Sport is very important part of life in Great Britain. Thousands of people devote their leisure time to outdoor and indoor games, athletics, cycling, mountain climbing, boxing and other sport. Horse-racing, dog-racing and motor racing are among the most popular sports in Britain. They gather many spectators.
Outdoor games played in Great Britain are team games such as football, cricket and hockey, and games in which individuals or couples try their skill, for example lawn-tennis and golf. The number of participants and spectators shows that the most popular of the team games are football and cricket, and the most popular individual game is lawn-tennis.
Although Englishmen played a kind of football in the Middle Ages or even earlier, as on organised game it dates from just over a century ago. One type of football, in which the players carried the oval ball in their hands, appeared in 1895 at Rugby School. That is why the game took the name Rugby or "rugger". The rules of the game are different from football (known as "soccer"), and there are 15 players instead of 11, in a team.
Soccer matches also get big crowds. The Cup Final is one of the most important football matches of the year in England; it is always played at the Wembley stadium, near London, which holds 100,000 spectators. The matches between England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland also excite great interest, as do the matches between British teams from European and American countries.
Cricket is England's national summer game. Nobody knows exactly how old the game is, but some form of cricket was being played in England in the 13th century. That game was probably quite different form the one which is known, as the rules of the game changed over the years. Cricket today is played on a pitch with a wicket at each end. The two wickets are twenty meters apart. The period during which each team bats is called an innings. Most matches last one day, and each side has one innings, but important matches (such as international ones) can last six days. The oldest series of international matches (Test Matches) is between England and Australia, and the team that wins, takes home a famous trophy, The Ashes called. The trophy has this odd unusual name because it contains the ashes of the stumps and bails that were used in Test series of 1882, and then burned.
The number of people who play lawn-tennis is great. The tennis Championship held at Wimbledon for two weeks at the end of June and beginning of July are the main event of the lawn-tennis season in Britain and in fact, in the world. These championship, in which men and women of many nationalities compete, gather large crowds.
Many children in Britain learn to swim at school, or during holidays at the seaside, and swimming as a summer pastime is enjoyed by millions of people. There are also indoor swimming pools which makes swimming possible all-the-year round. Swimming championship and competitions are widely reported in the press, over the radio and on television. Attempts to swim the English Channel which separates Great Britain from the Continent, have been made by swimmers of many nationalities every summer. Some of the attempts are successful.