Throughout history sailing has been instrumental in the development of civilization, affording humanity greater mobility than travel over land, whether for trade, transport or warfare. The earliest representation of a ship under sail appears on a painted disc found in Kuwait dating between 5500 and 5000 BCE. Advances in sailing technology from the Middle Ages onward enabled Arab, Chinese, Indian and European explorers to make longer voyages into regions with extreme weather and climatic conditions. Sailing has contributed to many great explorations in the world. Sport sailing seems to have originated in the 17th century in Holland. From there it was introduced into England (c.1660) by Charles II, and eventually spread to the American colonies.
The world's first club was founded (1720) at Cork, Ireland. The oldest continuously existing club in the United States is the New York Yacht Club founded 1844. Before 1870 individual yacht clubs developed their own set of racing rules of which each was the sole arbiter in interpreting and applying them. While the popularity of racing against other clubs grew so did the confusion and frustration on the race course. In Britain, there were several attempts to develop a uniform set of rules. In 1881, when HRH Albert Edward, Prince of Wales was Commodore of the Royal Thames Yacht Club and the Royal Yacht Squadron, the two clubs joined the Yacht Racing Association along with the New Thames Yacht Club and developed a set of rules for British waters.
But, there was still confusion over the different measurement standards that were being used in Europe, North America and Britain which meant yachts from different countries could not compete on equal terms. As a result, an International Conference on Yacht Measurement was held in London in 1906 and the 'Metre Rule' was developed. The attendees formed the International Yacht Racing Union (now World Sailing) and adopted a common code of racing rules. IYRU was created in Paris in 1907. In 1960 a totally universal code of racing rules was agreed and implemented. Sailboat racing has been part of the Olympic Games since 1900, and in order to promote the development of the sport, World Sailing has established several events.