Sport/What is a sport

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This content should be moved back to the main page when it becomes an article rather than an argument and commentary

The term "sport" has evolved over the years, as far as I can tell. It seems to have originally been used for the "kill sports" of the English aristocracy, as distinct from "games" which were played by all social classes and didn't involve killing animals. Then it seems to have been broadened to include those activities. However, in the modern world, the term seems to be applied to more and more activities, including some which are traditionally regarded as art, entertainment, work, or boardgame, such as chess, sheepdog trials, cheerleading and ballroom dance. Then there are the largely non-competitive leisure activities like surfing, or bushwalking. So - are these activities really sports? What makes them a sport? Do "battle of the bands" competitions make rock and roll a sport? Is trying to divide things into "sport" and "non-sport" even possible, and is it useful for the purposes of this encyclopedia?

Where might we find a working definition of a "sport", beyond those brief comments in the dictionary? Does the IOC, or maybe the Court of Arbitration for Sport, have anything useful to say on the matter? Are there useful definitions in legislation in any jurisdictions? Are there any philosophers who have spoken directly to the definition of sport, perhaps? I'm aware that everyone from Descartes to Satre's take on things has been applied to sports, but did anybody take a direct bite at the issue, so to speak?

What I think we need here is some kind of discussion of all these issues, and possibly a consensus working definition of a sport. This will be difficult, because I suspect any criteria will either exclude some self-proclaimed "sports" or be so broad as to encompass virtually every area of human endeavour. With that in mind, here are some points that go to the properties of a sport IMHO:

  • A sport involves a competitive aspect. If there is no competition (either directly against opponents or through a scoring system) it's not a sport.
  • There are organised competitions in the sport rather than just ad-hoc games.
  • The point of performing in the sport is to win, rather than as part of another profession or other activity (so a sales incentive scheme, or the ballet, isn't a sport)
  • A sport involves some physical aspects rather than a test of pure cognition (this excludes chess. tough)
  • A sport has codified rules known to all participants (though you wonder whether some elite sportspeople have bothered to read the rulebook sometimes). These rules may vary somewhat from event to event (for instance, many racing events are run on differently-shaped courses with local rules).


Be bold in updating pages! Just put some kind of definition on the main page, and lets have it out in the /Talk page :-) --Anders Törlind