10 oldest sports in the world: when were they invented?
Sports vary as much as the physical constraints of the human body will allow, ultimately leading to several subsets of the same activity, each with its fair share of records and accomplishments. Many athletes worldwide have transformed what was formerly done as a manner of enjoying and entertaining others into a full-time profession, which today is termed as sports. Which is the oldest sport today?
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In the past, people played them for fun. Through archaeological discoveries, it was discovered that human works of art dating back to the Upper Paleolithic period, or around 15,300 years ago, had sculptures depicting individuals engaging in sports. When did people start playing sports?
The oldest sport in the world
According to various statistical data analyses, the compiled list below showcases some of the oldest games in the world that are still on the scene.
10. Horse riding
Jockey Jerry wins race 9 of IWC Schaffhausen Excellent Handicap on 16 October 2022 in Hong Kong. Photo: Lo Chun Kit
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Yes! Horseback riding! It requires physical strength, skill, balance, and endurance. Though it fits every description of a game and is one of the oldest activities still practised today, horseback riding is frequently seen as a leisure activity. The use of horses as a form of transportation, particularly by the military, dates back to ancient times.
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Apart from its mention in antiquity, horseback riding has developed into a popular activity in contemporary games. This game was immensely popular in ancient Greece and Rome. Furthermore, the Olympics Games initially featured it in 1900.
- The earliest evidence found: 3500 BCE
- The territory of Origin: Kazakhstan
- Competitive debut: Olympics Games in 1900
Kevin Maguire and Right Wing in motion on the ice during the NHL Prince of Wales Conference Adams Division game against the Washington Capitals on 10 December 1989. Photo: Rick Stewart
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Although it has been called The National Sport of India, a version of this game may be seen in ancient Greek engravings depicting individuals participating in a sport using a curved stick or a horn and a ball.
However, the Middlesex Cricket Club in England created contemporary hockey regulations, which were then adopted by British colonies in Australia, Africa, and the Indian subcontinent. International hockey federations were created, and in 1908, hockey made its debut in the Olympic games.
- The earliest evidence found: a crude form of the game was played in Egypt 4,000 years ago
- The territory of Origin: England in the mid-18th Century
- Competitive debut: first Hockey Association was formed in the UK in 1876
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Yu Darvish of the San Diego Padres throws a pitch during the first inning against the Philadelphia Phillies on 18 October 2022 in San Diego, California. Photo: Ronald Martinez
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Another of the oldest games in the world is hurling, which is Ireland’s national sport and has been practiced there for more than three thousand years. It is a cooperative game with a stick called a hurley, and a ball called a sliotar. Typically, the players must use their sticks to score goals into the opposing goalposts.
The game appears similar to hockey but has a separate set of rules, and the stick size is also different. Hurling is particularly well-liked in Ireland and has a well-documented history.
- The earliest evidence found: earliest evidence found is 300 year old
- The territory of Origin: Ireland
- Competitive debut: with official rules and regulations since the early 1900s
Jackson Irvine of FC St Pauli marks Yannik Keitel during the DFB Cup second round match against Sport-Club Freiburg on 19 October 2022 in Freiburg, Breisgau, Germany. Photo: Alex Grimm
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The FA Cup, England’s football tournament, is the oldest football competition in the world, whereas Sheffield FC is the oldest football club, founded in 1857. According to FIFA, football is one of the oldest sports in the world and dates back to 200 – 300 BC. It is also considered the oldest sport in America.
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- The earliest evidence found: China
- The territory of Origin: China
- Competitive debut: England in the 19th Century
A young female gymnast leaping in midair, arms outstretched, side view. Photo: Black 100
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The practice of gymnastics has its roots in ancient Greece and was initially used for military training, as is well known. Even yet, there is not much historical information on this game as the sport dates back to prehistoric times.
The origins of modern gymnastics may be traced back to two German physical educators who created and used apparatus to work out youths in the late 18th Century.
- The earliest evidence found: 500 BC
- The territory of Origin: Ancient Greece
- Competitive debut: Olympics back in the 1890s
Buse Naz Cakiroglu competes with Maxi Klotzer of Germany in the 50 kg match of the European Women’s Boxing Championships in Budva, Montenegro on 17 October 2022. Photo: Rusmin Radic
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This activity has a lengthy and illustrious past in the contemporary age. While evidence of fist fighting dates back to the second and third centuries BC, fist combat with hand protection is thought to have existed between 900 and 1500 BC.
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Additionally, the Romans had boxing, where hands were bound together with leather thongs. However, during the Roman era, boxing was more of a fight to the death, making it somewhat weird to refer to it as a game.
- The earliest evidence found: Ancient Mesopotamia from the Sumerian civilization
- The territory of Origin: Sumerian civilization, which is modern-day Iraq
- Competitive debut: Roman times when it was fought till death with leather-like wrappings on fists. The modern citation came when it was included as a competitive sport in the ancient Olympics back in 688 BC
Gonzalo Pieres Jnr and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, play polo during the Sentebale ISPS Handa Polo Cup 2022 on 25 August 2022 in Aspen, Colorado. Photo: Chris Jackson
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Polo is regarded as among the oldest professional sports today. It is referred to as the Rich Man’s Game, symbolising a horse sport played on the Green Pitch. It is a copy of hockey. The main difference is that on horseback, each side attempts to score more goals by putting little wooden balls into the net.
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The earliest known mention of the polo game in the Persian Empire was 316 AD. The first Polo club was established in India in 1833, although the current rules and regulations were created in India under the British Empire. Today, it is still the oldest sport in India.
- The earliest evidence found: 4th Century (310’s AD)
- The territory of Origin: Oldest evidence is found in Persian Empire
- Competitive debut: As a competitive sport, it was developed in the Indian subcontinent during the British Empire era
Haruka Kitaguchi of Japan make a javelin throw during the Tokyo 2020 Games One Year Anniversary Event on 16 October 2022 in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Kenta Harada
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Track and field competitions have used javelin throwing since the 708 BC ancient Olympics. The poles’ usage of the javelin, however, was first observed in Germany and Sweden in the 1870s, and by the next decade, it had spread to Sweden and Finland, where it was an annual national celebration. The modern Olympics first included it in 1906, while the women’s Olympics in 1932 were the first to feature it.
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- The earliest evidence found: 280,000 years ago
- The territory of Origin: Greece at the Ancient Olympics in 708 BC
- Competitive debut: Olympics since 1908 as a men’s event
Some of the participants running the last kilometers of over 42 kilometers during the 46th edition of the TCS Amsterdam Marathon. Photo: Ana Fernandez
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Running was the sole event in the first-ever documented Olympics. Staged in Athens in 776 BC, it deserves a spot in the list of the top 10 oldest sports in the world. Its origins are from Greece, and as a sport, it includes numerous Olympic events with somewhat varied rules, including a marathon, a sprint, a long jump, and hurdling.
- The earliest evidence found: 15,300 years ago, in the Upper Paleolithic era
- The territory of Origin: France
- Competitive debut: In Ireland back in 1831 as a recreation and competitive sport
Wrestlers in action during the 28th Rishipal Awana Dangal Championship at Sector 15, on 16 October 2022 in Noida, India. Photo: Sunil Ghosh
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Which professional sport is the oldest? According to archival data, wrestling is the oldest sport today. Of course, it has changed over the years, but in the 800 to 1200 BC period, it was included in the original set of Olympics. Professional wrestling circuits were initially launched at the same time in Paris, France, in the 1830s.
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In the 21st Century, wrestling is a competitive professional sport and an Olympic activity. It is recognized as one of the world’s best and most well-liked sports.
- The earliest evidence found: 15,300 years ago, in the Upper Paleolithic era
- The territory of Origin: Greece and France
- Competitive debut: In Paris, France early 1830’s
Sports have been part and parcel of the human race. Showcasing a man’s ability to push his physical and mental body’s limitations through different challenges was initially meant to evaluate his capability on the battlefield.
Zamma is a traditional board game that uses a 9×9 or 8×8 square board, and each player has 40 playing pieces in black or white. These places are played on the intersections of the board lines to eliminate all of their opponent’s pieces.
Sports have a long history dating back to the ancient world. Early ties to ritual, combat, and amusement may be found in the physical activity that gave rise to sports. Since the renaissance, several sports have been created and refined, leading to today’s vast array of sports. Therefore, if there is a discussion about which is the oldest sport today, you sure will know your way around some of them.
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What Was the World’s First Sport? | FAQ
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To answer the question of what was the world’s first sport, it is useful to firstly define the exact definition of a sport. SportAccord, which is the worldwide umbrella organisation for all international sports federations, defines a sport using the following criteria:
- A sport should have an element of competition
- The playing of a sport should be not be harmful to any living creature
- It should not rely on equipment provided by a single supplier
- It should not rely on an element of ‘luck’
- It can be primarily physical or mental
Was Hunting the World’s First Sport?
Hunting, being an activity that was crucial to early humans, has often been lauded as the world’s first sport. Many still class hunting as a sport today (the term country sports covering lots of these different type of activities), but if we take the definition of a sport as the one from SportAccord above, then it’s difficult to class hunting as a sport.
There isn’t an element of competition (the animal being hunted may escape and survive, but it hasn’t defeated the hunter in any way) and by its very nature it is harmful to other living creatures. Therefore, we should see hunting primarily as an activity crucial to early human’s survival rather than a sport.
The Contenders for Being the World’s First Sport
There really is no definitive answer to what was the world’s first sport, but there are two that stand out as the main contenders and have an equal claim to being the first ever sport. Both running and wrestling can equally lay claim to the title due to the fact that there are Palaeolithic cave paintings in the Lascaux caves in south-western France that depict both wrestling and sprinting.
These were painted over 17,000 years ago. Wrestling’s claim is further strengthened by the fact that Neolithic cave paintings in Mongolia from about 7000 BC clearly show a wrestling match being watched by spectators. Other early sports that evidence have been found of include depictions of archery and swimming in caves near Gilf Kebir in Libya from the Neolithic period and an early version of sumo wrestling being portrayed in prehistoric cave paintings in Japan.
Wrestling Was the World’s First Sport
Although running has a strong claim to the world’s first sport, there is far more evidence that point to wrestling being practiced as a sport from the early days of man continuously through to the present day. Wrestling is referenced in early history across the world, from the ancient Indian Vedas and the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana to the Epic of Gilgamesh and Homer’s The Iliad.
Wrestling was an important part of life in ancient Greece and this carried on into the Roman times and beyond. Early European settlers in North America also witnessed Native Americans wrestling, so one can safely assume that wrestling was popular there for many, many years too.
Top 8 oldest sports Sport is an important part of the modern world. Sports competitions gather a lot of spectators. An even greater number of people watch competitions on television and the Internet.
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The most popular teams and athletes earn huge amounts of money not only on sporting achievements, but also on advertising.
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Many sports were popular long before our time, and over time, their popularity not only did not decrease, but even strengthened.
Below are the 8 oldest sports. 8. Gymnastics
Year of origin: about 500 BC.
Country of origin: Ancient Greece
Sports gymnastics include: sports, artistic, acrobatic, aesthetic, team, aerobic gymnastics.
Artistic gymnastics is one of the oldest sports, which includes competitions on various gymnastic equipment, as well as in floor exercises and vaults.
The term “gymnastics” first appears among the ancient Greeks during the heyday of ancient Greek culture in the 8th century BC. e. However, gymnastic exercises were cultivated in the ancient world.
Already 4000 years before our era in China, India and other peoples, gymnastic exercises were used for medicinal purposes. In Chinese books of those times, it is indicated that in China there was gymnastics, which was practiced at home in the morning and evening.
The currently widely known system of gymnastic exercises from Indian historical sources (monuments, frescoes, drawings) it is known that gymnastic exercises were used by all ancient peoples: the Egyptians, Persians, Assyrians, the peoples of Transcaucasia, the Romans, etc.
Gymnastic exercises were part of the system of physical education in ancient Greece, served as a means of preparing young men for participation in the Olympic Games 7. Mesoamerican ball game
Year of appearance: about 2500 BC.
Country of origin: Ancient Mesoamerica
The Mesoamerican ball game is a sports game combined with rituals, common among the peoples of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. The game was played differently in different places, and the American Indians still play a modern version called ulama.
Pre-Columbian ball stadiums have been found throughout Mesoamerica from Nicaragua in the south to Arizona in the north. The stadiums that have been discovered vary greatly in size, but all have long, narrow fields bounded by walls from which the ball can bounce.
In the most common version of the game, players were required to hit the ball with their hips, although some versions also allowed the use of elbows, rackets, bats, and stones. The ball was made from a single piece of rubber and weighed four or more kilograms. The size of the ball was highly dependent on the time and version of the game. 6. Tsu-chu
Year of appearance: about 2500 BC
Country of origin: China
It has been proven that the foot game called Tsu Chu appeared in ancient China as early as 2500 BC. “Tsu” means “kick the ball”, “Chu” can be translated as “ball made of soft leather”. According to the records, the game was held on the emperor’s birthday.
The object of Tsu Chu’s game was to drive the ball through the hole into a small net that was attached to a bamboo cane. In 2004, FIFA recognized that the Chinese version of football is the oldest. 5. Boxing
Year of origin: about 3000 BC
Country of origin: Ancient southern Mesopotamia
Boxing is a contact sport, martial arts in which athletes strike each other with fists in special gloves.
The Referee controls the bout, which lasts up to 12 rounds. Victory is awarded if the opponent is knocked down and cannot rise within ten seconds (knockout) or if he is injured that does not allow him to continue the fight (technical knockout).
If after the set number of rounds the fight has not been terminated, the winner is determined by the judges’ scores.
The earliest evidence of such competitions is found on Sumerian, Egyptian and Minoan reliefs. Boxing-like fisticuffs tournaments were held in ancient Greece.
Boxing really became a martial art in 688 BC. when fisticuffs were first included in the program of the ancient Olympic Games. Modern boxing originated in England in the early 18th century. 4. Swimming
Year of appearance: about 6000 BC
Country of origin: unknown
Swimming is a sport or sport discipline that consists in overcoming various distances by swimming in the shortest time. At the same time, in a submerged position, according to the current rules, it is allowed to swim no more than 15 m after the start.
Drawings on archaeological finds testify that people in Ancient Egypt, Assyria, Phenicia and many other countries knew how to swim several millennia before our era, and the swimming methods known to them resembled modern front crawl and breaststroke.
At that time, swimming had a purely applied character – in fishing, hunting for waterfowl, underwater fishing, in military affairs. In ancient Greece, swimming began to be used as an important means of physical education. 3. Archery
Year of origin: about 20,000 BC.
Country of origin: unknown, the oldest references are found in Africa
Archery is a sport in which archery is shot with arrows for accuracy or range.
The winner is the athlete or team with the most points according to the competition rules. Olympic sport since 1900. 2. Wrestling
Year of appearance: about 15,300 years ago
Country of origin: unknown, the oldest images were found on the territory of modern France .
Wrestling has been included in the program of the Olympic Games since 708 BC, and in modern times it was included in the program of all Olympic Games, except for Games 1900 year.
The most ancient wrestling information discovered dates back to the 4th millennium BC, and these are Sumerian drawings of Gilgameshaso wrestling with a lion.
Approximately 3000 BC there are tablets found in Iraq depicting wrestling techniques, including such an original grip as by the fingers.
Of great interest is a figurine found in Iraq, dated approximately 2600 BC. The figurine represents two wrestlers with large jugs on their heads: obviously we are talking about a struggle with the condition of maintaining balance. 1. Run
Year of appearance: about 15,300 years ago
Country of origin: unknown, the oldest images found on the territory of modern France
The first Olympic competitions, held before our era, were held only on the run.
From 776 BC e. records were kept about the games of the Olympiad, which were held only in running for one stage (192 m).
In 724 BC e. Added competition in two stages. In 720 BC. e. added a run of seven stages.
The most ancient sports
Sports have been part of human culture since ancient times. In ancient Greece, starting from 776 BC, the Olympic Games were held, which included various sports competitions.
Egyptians, Romans and Persians in ancient times also had their own sports and athletic competitions, and most often sports disciplines were then associated with religious or cultural traditions and were used as a means of demonstrating the physical prowess and strength of a person.
List of the most ancient sports
It is impossible to determine the exact time and place of origin of this sport, since the ability to run appeared in a person along with the ability to walk. In ancient Egypt, running, along with swimming, was considered one of the important ways to determine the physical and psychological readiness of a person.
It is a well-known fact that in sports competitions, running was one of the main sports. For example, at the first Olympic Games in ancient Greece, he was the only one in the competition program: the race was held at a distance of 192 meters (one Olympic stages). Over time, new types of running disciplines appeared, the appearance of athletes and running technique also underwent many changes.
Swimming for recreation and transportation has been practiced since ancient times. The exact date and place of origin, as in the case of running, is not and cannot be. Swimming as a competitive sport has existed since the 19th century. The first competitions in modern swimming took place in 1844 in England, and at the Olympic Games it was already presented in Athens in 1896 year.
Now wrestling is known as a favorite Olympic competition in many countries. The very first mentions and evidence of this sport appeared in ancient times: rock paintings depicting two wrestlers were found in Egypt, Iraq and date back to the period of 2 thousand years BC.
Wrestling got its main development in Ancient Greece. The popularity of this sport was given by the fact that the best wrestlers were distinguished not only by their physical strength, but also by their minds: the ability to act ahead of the curve and outwit somewhere made wrestling one of the most intellectual sports at that time.
These competitions have been known for thousands of years: evidence of archery competitions has been found in the cities of Southern Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. It is believed that this sport was practiced as the best form of training for hunters.
Modern archery was formed and standardized in England in the 19th century. The first well-known tournament was held in Yorkshire in 1844. Since the first Olympics, archery has firmly become one of the summer Olympic sports.
In ancient Greece, Egypt and most of the large countries of that time, horse-drawn carts were the most important and almost the only way to move and transport goods and people. Over the years, horse racing has become one of the most interesting competitions: they were held, among other things, to hone the ability to quickly get from point A to point B and required the ability of chariot drivers to properly influence horses.
Equestrian sport was first included in the program of the Summer Olympic Games in 1900 year. Since the Games in Stockholm in 1912, it has been a permanent Olympic discipline.
The origin of this discipline dates back to ancient Greece, where the long jump was part of the pentathlon program. Initially, the jump was made using a special “halteres” weight, similar to a regular dumbbell.
The modern type of long jump with a landing in a sand pit was first introduced in the middle of the 19th century. Later, a division into a classic and a triple jump appeared, and, of course, the technique itself changed a lot.
One of the most important parts of everyday life in ancient times was hunting. As an element of the way, she smoothly moved into sports life under the guise of javelin throwing. It is not known for certain what was the main goal for throwers: the range of the javelin or the defeat of the set target, but this sport was widely known among the ancient Greeks and was part of the competition at the ancient Olympic Games.
In its current form, javelin throw became popular after the appearance at the Olympics 1908 years. One of the most important changes in this discipline was the determination of the winner of the competition by the distance of the perfect throw.
The last track and field event in our selection. Just like the javelin throw, the discus throw was part of the program of the Olympics in Ancient Greece as part of the pentathlon – a pentathlon competition.
At that time it was an extremely popular species. One of the most famous ancient sculptures is Miron’s Discobolus.
The disc itself was made of bronze and stone and weighed up to 5.7 kilograms. The throwing technique differed little from the modern one: the athletes performed it with a lateral movement and directed it forward in a horizontal position. In a modern variation, it was first tested at the Games 1896 years in Athens.
Boxing competitions are held in almost the same form as many centuries ago. The first mention of this discipline appeared in the era of the Sumerians 3 thousand years BC: in the caves in Iraq and Syria, images were found that included a pair of fighting fighters. In its original form, it became known as the classic “fistfight”.
Similar evidence of fighting between people on fists was also found in Egypt, Greece and Asian countries. Now athletes from this sport cannot be imagined without their most important attribute – boxing gloves: the first evidence of them also appeared before our era.
Nowadays, boxing is a classic of the Olympic competitions. The popularity of boxing has led to the creation of some contact sports such as pankration.
In some sports disciplines, direct physical contact between competitors has been of interest, but Artistic Gymnastics is one of the exceptions.
This sport is known from the works of ancient authors, including Homer, Aristotle and many others. Gymnastics was the most important element of the physical education of young men in Ancient Greece. Plato wrote:
The gods gave people two kinds of arts – music and gymnastics.
Artistic gymnastics as we know it made its debut at the modern Olympics in 1896 in Athens and has not left the program of the Games since.
The world’s most popular sport was created in its current form in the 19th century in England, but the first mention of the game’s varieties was found in many countries thousands of years ago.
In ancient Greece, 2000 years before our era, the game “epykros” or “fayininda” was created, which resembles what is now called football freestyle; more than 2 millennia ago in China there was a game “zhu-ke”, the translation of the name of which means “kick” and “leather ball”; the Romans, on the other hand, had an extremely popular sport called the team “harpastum”, which means “playing with a small ball”.
Pankration is an ancient martial art that was part of the program of the ancient Olympic Games. The word “pankration” is translated from Greek as “all forces”, which once again emphasizes the complexity and high requirements for representatives of this sport.
Includes elements of wrestling and boxing, while there were practically no restrictions in terms of using blows and transferring the opponent to the ground. Of the modern sports disciplines, mixed martial arts are most similar to this sport. Rock carvings of fighters found in caves are reminiscent of footage from championship fights in the UFC or Bellator.
An interesting fact: the famous ancient Greek philosopher Plato was also known as a pankration champion.
Images found in Egypt are considered the first mention of this sport. Near the city of Beni Hasan, in the Nile Valley, a pyramid depicts two players with sticks battling for a ball, which strongly resembles the field hockey we know today.
Historical documents indicate that similar games existed among many other peoples. For example, the ancient Japanese had the disciplines “kachi” and “dakiu”, while the Aztecs had “cheuka”.
Belgium, Australia, the Netherlands and India are currently the most successful teams in field hockey: in these countries this sport is extremely popular.
Among all the sports in our selection, rugby is the most controversial and debatable candidate, since there is no direct archaeological evidence for the origin of rugby in ancient times. But a few years ago, scientists at the University of Oregon determined that a long time ago, gatherers and hunters played some kind of team game that is very similar to modern rugby.
According to historians and scientists, this game was a kind of rehearsal for a real hunt or war.
One of the most unpopular sports in this collection, but in terms of time of origin, polo really belongs to the ancient games. For the first time this sport discipline became known in Persia in the middle of the first millennium. Polo has received the greatest development in India, China and Central Asia.
Participants were required not only to be physically fit, but also to be able to ride a horse and handle it during a fairly intense game.
Polo has been repeatedly presented at the Olympic Games, but since 1936 this sport has not been included in the program of the main competitions of the four years.
In most areas, it is generally accepted that everything new is well forgotten old, and in the world of sports this statement can be partly considered true. Ancient disciplines are included in the program of the Olympic Games and are one of the most popular sports in the world. Some types are changing decently: in particular, pankration in its MMA manifestation attracts the attention of tens and hundreds of millions of mixed martial arts fans around the world. Classic sports like athletics, wrestling and artistic gymnastics are still the most important disciplines in terms of the upbringing and development of the younger generation.