Sport in the United Kingdom: Wikis

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Sport in the United Kingdom plays an important role in British culture, and many people make an emotional investment in their favourite spectator sports. The most popular sport is association football, except in Northern Ireland, where Gaelic games are the most popular sports, and Wales, where rugby union is generally perceived from outside as being the national sport, although there are more registered football clubs than rugby clubs. Cricket is popular in England and Wales, but is less popular in the other home nations. Rugby union and rugby league are the other major team sports, with union generally more popular in the south of England and league traditionally associated with the north. Major individual sports include athletics, golf, motorsport, and horseracing. Tennis is the highest profile sport for the two weeks of the Wimbledon Championships, but otherwise struggles to hold its own in the country of its birth. Many other sports are also played and followed to a lesser degree.

The United Kingdom has given birth to a range of major international sports including: Association football, rugby (league and union), cricket, golf, tennis, badminton, squash, rounders, hockey, boxing, snooker, billiards and curling. It has also played a key role in the development of sports such as Sailing and Formula One.

Contents

Structure

England, Scotland, and Wales, have separate teams in most team sports, including separate teams at the Commonwealth Games, though a combined team represents the United Kingdom at the Olympics which is formally "Great Britain and Northern Ireland" but commonly referred to as "Great Britain". Competition between the home nations was traditionally at the centre of British sporting life, but it has become less important in recent decades. The club competitions in most team sports are also organised on a national basis rather than on a United Kingdom wide basis. There are various anomalies however, such as the participation of the three largest Welsh football clubs in the English league system; an English club in the Scottish Football League; a club in the Welsh Premier League playing their home matches in England; and the Magners League in rugby union, which includes clubs from Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

Administration and funding

Political responsibility for sport in England is with the UK Department of Culture, Media and Sport which is headed by a cabinet minister though the Minister for Sport and Tourism is not in the cabinet.

Political responsibility for Sport in Scotland lies with the Scottish Government Minister for Communities and Sport, currently Stewart Maxwell.

A large majority of the funding for elite sport in the United Kingdom is commercially generated, but this is concentrated heavily on a few sports. The Premiership football clubs had an estimated combined turnover of £1.25 billion for the 2003-04 season according to Deloitte, and British professional football's total income is in the region of £2 billion. Other major sports have a turnover in low nine figures or the tens of millions. For example cricket is highly dependent on its TV contract, which will be worth £55 million a year for the 2006-09 seasons.

Athletics, and also most sports outside the top ten or so in popularity, are heavily dependent on public funding. The government agency which funnels this is UK Sport, which has affiliates in each of the home nations, for example Sport England. These agencies are also responsible for distributing money raised for sport by the National Lottery. In 2005, UK Sport announced funding plans for the next few years which are more focused than ever before on rewarding sports which have delivered Olympic success, and as a corollary penalising those which haven't. UK Sport also provides money for the recreational side of the main team sports, even football.

Other sports benefit from special financial provision. British tennis is subsidised by the profits of the Wimbledon Championships, which are in the tens of millions of pounds each year. Horseracing benefits from a levy on betting.

Following the Budget from 21 March 2007 there will be only few tax breaks to British sport in the near future.[1]

Popularity

A 2003 MORI poll[2] found:

Sport TV Viewing Participating
Association football 46% 10%
Rugby Union 21% NA
Tennis 18% 3%
Athletics 18% 2%
Snooker 17% 5%
Cricket 17% 2%
Motor racing 16% NA
Rugby League 12% NA
Boxing 11% NA
Golf 11% 6%
Darts 9% 3%
Swimming NA 9%
Gym NA 12%
Badminton NA 3%
Squash NA 3%
Watersport NA 2%
Skiing NA 1%

Sports media

The British media is dominated by national outlets, with local media playing a much smaller role. Traditionally the BBC played a dominant role in televising sport, providing extensive high-quality advertisement free coverage and free publicity, in exchange for being granted broadcast rights for low fees. ITV broadcast a smaller portfolio of events. In the early 1990s this arrangement was shaken up by the arrival of pay-TV. BSkyB based its early marketing largely on its acquisition of top division English league football, which was renamed The Premiership as part of the deal. It has subsequently acquired many more top rights in other sports. However, Sky tends to focus on competitions which can fill its specialist sports channels on a regular basis, and many events are still shown on free to air television, especially annual and quadrennial events such as Wimbledon and the Olympics. There are also regulations which prevent certain listed events from being sold exclusively to pay television. In 2006 the Irish company Setanta Sports made a major move into the British market by paying £392 million [2] for rights to certain Scottish Premier League as well as one third of live Premier League matches for the three year period from summer 2007 to summer 2010.

Radio sports coverage is also important. The BBC's Radio Five Live broadcasts almost all major sports events. It now has a commercial rival called TalkSport, but this has not acquired anywhere near as many exclusive contracts as Sky Sports. BBC Local Radio also provides extensive coverage of sport, giving more exposure to second-tier clubs which get limited national coverage.

The United Kingdom does not have a tradition of specialist sports newspapers, but all of the national newspapers except the Financial Times devote many pages to sport every day. Local newspapers cover local clubs at all levels and there are hundreds of weekly and monthly sports magazines.

Elite level sport

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Elite level team sports

Four sports in the United Kingdom operate high profile professional leagues. Football is the most popular sport and is played from August to May. Rugby union is also a winter sport. Cricket is played in the Summer, from April to September. Rugby league is traditionally a winter sport, but since the late 1990s the elite competition has been played in the summer to minimise competition for attention with football. There are also professional leagues in basketball and ice hockey, but while these have small but loyal fanbases, they struggle to attract attention from the general media. Many other sports have amateur leagues.

Association football

See main articles Football in England and Football in Scotland.

The modern global game of football evolved out of traditional football games played in England in the 19th century and today is the highest profile sport by a very wide margin. This has been the case for generations, but the gap is widely perceived to have increased since the early 1990s, and football's dominance is often seen as a threat to other sports. The governing bodies for football are The Football Association, the Scottish Football Association and the Football Association of Wales. These bodies run the national teams, the recreational game and the main cup competitions. They have however lost a significant amount of power to the professional leagues in recent times. The first ever international football match was between Scotland and England in 1872. The only major national team competition won by a Home Nation is the 1966 World Cup, which England hosted and won. Club football is also organised separately in each country. English football has a league system which incorporates thousands of clubs, and is topped by four fully professional divisions. The elite Premier League has 20 teams and is the richest football (soccer) league in the world. The other three fully professional divisions are the run by The Football League and include another 72 clubs. Annual promotion and relegation operates between these four divisions and also between the lowest of them and lower level or "non-League" football. There are a small number of fully professional clubs outside the top four divisions, and many more semi-professional clubs. Thus England has over a hundred fully professional clubs in total, which is considerably more than any other country in Europe. The two main cup competitions in England are the FA Cup, which is open to every men's football team in England, though only professional clubs ever reach the last few rounds, and the League Cup (currently known as the Carling Cup), which is for the ninety-two professional clubs in the four main professional divisions only. Scotland has a similar but smaller club football structure. The main league is the single-division, twelve-club Scottish Premier League (SPL), which is dominated by the two Old Firm Glasgow clubs Rangers F.C. and Celtic F.C. who dwarf their rivals in support and financial resources. Below the SPL is the Scottish Football League, which has three divisions with a total of thirty clubs, not all of which are fully professional. The two main cup competitions are Scottish Cup and the Scottish League Cup. The top level league in Wales is the Welsh Premier League. This league has a relatively low profile as rugby union is the national sport of Wales and the top three Welsh football clubs play in the English league system. The main Welsh Cup competitions are the Welsh Cup and the FAW Premier Cup. Each season the most successful clubs from each of the home nations qualify for the two Europe wide club competitions organised by UEFA, the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League (formerly the UEFA Cup). England and Scotland have both produced winners of each of these competitions.

Cricket

See main articles Cricket in England and Cricket in Wales.
Cricketer W.G. Grace was the most celebrated British sportsman of the 19th century

The early reference to the separate national identities in the UK is perhaps best illustrated by the game of cricket. Cricket was invented in England. The national sport of England is cricket. There is no UK team, although the England team also represents Wales. England is one of the test-playing nations, Each summer two foreign national teams visit England to play seven test matches and numerous one-day internationals. In the British winter the England team tours abroad. The highest profile rival of the England cricket team is the Australian team, with which it competes for The Ashes, one of the most famous trophies in British sport. There are eighteen professional county clubs, seventeen of them in England and one in Wales. Each summer the county clubs compete in the first class County Championship, which consists of two leagues of nine teams and in which matches are played over four days. The same teams also play the one day National League, a one day knock out competition called the Friends Provident Trophy, and the short-form Twenty20 Cup. English cricket grounds include Lords, The Oval, Headingley, Old Trafford, Edgbaston and Trent Bridge. Cardiff's Sophia Gardens ground has also become increasingly popular in recent years. It is by no means equal to football in finance, attendance or coverage, but it has a high profile nonetheless. It is probably the second most widely covered sport, and the fortunes of the England team are closely followed by many people who never attend a live game.

Scotland also has a cricket team, but they aren't as successful as the England Cricket Team and don't play Tests.

Northern Ireland cricket players play for the Ireland team, which occasionally causes a problem in the Anthem played at the start of Cricket matches.

Rugby Football

See main articles: History of rugby union and History of rugby league.

Like association football, rugby union and rugby league both developed from traditional British football games in the 19th century. Rugby football was codified in 1871. Dissatisfaction with the governance of the sport led, in 1895, to a number of prominent clubs establishing what would become rugby league. The estranged clubs, based in mainly working class industrial regions of northern England, had wished to be allowed to compensate their players for missing work to play matches but they had been opposed by those clubs that were predominantly middle class and often based in the south of the country. Subsequently rugby league developed somewhat different rules. For much of the 20th century there was considerable antagonism towards rugby league from rugby union. One Member of Parliament described it as "one of the longest (and daftest) grievances in history" with anyone over the age of 18 associated with rugby league being banned forever from rugby union.[3] This antagonism has abated since 1995 when the International Rugby Board, rugby union's international governing body, "opened" rugby union to professionalism.

Rugby union
See main articles: Rugby union in England, Rugby union in Scotland and Rugby union in Wales.

All three teams are among the top ten in global rugby union. They take part in the main European international rugby union competition, the Six Nations Championship and regularly play the other leading rugby union nations—the "Southern Hemisphere" trio of South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, plus the geographically isolated emerging power Argentina—as well as other rugby playing countries. England won the 2003 Rugby World Cup, the first victory in the competition by a British team (or, for that matter, any Northern Hemisphere country), and were runners-up to Australia in 1991 and South Africa in 2007. Rugby union is generally regarded as the national sport of Wales.

The main rugby union club competition in England is a 12-team league called the Guinness Premiership, and there is also a cup competition whose current identity as the Anglo-Welsh Cup reflects its expansion in 2005 from an England-only competition to one also involving teams from Wales. Attendances at club rugby in England have risen strongly since the sport went professional. By contrast, the professional era has had a traumatic effect on the traditional structure of club rugby in Wales, Scotland and Ireland, as the clubs lacked the financial resources to compete with their English and French rivals. The three countries now share a single top flight rugby structure made up of regional teams: four from Wales, four from Ireland and two from Scotland. These teams play in the Magners League.

Rugby league
See main articles: Rugby league in England, Rugby league in Scotland and Rugby league in Wales.

The governing body of rugby league in the United Kingdom is the Rugby Football League. Overall rugby league is a smaller sport than rugby union in the United Kingdom, but it draws healthy crowds in its heartlands in Yorkshire and North West England, and is popular with armchair sports fans nationwide. The top level league is Super League, newly expanded to 14 teams for the 2009 season—11 in the heartlands, one in London, one in Wales, and one in France. Below this level are the Co-operative Championship and Championship One (formerly the National Leagues); the Championship has 11 teams following the 2009 addition of a team from France, and Championship One has 10 teams. Before 2008, automatic promotion and relegation existed between Super League and the Championship. Starting with the 2008 season, Super League went to a franchise system similar to that found in North American sport. However, Super League's system differs from the North American system in that teams are only guaranteed a place in Super League for three years at a time. The main knock-out competition is the Challenge Cup, which also includes clubs from France and Russia.

Rugby league is also played as an amateur sport, especially in the heartland areas, where the game is administered by BARLA. Since the rugby union authorities ended the discrimination against playing rugby league amateur numbers in the sport have increased, particularly outside the heartland areas. Through competitions such as the Rugby League Conference the sport is heading towards a national spread, at amateur level at least [3].

Internationally, only England (and sometimes Wales) field truly competitive teams in international rugby league. For many tournaments the home nations are combined to compete as Great Britain. The Great Britain team won the Rugby League World Cup in 1954, 1960 and 1972, but England and Wales now compete separately in this tournament and Australia held the title from 1975 until being upset by New Zealand in 2008.

The Great Britain team competes with Australia and New Zealand in the more recently founded Tri-Nations competition. Great Britain also competes as a single team in test series such as the Ashes (against Australia) and the Baskerville Shield (against New Zealand).

Gaelic games

In the United Kingdom, Gaelic games such as Gaelic football and hurling are highly popular in Northern Ireland and have a smaller presence in Great Britain. They are regulated by the Gaelic Athletic Association. Six Northern Ireland teams (Tyrone, Fermanagh, Armagh, Antrim, Down and Derry) feature in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, as do the London senior football team from Great Britain. In hurling, London beat Cork in the 1901 All-Ireland senior hurling championship final, nowadays their hurlers compete in the third tier Nicky Rackard Cup. Antrim are the only Northern Irish team in the first tier.

Other team sports

Basketball is a minor sport in the United Kingdom. As of the 2006-07 season the top level league is the ten team British Basketball League and second league is the twelve team English Basketball League. The teams are professional or semi-professional but have modest resources. British international basketball teams have not achieved any major successes. Currently, British players in the North American NBA are Ben Gordon (who was raised in the United States) and Luol Deng (a Sudanese refugee who is now naturalised in the UK). Another NBA player, Kelenna Azubuike, was born in London (leaving for the United States as a teenager to further his basketball career), but was denied British citizenship in December 2007 because of problems with his parents' immigration status at his birth.

Ice hockey is also a minor sport in the United Kingdom. The main league is the ten team professional Elite League which features many former NHL players.

Field hockey is the second most popular team recreational sport in the United Kingdom. The Great Britain men's team won the hockey tournament at the 1988 Olympics. However British hockey has gone backwards since then, partly because of conflicts between the need to foster a combined team to compete in the Olympics, and the commitment of the hockey associations of each of the home nations to the retention of separate national teams to compete in other international competitions.

Australian rules football is a minor amateur sport in the United Kingdom. The British Australian Rules Football League (BARFL), formed in 1989 has Premier, Regional and Conference divisions. The Grand Final is an event that regularly attracts growing audience of up to 5,000, consisting primarily of ex-patriate Australians. The British Bulldogs national team has competed in the Australian Football International Cup. Exhibition matches are regularly scheduled for The Oval in London, and despite the fact that few Britons know of the sport, the most recent match attracted a record crowd of 18,884 [4], helped by the presence of a large Australian community in London.

American Football is a amateur sport, with two League associations BAFL and BAUFL (University league). The BAFL League has 3 divisions: Premier, 1 and 2, each with a playoff series and championship game to determine a winner. The Championship participants are promoted to the divisions above and the lowest ranking teams in each division are relegated. Teams compete annually to reach the championship game (BritBowl) and win the Boston Trophy. The game was traditionally hosted at Sheffield's Don Valley Stadium, however the venue for the finals was switched in 2008 due to a schedule conflict with Rotherham United FC, the stadium's temporary tenants,[2] with the match instead being played at the Keepmoat Stadium in Doncaster.[3] The teams come from all parts of England, From Cornwall (Cornish Sharks), Yorkshire (Yorkshire Rams) to Scotland (East Kilbride Pirates) to London (London Blitz) who are the current Britbowl Champions.

Shinty is an amateur sport indigenous to the Scottish Highlands. Although it is mostly restricted to this area it is highly popular within the Highlands. It is administered by the Camanachd Association. Its main trophies are the Camanachd Cup and the Premier Division. There are clubs in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London however and it was once played throughout Scotland and England until the early 20th Century.

Elite level individual sports

Athletics

Athletics does not have a very high profile in Britain on a week-in week-out basis, but it leaps to prominence during major championships. The level of attention received by successful British athletes is illustrated by the fact that athletes have won far more BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards than practitioners of any other sport. The governing body of British Athletics is UK Athletics. There are also semi-independent athletics associations in each of the home nations.

Over the last few decades British athletes have usually won between one and three gold medals at the Olympics. Traditionally Britain was strongest in men's athletics, especially middle distance running, but over the last 20 years success has been achieved in a wide range of events and British women have closed the attainment gap on the men. However, there remain serious concerns about the depth of the sport in Britain, with the number of club athletes reportedly in decline.

Two high profile annual athletics events are the London Marathon and the Great North Run, which is a half marathon.

Boxing

The United Kingdom played a key role in the evolution of modern boxing, with the codification of the rules of the sport known as the Queensberry Rules in the 19th century.

British professional boxing offers some of the largest purses outside the United States to a few elite professional boxers who become nationally known. British heavyweight contenders are especially popular, but most British world champions have fought in the middling weight brackets. The governing body of professional boxing is the British Boxing Board of Control. It is generally felt that British professional boxing is in decline in the early years of the 21st century. The reasons for this include: the fact that football now offers a relatively large number of sportsmen the chance to make the sort of income traditionally only available to world boxing champions, reducing the incentive for athletic youngsters to accept the greater risks of a boxing career; the acquisition of the rights to most major fights by Sky Sports, which means that fewer boxers become national figures than in the past; and the knock the sport's credibility has taken from the multiplicity of title sanctioning bodies.

Amateur boxing is governed by the Amateur Boxing Association of England (ABA) and the equivalent bodies in the other home nations. British amateurs have only enjoyed a very modest amount of success in international competition in recent decades, partly due to the tendency for them to turn professional at an early stage. The amateur sport is in a very poor state, with dramatic declines in boxer numbers. National amateur boxing championships and international team matches, which were once highlights of the British sporting calendar, are now almost invisible to the general sporting public.

Cycling

Britain has had limited success with cycle racing in the 20th century. This has changed when the performance director of British cycling David Brailsford obtained lottery funding which helped cycling at both grass roots and at an elite level. This paid off in the 2008 Olympics; British cyclists brought home gold medals in seven events, most notably Chris Hoy who became the first British Olympian to win three golds at one Olympiad, earning him a knighthood. Other successes include Rebecca Romero and Victoria Pendelton. Success at road racing has also been limited with the UK being the only major nation not to have a Tour de France champion. There has been some success with riders such as Tom Simpson, Barry Hoban, Robert Millar, Chris Boardman, David Millar, Bradley Wiggins, and Mark Cavendish. Because of the increasing interest in cycling, a British Pro tour (Team Sky) team is planned to start competing in the 2010 season at the highest level in the sport. In women's cycling, Nicole Cooke is regarded to be the best female cyclist in the world. Cycle racing is organised by British Cycling, who govern most cycling events in the UK and organise the national team. Time trailing in the UK is organised by a separate body called the RTTC.

Golf

Modern competitive golf originated in Scotland. In the early 20th century British golfers were the best in the world, winning nearly all of the U.S. Open championships before World War I. American golfers later became dominant, but Britain has continued to produce leading golfers, with an especially strong period in the 1980s and 1990s. There are usually more British golfers than Americans in the top 100 of the Official World Golf Rankings relative to population, that is to say more than a fifth as many, but Britain has not yet produced a major new golf star this century, although a number of British golfers have reached the world's top 10 in the early 2000s, with England's Paul Casey and Lee Westwood and 20-year-old Northern Ireland sensation Rory McIlroy ending 2009 in the top 10, and Englishmen Ian Poulter, Justin Rose and Luke Donald also having stints in the top 10.

The Open Championship, which is played each July on a number of British golf courses on a rotating basis, the majority of them in Scotland, is the only men's major golf tournament which is played outside of the United States. The most famous of these courses is St Andrews, which is known as "The Home of Golf". The R&A, the governing body of golf outside the United States and Mexico, is based in St Andrews. The PGA European Tour is headquartered in England, and the main European Tour plays more events in the United Kingdom than in any other country. In international team competition the United Kingdom provides a large part of the European Ryder Cup team, which has beaten the United States team in five of the last six events.

Women's golf does not have as high a profile as the men's game, but British players, most notably Laura Davies, have found success on both the Europe-wide Ladies European Tour and the overwhelmingly dominant women's tour, the LPGA Tour in the U.S. The Women's British Open is the only event recognised as a major by both the Ladies European Tour and the U.S. LPGA.

Tennis

Tennis is yet another sport which originated in the United Kingdom, but it has not flourished there in recent decades, and its profile is highly dependent on the Wimbledon Championships. However, no British man has won Wimbledon since 1936 and no British woman since 1977. The governing body of the sport is the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), which invests the vast profits from the tournament in the game in the hope of producing British champions, but a string of revamps of the coaching system have failed to raise the standard of LTA-trained players. The only British players of either sex to reach the world top 50 in recent years are Greg Rusedski, who learnt his tennis in Canada, and Tim Henman and Andy Murray, who did not pass through the LTA system either. Outside of Wimbledon fortnight tennis's profile in Britain is low, and since the 2007 retirement of Rusedski and Henman is now largely dependent on Murray.

Great Britain has won the Davis Cup nine times, but all of them were before World War II and there is no prospect of another victory in the foreseeable future. The Great Britain women's team made the final of the Fed Cup four times, losing all four, but their last finals appearance was in 1981 when the competition was known as the Federation Cup, and the women's prospects for future victory are even more dim than those of Britain's men. Neither the men's nor women's team are currently in a position to actually compete for their respective cups. Both teams are currently in Group I of the Europe/Africa Zone in their respective tournaments. However, because the Davis Cup has only one 16-team World Group while the Fed Cup has two World Groups, with only the eight teams in World Group I actually competing for that trophy, the men are one promotion away from competing for the Davis Cup while the women are two promotions away from competing for the Fed Cup.

Motorsport

Britain is the centre of Formula One, with the majority of the Formula One teams based in England, and more world titles won by drivers from Britain than from any other country, including Mike Hawthorn; Graham Hill (twice); Jim Clark (twice); John Surtees, also a world champion in motorcycling; Jackie Stewart (three times); James Hunt; Nigel Mansell; Graham Hill's son, Damon Hill; Lewis Hamilton; and Jenson Button. The British Grand Prix takes place at Silverstone each June/July.

Major motor racing series based in the UK include the British Formula Three Championship and the British Touring Car Championship.

British drivers have achieved success in the World Rally Championship with the late Colin McRae and the late Richard Burns winning the title. The British leg of the competition is the Wales Rally Great Britain.

Since 2000 the British Superbike Championship has become increasingly popular, surpassing its four-wheeled rivals in terms of spectator receipts and television coverage. Britain hosts one round of the MotoGP championship at Donington Park, and usually two rounds of the Superbike World Championship, at Silverstone and Brands Hatch. In 2007 a third Superbike World Championship round was added at Donington Park. In 2008 Silverstone was dropped; Brands Hatch and Donington Park were the venues used for the two rounds that took place in the UK that year, though in 2009 and 2010 only a single round will be held, at Silverstone, after the series organisers and the circuit owners of Brands Hatch failed to reach a commercial agreement on staging the event.

Swimming

The swimming organizations of the home countries have recently formed an umbrella organisation called British Swimming. Britain sends large teams to all the major international swimming events, and enjoy some successes, but it is not currently a leading swimming nation. The sport's profile is highest during the Commonwealth Games, when British swimmers have their best chance to win gold medals, and during the Olympics.

The provision of 50 metre pools in the United Kingdom is very poor for a developed country, with just 22 as of early 2007, only two of which conform to the full Olympic standard. There are however far more 25 metre short course pools and other sub Olympic-size competition pools. (See List of Olympic size swimming pools in the United Kingdom.)

Other individual sports

Other sports with loyal followings include snooker, which is popular with television companies as it fills swathes of their schedules at a very low cost, and also attracts good audiences. However, its popularity has waned somewhat since 1985, when nearly a third of the British population watched the conclusion of the celebrated Dennis Taylor versus Steve Davis World Championship final even though it ended after midnight. All but two events on the professional snooker tour in 2007/2008 are played in the United Kingdom, and the World Championship has been played at The Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, since 1977. There are many amateur leagues set up across the country, featuring team matches between snooker clubs.

Darts is another British centred sport with an assured place in the attention of the British sporting public. The two rival Darts World Championships have been held in the United Kingdom since their inception. Phil Taylor of Stoke has won more World Championships than any other player.

Sailing is also a well regarded sport in the UK. It is governed by the RYA, and there are many locations in the UK where sailing can take place, both inland and coastal. Media coverage tends to be low, but if this was to be increased, some feel that support for the sport would increase.

Orienteering is now a major sport in the UK. It is regulated by the British Orienteering Federation, and Britain generally puts on a very strong show at the World Orienteering Championships with Jamie Stevenson, second at WOC in 2006. Yvette Baker is generally considered the best British orienteer of all time.

There are many other sports in which Britons compete, sometimes with success, but which do not receive much attention outside a small number of aficionados except during major events such as the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games, or when a British athlete does something extraordinary such as breaking a world record. Examples include judo, gliding, modern pentathlon, figure skating and sailing.

Elite level equestrian sports

Horseracing

See main article Horseracing in Great Britain.

Horseracing occupies a key place in British sport, probably ranking in the top four or five sports in terms of media coverage. There are sixty racecourses in Great Britain and annual racecourse attendance exceeds six million. The sport in Great Britain is governed by the British Horseracing Authority. The two racecourses in Northern Ireland are governed by Horse Racing Ireland, which runs horse racing on an All-Ireland basis.

The two forms of horseracing in the United Kingdom are National Hunt, which involves jumping over fences or hurdles, and the more glamourous flat racing. National Hunt is a winter sport and flat racing is a summer sport, but the seasons are very long and they overlap.

In flat racing the three races which make up the Triple Crown are the 2,000 Guineas, the Epsom Derby, and the St. Leger Stakes. Other leading flat races include the 1,000 Guineas and the Epsom Oaks. Apart from the meetings at which the aforementioned races are staged, major flat racing meetings include Royal Ascot, Glorious Goodwood, and the Ebor Festival at York Racecourse. The highlights of the National Hunt season are the Cheltenham Festival and the Aintree Grand National.

Eventing and showjumping

The United Kingdom also played a key role in the evolution of three-day eventing and showjumping. Two of the six annual three-day event competitions given the highest classification by the FEI are British, namely the Badminton Horse Trials and the Burghley Horse Trials. Badminton attracts crowds of up to a quarter of a million spectators on cross country day, which is the largest for any paid-entry sports event in Britain.

Great Britain at the Olympics

The United Kingdom usually competes in the Olympics as Great Britain during Olympic competition. The British Olympic Association does not play as central a role in British sport as some other National Olympic Committees play in their nation's sporting life.

After the 2004 Summer Olympics Great Britain was third in the all-time Summer Olympic medal count (ranked by gold medals), although the majority of the medals are accounted for by some very large tallies in the first few Olympic Games. British medal tallies for much of the post-war period were generally considered disappointing, but the 2000 Summer Olympics marked an upturn and this was sustained at the 2004 Summer Olympics when Great Britain finished tenth in the medal table. This was seen as a great success, and there was a victory parade through the streets of London. The sports in which the British team has won most medals in recent Summer Olympics include rowing, sailing, cycling and athletics. London hosted the Summer Olympics in 1908 and 1948 and will do so again in 2012.

Winter sports only play a minor role British sporting life because the winters are not cold enough for them to be practised out of doors very much. Great Britain is not a leading nation at the Winter Olympics, but has had a few successes in sports such as figure skating and curling.

The current Scottish National Party (SNP) government in Scotland favours the idea of Scotland competing in the Olympics as a separate team, and not as part of a Great Britain team.

Disability sport

The United Kingdom has played a major role in the development of disability sport. The Paralympic Games originated in the Stoke Mandeville Games, which were held at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire in 1948. The Great Britain team does much better in the medal table at the Summer Paralympics than at the Summer Olympics. It has never finished outside the top five and has been second several times, including the last three games in 2000, 2004 and 2008. The BBC is an enthusiastic promoter of disability sport.

Major sports facilities

Twickenham Rugby Ground. The small South Stand has been demolished and the construction of a replacement stand the same height as the other three stands began in 2005.

In the early 20th century the United Kingdom had some of the largest sports facilities in the world, but the level of comfort and amenities they offered would be considered totally unacceptable by modern standards. After a long period of decline relative to other developed countries British facilities have made a relative improvement since the 1980s, and this is ongoing.

National stadia

Most of the best stadia in the United Kingdom were built for national teams, and are not used at club level:

Windsor Park ni stadium

Club football grounds

British football grounds are almost always football-only facilities in which the spectators are close to the action. Since the late 1980s there has been a dramatic spurt of reconstruction and replacement of league grounds, which is ongoing, and the Premiership's facilities are among the best of any sports league. As of early 2007 there are approximately 35 all-seater club grounds in England with a capacity of 25,000 or more, and three in Scotland. The largest is Manchester United's Old Trafford, which has a capacity of over 76,000.

Cricket grounds

English cricket grounds are smaller than the largest in some other countries, especially India and Australia, but the best of them have been modernised to a high standard, and two new international grounds have been built in recent years. The largest English cricket ground, Lord's in London, is internationally regarded as the "home of cricket".

Club rugby grounds

Rugby union and rugby league clubs are generally poorer than their football counterparts. Some clubs have good all seater grounds in the 10,000-25,000 capacity range; some have older grounds which are still partly terraced, and others play in council-owned joint-use stadia (eg. the KC Stadium). Some clubs (mostly rugby union ones) rent stadia from football clubs.

Golf courses

The United Kingdom has many world class golf courses which can accommodate crowds in the tens of thousands for tournaments. The greatest concentration of these is in Scotland. The Open Championship is always played over a links course, the most famous venue being the Old Course at St Andrews on the east coast of Scotland. The Belfry in the English Midlands has hosted the Ryder Cup more times than any other site. Wentworth Club near London is the only venue which hosts two European Tour events each season.

Athletics stadiums

The provision of athletics stadiums in the United Kingdom is very poor compared to most other developed countries. The main reason for this is that it is not considered acceptable to ask football or rugby fans to sit behind an athletics track. This means that athletics stadiums have to be separately financed and this can only be done with public funds, which have not been forthcoming on a large scale. The largest athletics stadium built in the UK since the Second World War, the 38,000-capacity City of Manchester Stadium built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, was reconfigured for football-only use after that event. The largest existing stadium is the 25,000 seat Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield. London's largest athletics venue is Crystal Palace, which has just 15,500 permanent seats. It will be superseded by the Olympic Stadium, which will be built as an 80,000 seater for the 2012 Summer Olympics, but will be reduced to 25,000 seats after the Games.

Race courses

There are 60 racecourses in Britain. The best of them are world class. For example Ascot Racecourse was redeveloped in 2005 and 2006 at a cost of £185 million.

Velodromes

There are several outdoor velodromes for track cycle racing in the UK with Herne Hill in London being the only venue from the 1948 Olympics still in operation. There are also 2 indoor velodromes including one in Newport and a 3,500 seater velodrome in Manchester that also serves as the headquarters of British Cycling.

Two more indoor velodromes are planned: A 6,000 seater arena as part of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and a 2,500 seater venue as part of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Indoor arenas

In the United Kingdom there is no indoor sport capable of attracting five-figure attendances on a regular basis, and this restricts the development of large indoor arenas. Nonetheless a number of 10,000+ seater arenas have been built in recent years and more are planned. These facilities make most of their income from pop concerts, but they occasionally stage boxing matches and other sporting events. The largest is now The O2 in London with a capacity of over 20,000, surpassing the former leader, the Manchester Evening News Arena in Manchester. The Liverpool Echo Arena in Liverpool, National Ice Centre in Nottingham, Odyssey Arena in Belfast and the Sheffield Arena all host ice hockey, the largest being the Sheffield Arena which holds in the region of 8,500 spectators. Several smaller arenas hosting ice hockey and basketball are found around the United Kingdom though these generally hold only a few thousand fans.

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Student sport

Apart from a couple of Oxbridge events, student sport has a very low profile in the United Kingdom. While universities have significant sports facilities, there is no system of sports scholarships. However students who are elite standard competitors are eligible for funding from bodies such as UK Sport on the same basis as anyone else. The university most focused on sports provision is Loughborough University. Budding professionals in the traditionally working class team sports of football and rugby league rarely go to university. Talented youngsters in the more middle class sports of cricket and rugby union are far more likely to attend university, but their sports clubs usually play a greater role in developing their talent than their university coaches. Some sports are attempting to adapt to new conditions in which a far higher proportion of British teenagers attend university than in the past, notably cricket, which has established several university centres of excellence.

School sport

Sport is compulsory for all students up to the age of sixteen, but the amount of time devoted to it is often small. There are frequent complaints that state sector schools do too little to encourage sport and a healthy lifestyle. Since the 1980s it has become a cliché to complain about sales of school playing fields for development.

Sports culture is stronger in independent schools in the United Kingdom, and these schools contribute disproportionate numbers of elite competitors in almost all sports with the exceptions of football, rugby league, boxing and perhaps athletics.[citation needed]

In addition to the many of the sports already mentioned, popular sports at junior level include netball and rounders, both of which are played almost entirely by girls. However, in recent times schoolgirls have increasingly played sports which are traditionally male, especially football, but also others such as rugby.

The leading body for physical education in the United Kingdom is the Association for Physical Education.

In 2006 the UK School Games was established by the Youth Sport Trust as an annual sporting competition for elite school age athletes in the UK, and for 2008 was expanded to include nine sports over four days.

See also

External links

Notes


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