The British Empire

Sport and Empire

This talk is how sport and games were used by the Empire to provide a number of needs that became essential to the maintenance and extension of the Empire. In the early days of the c19th sport and games were used to provide leisure and martial training for those stationed in the colonies but with the reforms of the public schools in the mid c19th sport came to play an essential role in empire.

Britain gave the world and its empire sport although eventually its colonies used sport to assert their independence. The passion of a nation and its empire for sport was produced by the Public Schools from the mid c19th as a result of the reforms in public education given impetus by Dr Arnold at Rugby. That passion and the rules of sport were then taken around the world by old boys who formed clubs wherever they went to maintain their passion and to provide a little built of Britain wherever they were.

Sport was the glue that maintained empire. It kept communities together and provided opportunities for leisure and entertainment. It was also a means of transmitting imperial values. By the mid c19th virtually every colonial community had its cricket club which often was the focal point for a community’s social activities – activities that came to include all classes of the white and native communities so that a feeling of joint enterprise could be transmitted. As schools for the sons of native leaders were established eg Rajkumar College in India cricket and other sports were used to transmit British values.

Although cricket was initially introduced into the colonies to provide leisure for sailors, soldiers and settlers, it was not long before it was being played by natives for their own leisure and entertainment. As public schools began to turn out English Christian gentlemen, the British government came to see these schools as providing the training character needed by Britain’s colonial servants working in far flung parts of the empire. By the last quarter of the century when Britain justified imperial expansion by claiming Britain had a mission to civilise the undeveloped parts of the world –it was the values transmitted by cricket that helped to tie the colonies and its peoples to Britain.

Tours to the colonies by cricket teams were used to maintain a loyalty to Britain