Sport represents a growing part of our leisure time. How can we explain its role ? Does it serve to release the tensions created by the pressures of society ? Why is it that football, rugby and even boxing first appeared in England and were adopted all over the world, while cricket has only spread to Commonwealth countries ? How can the violence of supporters and hooligans be explained ?

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Norbert Elias saw sport as an ideas laboratory for reflecting on social relations and their development. Ascribing sport to the civilising process theory, he and Eric Dunning show that modern sport is no longer associated with the ritualistic, warlike confrontations of Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Nowadays, equality of opportunity between sportspeople is supposed to cancel out their social differences.

Furthermore, behavioural codes and sensitivities have changed, leading to a reduction in the level of violence permitted. Another major difference is that the pleasure of participating in or watching sport comes from the thrill of physical confrontations, which allows individuals to release control of their emotions. In a football match, it is not just the victory of their team that offers pleasure, but the competition itself.

Essentially, the history of each sport is thus linked to the emergence of increasingly strict regulations that standardise sporting practices in order to control the display and spectacle of violence.