European Maccabi Meeting
Although the Midrash (Lamentations Rabba 2,4) gives us as a reason for the destruction of Jerusalem that ball games were played on the Sabbath, in Medieval France ball games were permitted on the Sabbath in private, though not in public. The source is Tossafot Beitzah 12a, which states explicitly that: “we find that they play with the ball called pelota” (cfr. the modern Basque game called by the same name): it was very like handball.
The Shulchan ‘Arukh (Orach Chayim 308,45) forbids ball playing on the Sabbath and considers ball as an object which You are not allowed to remove (Muqtzeh). But R. Moshe Isserles, based on Tossafot, disagreeing with R. Joseph Caro, permitted it and stated that in his time (16th cent.) it was customary to do so, provided You don’t dig a hole in the ground (Mishnah Berurah). According to his view, on a Festival You may play ball even in a public domain, where You have to refrain from carrying objects during the Sabbath.
Approximately at the same time an Italian Rabbi dealt with the matter. R. Moshe Provençal (Orach Chayim, n. 53) was asked “whether ball playing can be permitted on the Sabbath as it is customary to do in a special room in the outskirts of Mantua”. In a classical Hebrew he gives a full fascinating description of the play, which seems to be very similar to what we call tennis today. He comes to the conclusion that handball can be permitted, provided: 1) the ball does not fall outside the limits of a private domain; 2) there is no gambling involved; 3) they don’t play at the expenses of Torah learning when a Torah class takes place at the same time.
In contemporary times, R. Joshua Neuwirth (Shmirat Shabbat Ke-hilkhatah, 16, 6 ff.) is of the opinion that there is no reason to forbid ball games played on a hard surface, such as an asphalt or concrete court or a ping-pong (table-tennis) table, whether indoors or out, provided that, where necessary, an ‘Eiruv Chatzeirot, has been made properly (to avoid carrying in a public domain). Ball games should not be played on earth or grass.
Moreover, a ball which lodges in a tree may not be taken down on a Sabbath or Festival, nor may the tree be shaken to make the ball drop down (these acts would fall within the prohibition against making use of something which is growing from the ground). Inflatable balls which one does not tie, the air of which is kept in by the insertion of a rubber or plastic plug, or by means of an elastic band, may be blown up on the Sabbath and the Festival (but not for the first time).
Anyway visiting sport grounds or football stadiums on the Sabbath and Festivals is not in keeping with the special sanctity of the day and may bring to violation of the Seventh Day.
Even R. ‘Ovadyah Yossef (Yalqut Yossef 308, 84), who endorses the Shulchan ‘Arukh stringency for Sephardim, claims that ball playing is still permitted to young children. As balls are manufactured today with this clear purpose, they are not supposed to be considered useless items (Muqtzeh) nowadays, and adults are permitted to carry them (within a private domain) for the sake of their children.