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An international governing body, the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF), was founded in 1912; it adopted its current name, the International Association of Athletics Federations, in 2001.The IAAF established separate outdoor World Championships in 1983.Initially, the term was used to describe athletic contests in general – i.e.sporting competition based primarily on human physical feats.Organized athletics are traced back to the Ancient Olympic Games from 776 BC.The rules and format of the modern events in athletics were defined in Western Europe and North America in the 19th and early 20th century, and were then spread to other parts of the world.

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Track and field is preferred, and is used in the United States and Canada to refer to most athletics events, including racewalking and marathon running (although cross country running is typically considered as a separate sport).

The foremost international athletics meeting is the IAAF World Championships in Athletics, which incorporates track and field, marathon running and race walking.

Other top level competitions in athletics include the IAAF World Cross Country Championships and the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships.

An athletics competition was included in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and it has been as one of the foremost competitions at the quadrennial multi-sport event ever since.

Originally for men only, the 1928 Olympics saw the introduction of women's events in the athletics programme.

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