Whatever other legitimate criticisms I’ve heard of the Harry Potter series, no one can deny that J.K. Rowling is a marvelous world-builder. One of my favorite bits is Quiddich, and one of the reasons I like it so much is that Fantasyland has a surprising dearth of sports.
Like other intelligent creatures– dolphins, dogs, octopuses, ravens, and chimpanzees, to name a few– humans play. Most cultures throughout history, no matter how harsh their environment, have invented sports, puzzles, and other games. There is no reason to think Fantasyland should operate under different rules*.
Depending on the pace of the story, there may be different levels of engagement with games and play. One one extreme, you could write a sports story set in a fantasy culture. On the other, your characters may have virtually no time to relax, but there may be references to popular sports or leisure activities during their adventures. Even allusions to simple children’s games– perhaps your fantasy world has an equivalent of mancala or string figures or jump rope– does a lot to add realism and background information.
What sports or games are popular with your characters will have a lot to do with things like culture, time constraints, and available materials. If you’re writing about a real past or present culture, of course, this is easy– just head on down to your local library**. If you’re writing a fantasy society from scratch, you get to work with a blank slate. However, it might be useful to look at some real life cultures to give you ideas about what games people invent in similar environments and cultures.
Whether you write about your characters playing a quiet strategy game, cheering at a sporting match, or just noting some children playing around them, giving your world sports and games will add a sense of depth and realism.
*If you’re writing about some sort of intelligent alien creature that doesn’t play, carry on. Also, that’s awesome and I want to read your story.
**Librarians are underappreciated research ninjas, especially when you’ve got an obscure research question that’s not immediately tractable to Google.