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What is sport?

Defining sport is difficult; the term constantly evolves to cover new ranges of human behavior. Indeed, the well-known philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein argues that sports are defined, not by a set of common characteristics, but by new activities sharing some common aspects with existing sports, but not necessarily sharing any common characteristics with all. Credence to this comment may be taken from the ever-more-diverse set of activities that are at least claimed by some as sports - from chess to cheerleading, from sheepdog trials to ballroom dancing. What do all of those activities have in common?

However, many of the above would not be recognised as sports by fans of more traditionally-recognised sports, and using Wittgenstein's "extension" approach it would be quite reasonable to claim a "battle of the bands" competition as a sporting event and thus playing rock and roll as a sport, a definition which makes "sport" so broad as to be potentially useless and quite different to the common understanding, fuzzy though that may be.

A more pragmatic approach to defining sport may be to look at common usage of the term. It was originally used to describe the animal and bird-killing activities (such as shooting, fishing and fox hunting) of the English aristocracy, whereas the precursors of modern team sports played by the lower classes were termed "games". However, as time progressed, perhaps with the beginnings of the modern Olympic movement in the late 19th century, "sport" began to be used to describe a wide range of athletic pursuits. However, sport retained, and still retains an implication of respectability and seriousness that a mere "game" or "hobby" does not, and organisations responsible for leisure activities continually seek recognition as sports by joining sports federations such as the IOC. These bodies are seemingly fairly inclusive as to what they are prepared to accept as sports, and thus the activities listed above, amongst others, have been accepted.

However, it is possible to make a reasonable operational definition of sport using characteristics most sports do have in common. Such an operational definition can be found below:

  • Sports are activities based around physical activity, involving use of characteristics such as strength, stamina, speed, and dexterity.
  • A sport has codified rules known to all players. These vary somewhat depending on the location, timing, and specific event (for instances, golf courses have specific local bylaws, and each tournament may have its own special conditions), but there are a core of relatively invariant, agreed rules.
  • A sport involves a competitive aspect, either explicitly by competing against other participants, or by means of an ordinal (usually numeric) scoring system. There are organised competitions for the sport, rather than purely ad-hoc, casual competitions.
  • Sport is performed primarily for the enjoyment of either or both of the participants and/or any audience watching.
  • The primary goal of competition is to win according to the rules of the competition, rather than as a subsidiary to aesthetic, artistic, or financial achievements in the performance of the sport (thus excluding the "battle of the bands" or a sheep-shearing competition).
  • Sport is unscripted and the results of competitions not prearranged. Sports such as gymnastics involve set routines, but the scoring of those routines is judged entirely on the performance of that day.

/What is a sport

History of Sport

Some dot points:

  • Paleontological evidence for prehistoric sports (is there any)?
  • The sports of ancient civilizations:
    • Egyptian
    • Greek (Olympics etc.)
    • Mayan
    • Australian Aboriginal (Aussie rules believed to be derived from Aboriginal game)
    • Roman
    • Chinese
    • Any others?
  • Medieval sports - the aristocracy and the plebs
  • The great rule codification of the 19th century and the rise of spectator sports
  • 20th century and the electronic media and the growth of professional sport
  • the recent rise in "extreme"/adventure sports, growth of divergent participant and spectator sports.

Feel free to fill these in, or add more dot points, or reorganise totally.

Aspects of Sport

Sports Listing



Speed sports (where the goal is to be as quick as possible. No or very little contact with your opponents.):

Surpassing sports (where the goal is to propel your body or an object beyond a physical mark, No or very little contact with your opponents):

Precision sports (where the goal is to be as accurate as possible in throwing, tossing, rolling, ... No or very little contact with your opponents.):

Non-contact Ball sports (where you and your opponent(s) are working to get control of and place a ball) (little or no contact with your opponents)

Contact Ball sports (where you and your opponent(s) are working to get control of and place a ball, contact with your opponents is an integral part of the game):

(Disc sports:) (little or no contact with your opponents)

Fighting (where you and your opponents compete against each other using your strength and speed in contact.):

Motor sports (where you use the power of an engine as an important part of the sport.):

Combination sports (where the winning is decided by putting together results from several of the other categories):

Comparison sports (where the winning is decided by a judge):

Sports emphasizing balance and co-ordination (usually recreational but can also be competitive; these are also comparison sports!)

Sports without competition (where the ultimate goal is not to win but to have fun):

Hunting sports (where the sport is to find, lure, catch some animal):

Animal sports (where use of an animal is integral to the sport):


(The rest of these links need to be renamed so that they specifically identify their topic.)



Bull Fighting

See also:

What are our priorities for writing in this area? To help develop a list of the most basic topics about sports, please see sport basic topics.


This page is part of a WikiProject

Potential contributors are invited to visit WikiProject Sports for totally optional guidelines on participation.