On June 10, we commemorate Portugal Day, and so today we remember the recognized importance that sports have had in the social construction of the country, especially since the 20th century.
The "Dictionary of History of the First Republic and the Republicanism" explains that at the end of the 19th century, a new concept of a man emerged in Portugal: the sportsman, characterized by his youth, hardiness, and social position. These first sportsmen belonged to Lisbon's high society and practised several sports, being responsible for organizing the first regular sports-athletic competitions in Portugal.
According to the same source, until this date, the only existing competitions were limited to weapons exercises, such as shooting or sword-play, and to equestrian competitions (racing and jumping) or sailing, within an elitist practice of the nobility.
Around 1900, the few regular sports events in Portugal were gymnastics soirées (acrobatic and apparatus gymnastics), which had the Ginásio Clube Português, in Lisbon, as their leading promoter, as well as tennis tournaments (sometimes attended by King D. Carlos I, the last king of Portugal), shooting (at the Lumiar Shooting Range, also in Lisbon), and cycling (especially bicycle rides in Lisbon and Porto).
Motor racing also began to have its first races, highlighting the Beiras Circuit, whose first edition, in 1903, involved eight cars and three motorcycles, in a total of 440 kilometres. As one would expect, these were elitist sporting initiatives, being privileged moments for worldly meetings of high society.
Only after the end of the Monarchy, in 1910, was there a definitive increase in sports in Portuguese society. Through the sportsman figure, physical activity started to be seen, especially by the press, as the best way to save a "race" that many considered asleep, indolent (the tavern was one of the main spaces for social interaction), and lazy due to the education provided by the clergy.
Soccer, our “Sports King”
There were great difficulties in generalizing the idea of sports and massifying the sports practice among the Portuguese population. To overcome these obstacles, the popular rise of football - the first sport to achieve real popularization and a significant degree of organization in Portugal - was fundamental.
Sports in Portugal are currently a fundamental component of Portuguese culture, with soccer standing out as the most popular sport in the country. However, there are many other well-organized annual competitions at a professional and amateur level, including championships in hundreds of different sports, which also stand out in world competitions, such as rugby, basketball, athletics, roller hockey, gymnastics, and futsal. More than 400,000 people are practising federated sports in Portugal.
Portugal in the Olympics
Portugal made its debut in the Stockholm Olympic Games in 1912 and has participated in every edition of the Olympic Games since then, being the eighteenth most frequent participant nation. With the creation of the Portuguese Olympic Committee in 1909 and its recognition by the International Olympic Committee in the same year, Portugal was the thirteenth nation to join the Olympic Movement.
A new agenda for sport in Europe and in Portugal: 2021-2027
If, at the European level, initiatives have multiplied defending the importance of sports for regional development, through its impact on key policy areas (health, economy, integration, tourism, etc.), and as an effective means of achieving the objectives of the EU Cohesion Policy and the European Structural and Investment Fund, Portugal will have to rethink its strategy, namely after the harmful effects of the global pandemic on the sector.
Several experts argue that in the future, sports may play an essential role in the transition to a green and blue economy in Portugal. Not only the growth of walking, hiking, and cycling as a means of transportation reduces carbon and other emissions and transforms rural and urban landscapes, but it can also boost more active lifestyles, motivating factors for changing habits and practices toward more ecological and sustainable behaviour.
This fact has even greater weight since Portugal, beyond its coastline, also has one of the largest exclusive economic zones (EEZ) in Europe, covering about 1,683,000 km², the third-largest in the European Union and the 11th in the world.
Future sports policy must broaden the current interpretation of Article 165 of the European Union Foundation Treaty, emphasizing ethical and sustainability implications; social capital exchanges in the community; technological, infrastructural, and urban planning development.
Therefore, sports is one of the most capable sectors of contributing to a Europe with more structured objectives: a greener and low-carbon Europe, a more social and integrative Europe, and a Europe that is more interconnected and closer to its citizens.
Come to Portugal and be part of the change
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