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Ancient and Extinct Sports

We have listed over a thousand sports that are found throughout the world. A few of these listed sports are not played anymore, which I have termed extinct sports. There are many reasons for a sport to become extinct or just forgotten, such as better versions being invented, financial difficulties, changes in technology, landscape and cultural changes. See our List of Extinct Sports.

Harpastum player a stone carving of Harpastum from the National Archaeological Museum, Athens

The Control of Sport

Rulers may affect the playing of sports. In Tudor times in England, sport was heavily controlled by the government. In 1512 King Henry VIII banned the ordinary person from a whole range of games such as real tennis, cards, dice, bowls and skittles. It was considered that time should be spent in more productive pursuits.

Extinct Olympic Sports

There have been regular changes to the Olympic Games sporting program over the years, with many sports appearing briefly and being dropped from the program. Just because they are not played as part of the Olympic Games does not send the sport into oblivion. Cricket appeared briefly at the Olympics, and is now one of the most popular sports in the world.

Others sports were dropped for a good reason, The live pigeon shooting event did not last long at the Olympics. Other were not interesting and not popular enough. The croquet tournament in 1900 was not a success with the spectators. Only one fan watched the events - an Englishman who had traveled from Nice especially for the occasion. No wonder we have not seen this event at the Olympics again. The discontinued Tug of War, swimming plunge for distance and Standing High Jump are not sporting events we see much these days, understandably. We have a big section of this site on Discontinued Olympic Sports where you can read more about these sports.

Failed Experiments

Some extinct sports have gone down that path after a failed attempt to create a new sport. There are several hybrid sports that were created so that players from different sports could play together, such as Universal Football, a hybrid sport of Australian Football and Rugby League. The sport was played officially just once in 1933, and was not deemed interesting enough to continue. Another created sport was Volata, ball game developed in fascist Italy combining the rules of association football (soccer) and handball. The sport was created in the 1920s, and enjoyed some success with the backing of the government, before being officially abandoned the leagues disbanded in 1933.

Evolution of Sports

Some sports are not played anymore as they became superseded with a better version. For example, the sport of Jeu de Paume must have been popular enough to be played at the Olympics in 1908. It is not surprising that the sport had to change, it was an exclusive sport played in very specific spaces with very limited scope for spectators. The modern game of Tennis, now an Olympic sport, was derived from this older version of the game.

And the evolution continues. Looking at our list of Newly Invented Sports, there are always people with ideas of new and exciting ways to play sport, often combining other better known sports or making what they consider improvements to current sports.

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More About Extinct Sports

Sport Extra

Check out the 800+ sports in the Encyclopedia of Every Sport. Well not every sport, as there is a list of unusual sports, extinct sports and newly created sports. How to get on these lists? See What is a sport? We also have sports winners lists, and about major sports events and a summary of every year.

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