What's the oldest documented sport in the world's history?

Defining "documented sport" as a written list of the results of a competition, such as player rankings or time or points or a written set of rules for a competition.

  • 5
    Nice question but I am sure this will get different answers as the history of sports is too old.
    – Himanshu
    Jul 29, 2013 at 12:08
  • 3
    That would very much depend on what you mean by "documented" and "sport" as physical activity have changed forms over the years. Practically none of the sports as we know them today are older than a couple of hundred years. That does not mean that competitive physical activity did not exist before that.
    – posdef
    Jul 29, 2013 at 20:12
  • 1
    This is possibly a candidate en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesoamerican_ballgame. Answering this question definitively would be very difficult though. I know of this game, but how could I possibly know if it was the earliest documented sport, since I don't know what else I don't know about. Aug 5, 2013 at 2:03

2 Answers 2



As long as there have been people, there has been wrestling. Nearly every culture has some form of it used for contests internal and external to the group. Wrestling is one of the most basic sports, and is probably the oldest.

In Egypt, the fifteenth tomb of Beni Hassan has a large wall depicting wrestling techniques. At this point we're talking about roughly the 19th to 20th century BCE.

Beni Hasan wrestling

We have similar evidence of wrestling in older tombs such as Petah Hotep (aka Ptahhotep). It is specifically an ancestor of Kirkpinar, Turkish oil wrestling:

The oldest known proof of the existence of oil-wrestling in Ancient Egypt is found in limestone from the tomb of Ptahhoteb near Saqqara from the fifth dynasty (about 2650 BC) from the same period as the Chafadji-bronze.

In China specifically, there is some evidence that something related to (but probably very different from) modern shuai jiao wrestling called jǐao dǐ (角抵, horn butting) was used in 2697 BCE.

Wrestling is a really old sport.


Ultimately sport is a trivialization of real-life skills, most likely related to hunting -- running fast, wrestling, archery, etc. So what is the oldest sport? Probably just basic survival. The grand champion of prehistoric men was whoever could most successfully feed himself and his family.

In terms of organized sport, one answer might be Pankration. Wikipedia states pankration was practiced as early as the second millennium BCE.

The existence of age groups and judges and its inclusion in the ancient Olympic Games imply to some degree that pankration had some organization to it similar to what we would expect today from mixed martial arts (pankration's closest modern descendant).

There may be older organized sports, however.

  • -1 "Wikipedia states pankration was practiced as early as the second millennium BCE." That seems extremely sloppy. Wikipedia does state: "[S]ome evidence suggests that pankration, in both its sporting form and its combative form, may have been practiced in Greece already from the second millennium BC." (Also, the linked reference to Georgiou on Wikipedia is "dead", but that is not at issue in my comment.)
    – user1564
    Aug 2, 2013 at 18:28
  • With regards to the missing reference on Wikipedia, I believe it may be one of these two volumes. Xlibris is into "self-publishing".
    – user1564
    Aug 2, 2013 at 18:40
  • @Gugg Downvote for that? I read and write English exceptionally well as a first language and I can't even parse the difference between what I wrote and what you say I should have written. Aug 3, 2013 at 3:57
  • 1
    The concern in my first comment is that I believe that there is a difference between "was" and "may have been". I think this difference is highly relevant in the context of the question. My contribution is in my second comment, where I point to the likely source of the "may have been".
    – user1564
    Aug 3, 2013 at 7:35

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