When people refer to cricket as the English national game, they are not thinking so much of its level of popularity or of the standard of English players but more of the very English associations that it carries with it. Cricket is much more than just a sport; it symbolizes a way of life - a slow and peaceful rural way of life. Cricket is associated with long sunny summer afternoons, the smell of new-mown grass and the sound of leather (the ball) connecting with willow (the wood from which cricket bats are made). Cricket is special because it combines competition with the British dream of rural life. Cricket is what the village green is for! As if to emphasize the rural connection, 'first class' cricket teams in England, unlike teams in other sports, do not bear the names of towns but of counties (Essex and Yorkshire, for example).
ANIMALS IN SPORT
Traditionally, the favourite sports of the British upper class are hunting, shooting and fishing. The most widespread form of hunting is foxhunting - indeed, that is what the word 'hunting' usually means in Britain. Foxhunting works like this. A group of people on horses, dressed in eighteenth century riding clothes, ride around with a pack of dogs. When the dogs pick up the scent of a fox, somebody blows a horn and then dogs, horses and riders all chase the fox. Often the fox gets away, but if not, the dogs get to it before the hunters and tear it to pieces. As you might guess in a country of animal-lovers, where most people have little experience of the harsher realities of nature, foxhunting is strongly opposed by some people. The League Against Cruel Sports wants it made illegal and the campaign has been steadily intensifying. There are sometimes violent encounters between foxhunters and protestors (whom the hunters call 'saboteurs').Foxhunting is a popular pastime among some members of the higher social classes and a few people from lower social classes, who often see their participation as a mark of newly won status. The hunting of foxes is sport associated through the centuries with ownership of land. The hounds chase the fox, followed by people riding horses, wearing red or black coats and conforming with various rules and customs. In a few hill areas stags are hunted similarly. Both these types of hunting are enjoyed mainly by people who can afford the cost of keeping horses and carrying them to hunt meetings in 'horse boxes', or trailer vans. Both, particularly stag-hunting, are opposed by people who condemn the cruelty involved in chasing and killing frightened animals. There have been attempts to persuade Parliament to pass laws to forbid hunting, but none has been successful. There is no law about hunting foxes, but there is a fox-hunting seasons - from November to March.
Killing birds with guns is known as 'shooting' in Britain. It is a minority pastime confined largely to the higher social classes; there are more than three times as many licensed guns for this purpose in France as there are in Britain. The birds which people try to shoot (such as grouse) may only be shot during certain specified times of the year. The upper classes often organize 'shooting parties' during the 'season'. The British do not shoot small animals or birds for sport, though some farmers who shoot rabbits or pigeons may enjoy doing so. But 'game birds', mainly pheasant, grouse and partridge, have traditionally provided sport for the landowning gentry. Until Labour's election victory of 1964 many of the prime ministers of the past two hundred years, along with members of their cabinets, had gone to the grouse moors of Scotland or the Pennines for the opening of the shooting season on 12 August. Since 1964 all that has changed. Now there are not many leading British politicians carrying guns in the shooting parties, though there may be foreign millionaires, not all of them from America. Some of the beaters, whose job is to disturb the grouse so that they fly up to be shot, are students earning money to pay for trips abroad. But there is still a race to send the first shot grouse to London restaurants, where there are people happy to pay huge amounts of money for the privilege of eating them.
The only kind of hunting which is associated with the working class is hare-coursing, in which greyhound dogs chase hares. However, because the vast majority of people in Britain are urban dwellers, this too is a minority activity.
The one kind of 'hunting' which is popular among all social classes is fishing. In fact, this is the most popular participatory sport of all in Britain. Between four and five million people go fishing regularly. When fishing is done competitively, it is called 'angling'. The most popular of all outdoor sports is fishing, from the banks of lakes or rivers or in the sea, from jetties, rocks or beaches. Some British lakes and rivers are famous for their trout or salmon, and attract enthusiasts from all over the world.
Apart from being hunted, another way in which animals are used in sport is when they race. Horse-racing is a long-established and popular sport in Britain, both 'flat racing' and 'national hunt' racing (where there are jumps for the horses), sometimes known as 'steeplechase'. The former became known as 'the sport of kings' in the seventeenth century, and modern British royalty has close connections with sport involving horses. Some members of the royal family own racehorses and attend certain annual race meetings (Ascot, for example); some are also active participants in the sports of polo and show-jumping (both of which involve riding a horse). The steeplechase (crosscountry running) is very popular in most European countries. The first known organized crosscountry race in 1837 was the Crick Run at Rugby School. Originally, crosscountry running took place over open country where the hazards were the natural ones to be found in the country. These included hedges, ditches, streams and the like. Schools and some clubs still run over open country. Sometimes, however, the competitors run off the course as, on one occasion, happened to all the runners in a race. Because of this, the organization of these races has to be very strict. Nowadays, crosscountry races (or steeplechases) are often run in an enclosed area where the hazardsare artificial. This makes organization easier.
The chief attraction of horse-racing for most people is the opportunity it provides for gambling (see below). Greyhound racing, although declining, is still popular for the same reason. In this sport, the