country sports

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1. In a generic sense, an overarching term for sports that are on a local, non-urban scale in a rural and traditional setting. The country fair of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, as recalled by the protagonist of Tom Brown's School Days (1857), included ‘wrestling, and the boys jumping into sacks, and rolling wheelbarrows blindfolded; and the donkey race’. Such sports and games, linked to traditional feast days and holidays, overlapped with what are often called folk games, or the popular recreations of a traditional pre-industrial society, as brilliantly evoked by Robert Malcolmson in his seminal study Popular Recreations in English Society, 1700–1850 (1973). Thomas Hughes, author of Tom Brown's School Days, was already noting that ‘gentlefolk and farmers’ were becoming less involved in such sports, neither subscribing to the prizes, nor going down to the village fair ‘to enjoy the fun’. The integration of the different groups within the community was being replaced by a ‘further separation of classes’ brought about by economic and cultural changes.

2. In a more specific usage, ‘country sports’ has referred to the sports of hunting, shooting, and angling. In the UK the Countryside Alliance has been a defender of (fox) hunting with hounds: in this appellation, the defendants of such practices envelop their interests in a mystique of tradition, countryside, and community. The Alliance, formed in 1997 from an alliance of the British Field Sports Society, the Countryside Business Group, and the Countryside Movement, states that it ‘works for everyone who loves the countryside and the rural way of life. Our vision is of a vital, working and thriving countryside for the benefit of the whole nation.’

Subjects: Sport and Leisure — History.

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