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Sporting Scotland


Sport in Scotland today could be described as a mixed bag. Scottish teams perform terribly in certain sports and are world champions – multiple times over – in others. No matter the result, Scots are passionate about sport and it has had a huge impact on Scottish culture throughout history. What you might not know, is that Scots have also made a significant contribution to the world of sport outside of Scotland too.

Here are just a few examples…


The official rules of association football – more commonly known as just ‘football’ or sometimes ‘soccer’ – were codified by England’s Football Association in London. But all football games obviously need two teams! This led to the first ever international football fixture being played between Scotland and England in Glasgow, all the way back in 1872. Although the game ended up 0-0, it set the precedent for today’s international football, including the world’s biggest sporting tournament, the World Cup.


St Andrews in Scotland’s Kingdom of Fife is described as the home of golf, and for good reason. From the 15th Century, the natural sand dunes around the coast of the town made for a challenging course for early golfers to play a primitive version of the sport, using sticks and pebbles. Soon after the game was established in Scotland, it was popularised by Charles I in England and Mary Queen of Scots in France, leading to its eventual spread across the globe.

Highland Games

When you think of traditional Scotland, the Highland Games is likely one of the first things that come to mind. These multi-sports festivals are now held across the globe by the Scottish diaspora, attracting crowds of up to 50,000 people. However, Highland Games have had a bigger impact on sport today than you might expect. French aristocrat Baron Pierre de Coubertin is said to have been inspired by a Highland Games display at the Paris Exhibition 1889, when he went on to revive the Olympic Games.


From track cycling to the gruelling Tour de France and even triathlons, cycling is a key part of the sporting world. None of these sports would be possible without the invention of the first pedal-driven bicycle, by Scottish blacksmith Kirkpatrick Macmillan. Fittingly, six-time Olympic champion Sir Chris Hoy is one of our alumni too!

Water polo

Although it has now been eclipsed by other sports in its native country, Scotland is the home of water polo. Based on a game played in the (rather cold) Rivers Dee and Don in Aberdeen, the first indoor game was played in Glasgow in the late 19th century. Originally called ‘water rugby’, today’s game is slightly less dangerous than its early counterpart – for example, you’re no longer allowed to wrestle the other team, or hold them under the water!


Sport itself is a global phenomenon. From the bleachers to the boardroom, to the senate or cabinet, sport increasingly matters in today’s world.  Looking at the history of sport in Scotland, and the social and political influence of sport around the globe, The Global Impact of Sport helps you to understand why this is the case.  Find out more about this course.