledon doesn’t hurt, either.
Though American football (or gridiron, as some call it) has a niche following in countries outside of the United States, no other sport comes close to popularity within the country. The modern version of football which would result in NCAA football and the National Football League started back in the late 19th century and exploded in popularity in the early 20th century.
The game takes a lot of concepts from other sports including rugby and association football, but the original sport dates all the way back to ancient Greece. It was called Episkyros, and over the years, there were small clubs that played a version of football that more resembles the NFL today. Of course, it wasn’t until the United States discovered British “mob football” that they developed it into a more refined game.
With all of these sports that many thought were invented in the United States, was there any sport that the country truly invented? It turns out there is, and it’s not just basketball, but another one of the world’s most popular sports in terms of participants. William G. Morgan of Holyoke, Massachusetts took an old tennis net in a YMCA gymnasium at 6’6” and volleyball was born.
During the early 20th century, the sport became a global phenomenon and has had variations including beach volleyball. The simplicity of the game and inclusiveness made volleyball attractive to millions. Interestingly enough, it was invented in the same five-year span in the same state as basketball.