The rise of sport in late-Victorian and Edwardian Britain occurred at a time when the British Empire was at its height. According to J.A. Mangan, ‘A potent education ideology known as athleticism evolved in response to a late Victorian obsession with character and imperialism’ (1992, 3). It was a time when the idea of Empire, and with it an understanding of the supremacy of the English race, had a great grip upon the public imagination, especially that of the middle classes. Connections between male sport and the spread and maintenance of the Empire were often made and widely believed: ‘For many Victorians and Edwardians there was an obvious link between the development of endurance, toughness and courage on English playing fields and pioneering in Australia, preaching in Africa and soldiering in Burma’ (Mangan 1981, 138). This connection was reinforced in school magazines where the exploits of old boys in the imperial cause were celebrated and exoticised (Mangan 1981,137). Within the constraints of Muscular Christianity, it was also assumed that team sports contributed to the development of good character, which was necessary if the Empire was to be understood as a moral, rather than economic imperative for the British.
Treagus, Mandy, The Body of the Imperial Mother: Women, Exercise and the Future of ‘the Race’ in Britain, 1870-1914, Kunapipi, 23(1), 2001.