Egypt is often described as a sportsman's paradise. The sunshine of her winters and the cool north breeze that tempers the heat of her summers make outdoor games and pursuits an everyday, an all-the-year round possibility. With the exception of ice-skating and snow-sports there is hardly a game which is not played in Egypt and practically no outdoor sport that has not its numerous devotees.
The word sport has a modern ring about it but, like most human activities,
it is as old as humanity itself. Primitive man no doubt took to hunting
as a means of obtaining food but the innate pleasure of the chase soon
made huntings a sport as well as a necessity. It is chiefly as hunters
that records are available of the sportsmen of Ancient Egypt.Many drawings
and pictures exist of "meets" in the desert, each hunter with his bow and
arrows and dogs and nets to check the game. Game was plentiful: the Egyptian
desert abounded in ibex, gazelle, bubule, ostrich, porcupine, addax
and, but less frequently, the wild ox and the wild sheep. All these animals
were considered fit for food while the lion, the leopard and the
jackal were hunted for their skins. In the marshes of the Delta the hippopotamus
and the wild boar were slain with harpoons many of which have been found.
The first harpoons, used for fishing, were of bone; later ones, probably
used for hunting big game, were made of copper. Fish hooks of copper are
found from the 1st Dynasty to Roman times and from the 1st Dynasty also
date the first throw-sticks or boomerangs. Hunting lances were fixed in
a wooden shaft for throwing and held in by a check-cord from flying too
far if it missed the animal. Traps for catching wild animals were also
used by the Egyptian hunter. They were formed by splints of palmstick radiating
round a central hole.
Hunting and fishing, while they are undoubtedly sports, may also be considered as trades since they are often practised as a means of livelihood. The same cannot be said of such pastimes as golf, hockey, tennis, polo, etc. Games of this sort were played by the Ancient Egyptian as a means of securing healthy exercise in the open air.
It may be, as many experts contend, that the game of golf is of Dutch origin. Numerous travellers have however been struck by the similarity of a game played by the inhabitants of the Oasis of Siwa -game of which the origin dates back to Roman times if not earlier with that of what is known today as golf. The clubs, made of a special kind of hardwood, closely resemble the modern golf-club and the game itself has many points of resemblance with the "Royal and Ancient Game".
After the Arab Conquest the favourite and most spectacular game played
in Egypt was one closely akin to modern polo. Horsemanship indeed was a
highly prized accomplishment and its traditions survive in Egypt to the
present day as anyone will bear witness who has seen a Beduin "fantasia".
Mounted on Arab ponies, with primitive "shoe" stirrups and elaborate saddles,
the riders fire their guns, throw them and their lances into the air and
catch them again, standing or kneeling in the saddle, all at a full gallop.
Of the many games introduced into Egypt during the nineteenth century, football has become almost the national game. Several Egyptian footballers have achieved international renown and, at the bottom as it were of the scale, practically every village has its team of football enthusiasts
But, apart from organised games and athletics, it is from the point of view of the average player, the average sportsman, that Egypt is such a favoured land. Few other countries can offer so great a choice, so many facilities.
Sporting Clubs with large grounds are numerous. Many of them have grass golf-courses; in others the course is of sand. They all offer the great advantage of being in or near the city so that time is not wasted in going to and from the course.
Cricket is played regularly in Egypt, one of the great events of the sporting year being the visit each winter of a well-known English team.
The tennis championships also are eagerly awaited events. But while there are plenty of opportunities for indulging in "spectator sports" in Egypt, it is rather as players than as spectators that interest is taken in games. Nearly everyone who belongs to a club plays one or several games and of these tennis is perhaps the favourite. The possibility of playing during all twelve months of the year makes for proficiency and skill. The standard is consequently a high one.
Racing goes on for most of the year in Egypt. The Cairo racing season is in winter and the race-meetings are held weekly both at Heliopolis and Gezira. Alexandria has its racing season in the summer.
Which brings us to summer-sports of which the chief is naturally bathing and swimming. The blue warmth of the Mediterranean is, it is well known, the ideal environment of the enthusiastic swimmer and, now that communications with Europe are so easy and rapid, more and more visitors from northern countries are spending their summer holidays at Egyptian coast resorts, whether Alexandria, Port Said or, further afield but with super-bathing and the most golden of golden sands, Mersa Matruh. Sailing and rowing and fishing are very popular at all these resorts as well as on the shores of the Red Sea.
Fishing in the sea is, no doubt a pleasant pastime. Fishing in the Nile, particularly in the neighbourhood of Aswan, is perhaps even more exciting; for every now and then a catch is made in those waters that corresponds to a fisherman's dream.
Just as hunting parties were the pleasure and relaxation of Ancient
Egyptians, shooting, especially wildduck shooting, is a favoured sport
in Egypt today. Within a short run by car from Cairo or Alexandria the
modern Nimrod finds plenty of scope for his skill. Motoring, camping in
the desert and riding are other outdoor sports for which Egypt is a congenial
and indeed practically perfect field. Egyptians themselves and foreign
residents in Egypt are somewhat inclined to take as a matter of course
the fact that every game is available and that weather conditions seldom
if ever prevent them from playing them. The delighted surprise of the visitor
from abroad serves to remind the Egyptian sportsman of what is indeed
the case: that he lives in a sportsman's paradise.