September 2, 2016
A stroll down nearly any street in nearly any city in the world is likely to reveal children, teenagers, or adults enjoying some sort of physical activity. In some cases this might be two teams playing a football on the pitch with a referee, or it could a group of children playing a basketball game as their parents watch from the sidelines, or sometimes it might an ice hockey game being played out on a frozen lake in a city park. It could just as easily be something parkour athletes jumping over obstacles or skateboarders perfecting tricks or it could be a group of people playing an invented game, the rules to which were decided by the players just prior to starting.
In the case of the former we recognise these sports because they have codified rules that are generally the same the world over. In the case of latter, these are street sports. Street sports are essentially what the name says, sports played on the streets. Beyond that though there is a great deal of history and even philosophy. These are local games carried out by local people without the goal of having spectators.
A famous free climber (someone who climbs trees, towers, skyscrapers, bridges, etc) Alain Robert has postulated that when people partake in these activities they are engaged in a sort of art created with the body. The goals of which are not necessarily immediately discernible, but simply using one’s body in a public space in possibly a unique way.
Philosophy aside it’s been well established that street sports have existed since ancient times. Most of the earliest of sports were games that had a direct relationship to the environment. For example, if there were many bulls in an area a culture might develop bull fighting or bull-leaping, if it’s a snowy, mountainous region under consideration then sledging might have become the locals’ collective hobby. Often it was the sports that were easy to ‘transport’, i.e. a sport that didn’t require resources unique to one place or environment, that spread and later became codified.
It was during the Industrial Revolution that street sports really became popular. This was the first time in human history that urbanisation began on a massive scale. This led to a situation in which people were living in highly developed areas and were less and less active in the ways they would have been had they been living in the countryside still and working on farms or hunting or sailing or surviving using their bodies. It was at this point that street sports truly began taking off when people still wanted to use their bodies but had little need to do so.
It’s the realisation that street sports are more than just ways of exercising or passing an afternoon, but rather are a connection to our physical environment that makes them so cherished and culturally valuable.