How Football became a Global Sport

By Michael Kachitsa

The game’s official history spans over 100 years, but people have enjoyed the sport of kicking around a ball for thousands of years, according to FIFA.

While the first World Cup tournament happened in Uruguay in 1930, early scientific evidence of the game is traced back to the second and third centuries BC in China, in a military exercise practiced by the Han Dynasty, the BBC reports

The Chinese game consisted of kicking a leather ball filled with feathers through a small net, fixed into long bamboo canes. The players couldn’t use their hands, relying on their feet, chest, back and shoulders. 

football | History, Rules, & Significant Players | Britannica

Another ancient form of the game is Japanese Kemari, which is still played today. The sport doesn’t involve any struggle for possession of the ball. Players stand in a circle and pass the ball to each other, trying not to let it touch the ground.

The modern game of soccer evolved after the Romans took their version of the game to Britain in the 1800s, FIFA states.

In 1863, school officials at Cambridge University began to divide the sports of soccer and rugby, as more people disapproved of the rugby rule that allows players to run with the ball. That year marked the birth of the Football Association. British imperialists, missionaries and traders brought soccer to the African continent in the 1800s.

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The first documented professional teams in Africa were established in the 1880s, and the first international match was played in 1872, between England and Scotland. The first full league championship was celebrated in 1888. FIFA was founded in Paris in May 1904. It had seven founding members: France, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain (represented by Madrid FC), Sweden and Switzerland. By the late 1930s, there were 51 FIFA members.

Over the next half-century, football’s popularity continued to attract new devotees and at the end of the 2007 FIFA Congress, FIFA had 208 members in every part of the world.

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The United States, along with Mexico and Canada have been selected to host the World Cup in 2026.