Sports and violence in historical times
Violence on the sporting field is not a uniquely modern aspect of spectator sports. Violent behaviour connected to sports can be traced back to the ancient Olympic Games, which have many modern equivalents. For example, boxing and wrestling can be traced back to ancient times, while chariot racing was the forerunner of today’s car racing.
The games with the most potential for violence in ancient times were chariot racing and combat sports, in which participants themselves were often brutal to their opponents, and there were few rules to curb players’ violence.
On the spectators’ part, the opponents’ brutality was a source of entertainment, but also a source of rivalry and conflict. Some of the spectators, therefore, engaged in violent behaviour against their rival supporters, leading to bigger conflicts such as riots. Some of these conflicts were documented – in ancient Constantinople (today’s Istanbul), for example, a crowd which had gathered for a chariot race in Nika started riots that lasted around a week. The riots led to the destruction of half of the city and tens of thousands of deaths.
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