The late 19th cent. witnessed an expanding belief in sport as useful recreation, and in industrialized societies equipment was standardized, local and national organizations were set up to govern play, and a doctrine of character-building declared sports to be a necessary endeavor for men. The revival of the Olympics in 1896 and the blossoming U.S. intercollegiate athletic system boosted many forms of amateur, or unpaid, sports at the same time that professional sports (such as baseball, boxing, and bicycle racing) drew large numbers of spectators. Sports that were traditionally played in various countries became, by legislative act or general acceptance, national sports—baseball in the United States, bullfighting in Spain and Mexico, cricket in England, and ice hockey (see hockey, ice) in Canada.
During the Great Depression, Americans sought inexpensive outlets for their energies; mass participation in sports such as softball and bowling resulted. At the same time, spectator sports burgeoned, and the commercialism that accompanied them gradually engulfed both amateur and professional sports. By the late 20th cent., the televising of athletic events had made sports big business. On the other hand, expanding public concern with personal physical health led to mass participation, not necessarily competitive, in sports like running, hiking, cycling, martial arts, and gymnastics. Athletic activity by women expanded, especially after political action in the 1960s and 1970s opened doors to many forms of competition and an increased share of public funding for sports.
During the 20th cent., sports took on an increasingly international flavor; aside from the world championships for individual sports, like soccer's World Cup, large-scale international meets, such as the Pan-American games and the Commonwealth games, were inaugurated. Sports have correspondingly become increasingly politicized, as shown in the boycott of the 1980 Moscow games by Western nations and the retaliatory boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles games by Soviet-bloc nations, an exchange brought on by Soviet actions in Afghanistan.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.