Most Popular Sports

I chose to study the most popular sports in Egypt during the early 1900s for my analysis project. As a Sports Management major, this subject is very interesting to me as I can compare how sports culture has evolved and changed throughout the years. Newspaper sections titled “Sport and Play” frequently appear throughout the issues of the Egyptian Gazette, and many popular sports and sports clubs appear throughout the years. To be clear, I can’t analyze the most popular sports in all of Egypt because the Egyptian Gazette is primarily geared towards relatively wealthy British colonists in Egypt during this period. For this reason, I will be studying the most popular sports in Egypt specifically among the wealthy British occupants of early 1900s Egypt.

I began studying the most popular sports in the Egyptian Gazette by sampling several months of issues in the Egyptian Gazette and finding the “Sport and Play” section in each newspaper issue. I was able to narrow down the most frequently mentioned sports in Egypt by doing this. Once I had the list, I created an XPath Query for the different types of sports I had found, and compared the totals. By doing this, I found that horse racing and tennis were by far the most frequently mentioned sports throughout the repository with over 1000 results for each. Billiards and yachting were around 400, while cricket, football (soccer), and golf were just under 300. Other sports with less results included polo, swimming, rifle shooting, and rugby. However, with this method I was only able to survey the number of times these sports were mentioned throughout the entire repository including numerous types of divs. For instance, sports such as tennis, golf, and football might have been featured in more ads than horse racing because people tend to buy sports equipment frequently but they don’t buy horses or rifles as frequently. In addition, the results from conducting an XPath on the entire repository were significantly different from those found while just sampling the Sport and Play category, which was originally intended to be the basis for my serial question.

Based on my random sample of the Sport and Play categories, the most popular sport by far seemed to be horse racing which was consistent with the larger XPath. Frequently mentioned horse racing clubs included the Helouan Sporting Club and the Khedivial Sporting Club. In the issues that I sampled, horse racing was mentioned in 26 articles. The articles described the results of various horse races, pony races, and donkey races between 1905 and 1907. These articles also described meetings scheduled by the Helouan Sporting Club and the Khedivial Sporting Club, demonstrating that readers of the Egyptian Gazette were fascinated by horse racing and looked for when the next race would occur so they could find the results. This is likely because most of the readers of the Egyptian Gazette were English colonists who probably gambled on the races as this was common at the time.

The second most frequently discussed sport in the Sport and Play sections between 1905 and 1907, far ahead of the other mentioned sports, was football (soccer). I was originally going to focus on football as the subject of my serial question, but I decided to widen the scope of my search and compare its popularity to the other sports played during this period of Egyptian history. From the issues of the Egyptian Gazette that I sampled, football was mentioned 14 times, 12 less than horse racing. It was difficult to determine when some of the articles were talking about rugby football and when they were discussing regular football as “football clubs” can refer to both. Football/soccer clubs such as the Royal Berks Regiment, the Port Said Football Club, the Suez E.T.C. Club, and several others were mentioned numerous times throughout the sampled issues. Though not as popular as horse racing, football was definitely a prominent sport in Egypt during the early 1900s and has remained and even become more popular across the world since this time.

When looking at other background sources, I found that football seems to be the current most popular sport in Egypt, especially at the moment due to the fact that Egypt qualified for the 2018 World Cup. This is only the third time Egypt has ever qualified for the world cup and it’s also the first time they’ve done so in almost 20 years (Sky Sports). Evidently, football is a huge deal in Egypt and it was likely just as popular in the early 1900s. According to Muhammad Y. Gamal, an independent researcher of the “Arab world,” ancient Egyptians potentially played a sport similar to football. This idea is supported by ancient paintings in Egypt that show people kicking a “round object on the ground with their feet.” However, the game was never a prominent part of Egyptian society until the occupation of Egypt by the British introduced the game as we know it today. After watching British soldiers and citizens play the game and establish clubs all over the country, Egyptian citizens became interested and began establishing their own clubs as well. This is just one example of the ways English occupants impacted Egyptian society in a process that can be seen throughout the Egyptian Gazette.

The third most popular sport from my sample seems to be yachting. The Khedivial Yacht Club was the most prominent yachting club in the sampled issues, and there seems to have been a genuine interest in yacht races during this period of Egypt. Due to Egypt’s occupation by Great Britain during this period, it’s safe to assume the wealthy British citizens who occupied Egypt during this time were more interested in this sport than the native Egyptians. Articles about the Khedivial Yacht Club either described the results of recent races or the dates of upcoming races so that readers wouldn’t miss out. Yachting was mentioned in 7 different articles throughout my sample, more than any of the other minor sports in Egypt at the time.

These 3 regularly mentioned sports were different from the larger XPath’s results in that tennis was much more frequent throughout the repository than all other sports than horse racing. However, when I searched through the results of the larger XPath, I found that tennis was mentioned in ads most of the time and was occasionally mentioned in the Sport and Play section when tennis tournaments were occurring. The company Davies Bryan & Co. was featured in the Egyptian Gazette often and consistently mentioned tennis in each of their ads because they supplied athletic goods. Because of this, I believe football was more popular at the time because the readers of the Egyptian Gazette tended to read the Sport and Play section for horse racing, football, and yachting rather than the ads that featured information about “tennis balls” being restocked “weekly”. While billiards was also mentioned more frequently than football, it seems it was most often mentioned in ads for the Eastern Exchange Hotel.

According to the background source “topend sports,” football, basketball, speed-ball, tennis, and squash are the most popular sports in Egypt today. While basketball, speed-ball, and squash were not mentioned in the Egyptian Gazette, the interest in football and tennis seems to have remained prominent for over 100 years in Egypt amongst English occupants and Egyptian citizens. After doing further research, I found that the establishment of football clubs in Egypt by English occupants “brought football to the Nile Valley” and the same can likely be said for tennis and several other sports (ResearchGate). English culture left a mark on Egypt, and the sports they played that are still played in Egypt today are evidence of that.

The other, less popular sports mentioned in the issues of the Egyptian Gazette included billiards, golf, tennis, swimming, cricket, rifle shooting, and even camel racing and buffalo racing. Most of these sports are still popular today, many of which are played in the Olympics; however, I don’t believe camel and buffalo racing have retained their popularity in the years since. While it isn’t possible to state with 100% confidence which of these sports was definitively the most popular sport in Egypt at the time, it’s clear that horse racing, football, yachting, and tennis were the most prominent of the wide range of sports that were played in Egypt in the early 1900s. By potentially studying other local newspapers in Egypt and accounts of sports at the time it would be possible to narrow down the results, but by using the Egyptian Gazette as the only primary source it’s impossible to find a definite answer. Studying Egyptian newspapers rather than English newspapers like the Egyptian Gazette would be an interesting way to compare which sports were more popular with Egyptian citizens compared to those popular with English occupants, but these are all just ideas for further research.

![Sport and Play](Sport and Play.png)



Patrick Mason
Patrick Mason

The author, a student at Florida State University, was enrolled in the digital microhistory lab in spring 2018.