Introduction: To answer the question fully it is important to define what football is and understand how it has evolved. One common assumption is that the word 'football' describes the kicking action of the foot against the ball. This is etymologically incorrect. The word 'football' is from the English language and from early medieval times the term 'foot ball' was used to describe ball games played on foot, not necessarily with the foot. Taken literally this could include sports such as basketball, netball or volley ball. However, these sports are not considered part of the group of games looked upon as football even though the first basketball game was played using a soccer ball. Traditionally football is a word that has been used to describe a family of ball games which share common origins. This would include sports such as American Football, Rugby football, Gaelic Football, Australian Rules Football and Association Football to name a few. The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) have for many years recognised that historically the Ancient Greeks and Romans played a 'foot ball' game comparable to those played in medieval Europe. More recently the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) has extended their definition of football to include ancient ball games played in China and Japan despite there being no known connections between these games and those played in medieval Europe. No other World governing body of any other form of football have attempted to redefine the origins of their sport in the way FIFA have. Not surprisingly this has lead to there being some confusion over the origins of Association Football.
Association Football: The rules of Association Football (F.A. rules) were written by Ebenezer Cobb Morley in 1863. To prove any link with F.A. rules and the ancient game played in China it would be necessary to demonstrate that Ebenezer was in some way, directly or indirectly, influenced by the game of 'Cuju' played 500BC. FIFA have attempted to establish links with the British community which lived in 19th centaury China and Cuju speculating they may have taken the rules of Cuju back to England where they were used as a blueprint for Association Football. FIFA were unable to find any evidence to support this hypothesis. Despite this FIFA went on to extensively publicize the idea that in their opinion similarities between the two games amounts to "scientific evidence" even though there are profound differences between the two games and ignoring the fact that from first principles Cuju meaning 'kick ball' contradicts the etymology of 'football' meaning 'a ball game played on foot'. The reality is F.A. Rules Football (1863) and the earlier Cambridge Rules football (1848) both evolved from attempts to standardise the various forms of football which had been played in public schools and in the villages of England for hundreds if not thousands of years. This culminated in the creation of two forms of football 'Soccer' and 'Rugger'. The reason two different football games evolved from the earlier Cambridge Rules was primarily due to the FA rule which prevents outfield players from handling the ball other than for throw-ins to restart the game when the ball leaves the field of play. Some of the founder members Football Association clubs would not accept this rule. Consequently, this led to a split which saw one of the original Football Association clubs, the Blackheath Club, leave the Football Association to help create Rugby Football Union (RFU) in 1871. Ironically the Barns club, another Football Association founder club, which was captained by Ebenezer Cobb Morley against Richmond Football Club in the first ever association rules football match, was later to become a Rugby Union Football Club (RUFC). Today these two games are simply referred to as 'Football' and 'Rugby' respectively in Britain.
Ancient forms of football: there is evidence dating back to 2500 BC that supports the idea the ancient Egyptians played various ball games on foot. Linen balls, some covered in catgut for better bounce, were recovered from Egyptian tombs. However, the rules to Egyptian ball games are unclear so it is debatable weather they were playing games we could look upon as football based on the medieval description of a ball game played on foot. It is documented that the ancient Greeks developed a form of football called 'Episkyros' or 'Phaininda' which they played as early as 2000 BC. This game was played on a pitch between two teams of 12 -14 players. Later on The Romans developed this game further calling their version 'Harpastum'. When the Romans came to Britain they introduced the game to the native Celts only to find they were already played a kicking game. What type of game this was is unclear, but what is known is that there were trade routes that extended to Greece long before the Romans arrived so the Celts may well have been playing a form of Episkyros introduced via the trade routes. What is certain is that the ancient Greeks were playing a form of football 1500 years before the Chinese game of 'Cuju' appeared in China. Incidentally, an image of player ball juggling take from marble relief appears on the UEFA European Cup.
Conclusion: Although the possibility that the Ancient Egyptians played ball games that resemble football cannot be ruled out, the ancient Greeks ball game of Episkyros agrees with the etymology and definition of football by the earliest recorded rules. Later adopted by the Romans and renamed Harpastum, this game is known to have been played in the Roman provinces including Britannia. The game could have spread to China; however, for such as simple game it is more likely the Chinese created their own unique ball game independent of outside influence. The reasons FIFA have extended their definition of football to include ball games which have no historic connection to Association Football is unclear. Having done so it is arguably even more confusing that they ignore the fact the Greeks and Romans were playing ball games that fit the definition of football 1500 years before Cuju was played in China. In recent years FIFA have been promoting their football product in China so perhaps their motives are more financial than ethical. Other research has shown the native populations North and South Americas developed their own unique ball games. This supports the idea playing ball games on foot is a truly global phenomenon with multiple origins and with various localized innovations.
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