Sport plays a very significant part in British culture, both in terms of participation and the support given to sports teams and events. This is especially true where the national teams are involved, whatever the nature of the sport when patriotism comes to the fore.
The sport which attracts the greatest participation amongst Brits is swimming, but perhaps not being the most engaging of spectator sports it does not have a huge following at elite level. It is Association Football, closely followed by the other team sports Rugby League, Rugby Union and Cricket that attract by far the highest levels of spectator support.
British football clubs and their followers have a reputation around the world. Many of the clubs have a history going back to the beginning of the Football Association establishment, and their fans are lifelong supporters. Often generation upon generation in the same family support the same team. It is no wonder that the British are passionate about their sports and their teams. The pinnacle for football in terms of the major event is the FA Cup Final. The prospect of an underdog team meeting a Premiership team creates a perennial source of drama as the match draws are announced, and while the odds are against it, everyone relishes the prospect of a ‘giant killing’ at any stage of the tournament, and especially as the stakes for glory get higher through the rounds.
The features that distinguish our Best Of British selected great sporting events include the emotional connection with the participants and the passion for the competition itself. Added to this are the history of the event, the iconic venues and the pageantry. The Ashes cricket test match, a grudge match between England and Australia with a history dating back to 1882, has all the ingredients. So does the Wimbledon Tennis Championship at the All England Club, venue of the oldest lawn tennis tournament in the world, hosted there since 1877. And of course there is also thoroughbred racing’s Royal Ascot which delivers a visual feast every year when the horse drawn carriages bearing the Royal party make their way along the course in front of the Grandstand.
Many of these sporting events play a part in the British summer social season where the opportunity to socialise combines with the tradition of dressing to impress. Proximity to Royalty and ‘the great and the good’ of society add an additional frisson to the event. The dress codes imposed in designated enclosures are determined by the etiquette that has stood the test of time. It is well documented that, whoever you are, you will not be permitted to enter the Royal Box at Wimbledon without jacket and tie, nor will you be permitted in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot without morning dress for the gentlemen and ladies must have shoulders covered. These great sporting events are not just for those with large bank balances however, as access to the common areas at Royal Ascot and Wimbledon is keenly priced and do not impose any special wardrobe obligations.
The chance to get up close to the action, just being there for the great sporting occasion, is of far greater importance than actually seeing all of the competition play out. This is especially true of the Open Golf tournament, The British Grand Prix and The Boat Race where catching just short glimpses of the real live action is the best that can be expected. In the case of Cowes Week where hundreds of yachts take to the waters of the Solent off the Isle of Wight, some people don’t see any of the action at all, their focus being on the shore events and parties.
Some great sporting events are more about the mass participation element than the elite. This is especially true of the London Marathon, the Great North Run and Ride London, the largest events of their kind in the world. They are enormous charity fund generators and also command extensive television coverage. A place to participate in the London Marathon is in many people’s opinions holds far greater kudos than a ticket to watch a sports event from the stands, however exclusive the enclosure!
'Some people think football is a matter of life and death... I can assure them it is much more serious than that' - Bill Shankly
Please browse our gallery of selected great British Sporting Events above for inspiration, and click to find useful information and links to help you learn about and enjoy them.