The view, common to the dominant classes and established elites in a variety of modernizing societies, that participation in certain sports could create a disciplined and healthy labour force and general populace. Rational recreation in mid and late 19th-century Britain was a reforming and moral project, in which professional groups such as priests, schoolteachers, or industrialists saw particular physical activities as more conducive to an acceptable, respectable social order than the traditional popular recreations and pastimes of the pre-industrial type, or less improving leisure activities that might be conducted in the local public house or in an unregulated way in local public space. As J. M. Golby and A. W. Purdue put it, rational recreation was used as a method, by reformers, ‘of providing “improving” and “rational” pastimes in place of debasing and degrading ones’, and so ensuring that ‘the lower orders could be weaned away from drinking and gambling and other excesses and could develop as members of a culturally harmonious society’ (The Civilisation of the Crowd: Popular Culture in England, 1750–1900, 1984). The influence of the rational recreationists was widespread, but not long-lasting: the popular classes, as in the case of football clubs initially formed by local priests or religious institutions, proved very capable of accepting the facilities and the opportunity to play organized sport, while rejecting the moral message that the rational recreationists hoped to convey.
Subjects: Sport and Leisure.