Was prompted to ask this question yesterday whilst watching the Wimbledon Men’s Singles Tennis final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

I’m not usually a fan of tennis, but this was a captivating match of highs and lows, or emotional and physical fluctuations. It was also considered one of the great tennis finals of all time, and the eventual winner Roger Federer equalled Bjorn Borgs record of 5 Wimbledon titles in a row. It was hard not to disagree with the analysis that I was watching history in the making (which is a tautology) and that I was watching a sporting legend in the making.

But I wondered why is sport of such social and cultural importance to us?

I know the obvious answers that sport has its origins in the martial activity of man. That athletes, wrestlers, javelin throwers, archers, horse-racing, shot-putters were all engaged in a false-war activity. It’s sometimes easy to forget that medieval jousting contests (despite the danger to limb and life, including to the spectator) was a sporting event.

Then there is the tribal element to sport, that peoples unite in a common support for the nation, their district, their community. The modern support that many young men and women give to Football clubs is a manifestation of this. Replace sense of community with a sense of pride in the badge, the jersey. Supporters feel they own the club they support, that they employ the players to represent their hopes and ambitions.

But then nowadays any martial element to sport as a preperation for war is just a social memory. Soldiers are not expected to complete their training these days on ‘the playing fields of Eton’ or elsewhere for that matter. Though admittedly it is still a means of learning about and engaging with competative behaviour, as important on the battlefield and sports field as it is in the world of business.

And culturally sport is perhaps less cohesive than it once was. There is television for example, where a particular sports team may have its supporters situated on the opposite side of the globe, paying supporters even who may have no idea where Manchester (for example) really is. And of course people have a very different idea of social identity as cultures intermingle.

Of course there is the simple answer, it is all just a game, a recreation, a bit of fun, maybe even an act of escapism. But I can’t help but think that it is slightly more purposeful, that there is something more cohesive about sport than its purely being fun. I dont pretend to know what the answer is, but having watched the great Tennis final yesterday I pondered whether it was a sense of shared hope, of myth-making, of taking joy from arbitrary beliefs (i.e. the idea that sport matters) that draw so many people to it.