Other than by the Olympians of Greece, sport has not been influenced and organised so effectively before or since the Victorians.
Take a selection of sports known and cultivated by the British. I suppose football is on your list, as is rugby and probably tennis and cricket too. The Victorians had a say in all of the above. Before them though, a different scene prevailed. Sport was often a destructive and unmanaged activity with any number of players (which could reach hundreds), and any number of broken bones.
What came first, rugby or the school? A popular myth is that William Webb Ellis, a student at Rugby School in 1823 defying the local football rules by running with the ball in his arms, thereby beginning the popular trend. The Football Association was formed in 1863 and aimed to standardise the rules of football. Before this each public school had its own local traditions and chaos ensued when the boys met at university and attempted to play by an amalgamated set of rules. The FA established the Laws of the Game, during which F. M. Campbell withdrew from the FA over the removal of two rules which allowed handling the ball, and hacking (tripping an opponent and kicking him in the shins). Sound familiar? This split led to the formation of the Rugby Football Union in 1871.
As the century rolled on, factory owners’ views towards football and other sports became more lax as they began to appreciate the health benefits, and encouraged a workforce united by sport. A familiar club with unfamiliar origins is Newton Heath, a club founded by workers from the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company achieved infamy as Manchester United.
The rules of that quintessentially British game, cricket, were formed in the mid-eighteenth century, but English and Australian teams loved to travel. The first official test match was in 1877; Australia were victorious over England. Australia won again in 1882 which instigated playing for the Ashes ever since when The Sporting Times published a famous obituary: “In affectionate remembrance of English cricket… The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.”
‘Sphairistike’ (a poor attempt at Greek), and ‘Pelota’ were names tried before ‘tennis’ caught on. Though the names didn’t stick the game did and formal rules were established in 1874. The first Wimbledon was held in 1877, won by Spencer Gore, followed by the launch of the Lawn Tennis Association in 1888.
On a national level, spectator interest was increasing, facilitated by improvements in transport. Globally, British sport flourished first through its colonies and then beyond, hence the popularity of rugby in Australia, and cricket in Pakistan and India.
What it seems to bubble down to is the Victorian pursuit of control, which wasn’t a bad thing. It created a more accessible, regulated selection of activities, and built a heritage, particularly in post-Olympics Britain, to be proud of.