Is Racing the Oldest Sport?

I mean- it has to be, right?

The human practice of sport is bound to date back before recorded history, so there probably isn’t a definitive answer out there as to what the first sport was. But I bet that we can get a pretty good idea, just by using our imagination.


For a while, I mused that the first tool ever invented must have been a knife, or some kind of cutting instrument. Think about it- it’s one of the most basic, fundamental tools in existence, and a primitive tool that could cut something into smaller pieces seems like a perfect candidate.

But when I tried to imagine what the first knife might have looked like, and whether it was found or fashioned, I realized that even if you broke some rocks apart until you found something with a sharp edge, you’re overlooking another tool. The hammer! Of course, how could the first tool be anything other than picking up a handle-less rock and smashing it down upon another object?

In the same way, I’m trying to think of what the world’s first sport must have been. Let’s see what Google comes up with.


Hm, a lot of references to wrestling.


Yeah, I suppose it makes sense, doesn’t it? The basic concept of struggling against another in competition... How could the original contest be anything other than a fight?

But as old as fighting surely is, I have to imagine that fights among early man broke out not as competitive sport, but as a means to some other end, like to settle an argument over who found a bunch of berries first or something.


And so perhaps we need to define what a sport is, and what a sport isn’t. There are all kinds of different ways to compete: athletically, intellectually, at the whim of judges... But I wonder if the most important aspect of sport is that the activity in question be meaningless?

Take fishing, for example. You can fish for food, or you can fish for sport. If you’re fishing for food, that kinda takes the fun out of it, doesn’t it? It doesn’t reely (sorry) matter how fast you fish, or how big your largest catch is, just as long as you end up with enough meat on the table. Catching a fish and throwing it back in the water is ultimately rather pointless.


Likewise, today’s sports don’t directly accomplish anything. Sure, there’s skill and technique involved, that gets refined through practice. And there are some technological advancements that happen as people try to find ways to reduce aerodynamic drag, or keep players cool, or use as little fuel as possible. But the sport itself doesn’t get anything done. There is no inherent practical value in moving a ball from one side of a field to the other, or driving around in circles.

So perhaps a serious fight between a couple of cavemen can’t be the first sport after all. But could wrestling still have been the first sport anyway, once someone decided to wrestle just for fun? Or is there some other arbitrary activity that must have come first?


Whatever the first sport was, it must have been something that required little-to-no equipment, so it can’t be anything that involves a ball. How about running?

I can’t remember the first time I ever ran, come to think of it. Maybe it was shortly after I learned to walk, and started to become comfortable on my own two feet. Or perhaps my brother and I randomly decided to race to the kitchen for lunch. Or maybe I was trying to keep up with Penny, the family dog. Whenever my first run took place, I’m convinced that it must have happened before my brother and I ever wrestled. It just feels so natural, more so than fighting.


I’m sure that our ancestors quickly discovered a real, practical, non-sporting need to run at some point. But surely they must have realized that it can be fun, too. I bet that they too raced for fun long before they came up with the idea to wrestle for fun. Indeed, the first ancient Olympic Games are said to have consisted of just one sport: the footrace.

But running is just a variant of racing, isn’t it? You can race a car, you can race on foot, you can race a clock... really, racing at its core is a contest of speed that can be applied to just about any activity. Eating hot dogs, washing dishes, filing papers... the most mundane actions can be turned into a race. Thanks to running being one of the many kinds of racing, I think that we can safely say that racing is the original sport.


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