Cultural sports: where history engages with athleticism

Inaaya Yousuf, Staffer

All around the world, participating in sports can create lasting, meaningful and impactful bonds between people of different creeds, ethnicities and cultures. While many people are aware of popular sports in the U.S. such as soccer, basketball and baseball, there are many sports whose cultural roots are often overlooked yet still widely practiced around the world. Here are some of the sports with cultural ties and history that have been enjoyed for many decades.

Cricket, first introduced to India by British colonists in the 1700s, caught the attention of Indian elites. The first recorded competitive match took place in 1721, as it gained popularity around the country. Cricket is played with two teams, each consisting of 11 players. The batting team aims to score by striking a white ball and running between two sets of wickets — stumps placed behind the batsman — while the fielding team prevents the opposing team from scoring. Since cricket’s introduction to India, the sport has become a unifying force, becoming a nationwide cultural phenomenon and bringing together diverse communities under the passion for the sport.

Kendo, a modern martial art from Japan, stems from Kenjustu and can be traced back to the 18th and 19th centuries, incorporating the Japanese swordsmanship techniques of Samurai warriors. In kendo, opponents wear protective armor called “bōgu” and use bamboo swords called “shinai.” Kendo requires precision and control to score points and strike opponents. It is also characterized by a traditional fighting style that pays tribute to the sport’s ancestry, focusing on posture and precision. In the late 19th century, kendo was promoted to foster unity and military discipline in Japan. The sport is currently considered one of the most popular martial arts in Japan and is widely practiced around the world.

Across China, badminton holds an important cultural significance. Although the sport has ties to England from more than 2,000 years ago, many historians say badminton has a connection to the Chinese game of jianzi. Jianzi is played using various body parts, excluding the hands, with the objective of keeping a shuttlecock in the air. Badminton, on the other hand, is played with a racket, net and shuttlecock, with the objective of scoring points by landing the shuttlecock on the opponent’s side of the net. The modern version of badminton flourished in China in the 1950s, when the sport’s popularity rose. Today, badminton has created a sense of national pride with its national team’s successes and international collaborations.

Originating in Montreal and spreading throughout the 19th century, ice hockey is a Canadian staple. Initially, many thought the game originated from field hockey due to their many similarities. However, newer research has revealed the sport could have its roots in the practices of the Mi’kmaq Indians in Nova Scotia in the early 1800s. The first recorded match took place in Montreal’s Victoria Skating Rink in 1875. The game is played on an ice rink between two teams, with six players per team. The objective of the game is to guide a rubber disk, the puck, past the opponents’ goal line to score points. The sport has had an Olympic presence in the men’s division since 1920 and the women’s division since 1998. The popularity of ice hockey has since spread past Canada, becoming a beloved international sport for many to enjoy and follow.