A paragraph in a story on soccer’s current place in the world serves as a reminder of the “serendipitous” aspect of the development of games and sports:
If you take a step back from it for a moment, our obsession with the World Cup is truly bizarre, even totally irrational. Soccer is, like all games, made up of a rather odd and haphazard set of rules. Nineteenth century English teachers and students developed them, and eventually the rules of what became known as Association Football were codified with the 1863 Cambridge Rules. (One theory for the origin of the word “soccer” is that it is a deformation of “Association.”) But three very different games — rugby, soccer, and that global oddity American football all came out of roughly the same original soup, which is a reminder of how random the process of rule-making can be.
To fans, the rules of a game seem almost natural, like they have always been that way. But, this paragraph highlights the historical contingency of some of our favorite pastimes: they were created by a particular set of humans in a particular historical and social context and continue to be altered by these changing contexts. While it’s hard to imagine a world without soccer or the World Cup, these are human inventions that might not have happened except for particular actions and conditions.
Another way to think about it is to imagine an alien creature visiting Earth. Without knowing the particulars of how a sport development, they might think the particular set of rules and norms are arbitrary. Why 11 players on a team and not 10 or 12? Why has the offside rule changed numerous times over the years? Why not have two balls in play? Why can’t players use their hands? Some of these questions might be easier to answer than others but they highlight the decision-making that had to happen regarding rules.