What Qualifies As A Sport?

- wadE

Since the beginning of time...ok, maybe not that long...since the beginning of bars, men (and women) have pondered life's greatest mystery...what qualifies as a sport?

Is there an answer to this age old question? Maybe it is as simple as asking the guru of definitions...the dictionary.

Sport: 1. An activity involving physical exertion and skill that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often undertaken competitively.
2. An active diversion requiring physical exertion and competition.

Competition: 1. A test of skill or ability

You would think that would be enough to settle it...but think about art. Most people seem to have an innate feeling of what IS and what ISN'T art.

Art: 1. Human effort to imitate, supplement, alter, or counteract the work of nature.
2. The conscious production or arrangement of sounds, colors, forms, movements, or other elements in a manner that affects the sense of beauty, specifically the production of the beautiful in a graphic or plastic medium.
3. The study of these activities.
4. The product of these activities; human works of beauty considered as a group.

That doesn't satisfy my own definition of art. I doubt it satisfies your definition either. To me art is something you feel inside, you just look at something and know whether or not it's art. A good rule of thumb for me is whether or not I have the talent to do it. If it's a blank canvas sitting on a wall...that isn't art. Now if you painted a picture of a blank canvas sitting on a wall...now you've got a much better chance of being art.

But I digress...the bad news is just like art, each person seems to have a diffent definition of what is (and isn't) a sport. Usually, this definition fits right in with the particular sports a person likes. If a person is a big golfer, they are ferocious about their belief (or in their minds, "the fact") that golf is a sport. If the person loves NASCAR, they are rabid in their insistance that it is a sport. For some reason if you tell someone a particular pastime they enjoy isn't a sport, they act like you just shot their dog. The good news is that even art has some confines around it. I hope to do the same with sport...but make those rules a little more narrow.

Now remember, don't take it personally just because something you like isn't a sport, that doesn't take anything away from it. The participants (depending on what activity we're talking about) are still atheletes. The amount of skill involved doesn't diminish. The amount of competition doesn't lessen. There are many great activities that are not sports, and there are many sports that are just plain stupid.

An intrinsic problem you may have just noticed is that "if something isn't a sport, what do you call it?" Calling a group of activities "non-sports" is liable to start a fight. "Activities", is a bit too generic; "games" won't cover everything either. That's why just about everything is called a sport, even when it isn't...what else would you call them!

Example...the Olympics is going to have Bridge as an exhibition sport at the next Summer Games. I think I can safely say that most of you are behind me when I deem Bridge to be "Not A Sport". Individually you could call it a "card game", but when you lump it in with Darts (again, "Not A Sport"), you start to have a problem.

Before we begin let's clear the differnce between a sport and a competition. As stated above a competition is a contest of skill and ability; which is only a component of what a sport is. In other words, competition does not make a sport. Semantics aside...let's discuss some attributes a sport should have.

Physical exertion - I think we can all agree that for something to be a sport, some physical activity must be involved. The degree of this activity is where the debate comes in. I think it's safe to say that this one along eliminates all card games, pool, darts, video games (and I'm looking squarely at you Golden Tee players!), trivia, pinball, board games, etc. I will not argue these! However...the first big fight shows up right here...NASCAR. There is no doubt there is serious competition, a huge amount of skill...but the amount of physical activity is very debatable. Yes, it does take a tremendous amount of endurance...endurance to push two pedals with your feet and make a left turn for 4 hours. I've taken a road trip or two before...I know how tough it can be....but no...this isn't a sport, the drivers are NOT atheltes. End of story.

No Judging - Even the Olympics calls it the "Figure Skating Competition". It is not a sport, it is a judged competition. Just because it is a "physical" competition does not make it a sport. This also tosses out diving, ski jumping of all kinds (that one breaks my heart, but it's true), skateboarding, gymnastics, etc.

Head-to-head competition - Weightlifting...not judged, takes an unreal amount of physical exertion, but no...not a sport. Yes, they are competiting against other people, but not directly. Everyone is lifting the same heavy thing. Maybe if they were lifting each other it could be a sport. What I'm trying to say is that particpants who are competing against each other should be playing at the same time.

Defense - this kind of goes along with head-to-head competition. When particpants are playing at the same time, there needs to be some level of defense. In weight lifting...there is no defense, you just gotta hope the other guy doesn't life more than you.

Let's examine some "sports" and see how they measure up.

Golf - always the biggest arguing point whenever this topic comes up. I fervently believe that golf is not a sport. It takes a lot of skill...but there is NO defense whatsoever. You just play your game...basically in a vacuum. Now maybe if part of the game was to get your ball in the way of another persons line before they putt...that might get it closer to being a real sport. The other big argument golfers bring up is the amount of physical exertion it takes to play 18 holes. Ok, yes, after a round of golf I'm tired, I'm sore...but the moment the PGA let Casey Martin play while riding a cart, that eliminated that argument (even though I didn't buy it in the first place). When at the top level of your game, a person is allowed to use a mechanical advantage, that's it...you're done. It's like letting a pitcher use a pitching machine on the mound, just leaving him to field anything hit near him.
A fellow SP.com-er says, "if golf were that easy, more people would be professional level good. anyone can throw a dart 15 feet, and with practice can be accurate... not anyone can hit a golf ball the way the pros do, not even with practice..." This is true...but not everyone can dive off of a 10 meter platform. Not everyone can play pool at that very top level. Some people have a gift for certain skills that most others will never have...it doesn't make that skill a sport.

NASCAR - Defense...yes. Judging...no. Physical exertion...no way! I think it's safe to say you need to "sweat" while performing a sport, or at least have bursts of HEAVY activity...and no, sweating because you have fireproof clothing on from head-to-toe does NOT count. Furthermore, as an addendum to the Physical Exertion attribute we should add, "does not include any activity that involves non human powered machines".

Horse racing - this one is a little tricky. Although there is some physical exertion in staying on top of a horse at full speed, this is NOT a sport. It IS a sport for the horse...but NOT for the jockey.

Swimming - no defense. Sorry...but no.

Curling - for those of you who aren't familiar...go to curling.com or something. Tons of defense and head-to-head competition. Judging...not really, you pretty much discuss any close calls right there on the ice. Exertion...well, they do go nuts with those brooms. This is about as gray as you can get...but I'm thinking no. The sweeping is much more skill than sheer physical activity.

Bicycling - a surprising yes! There is actual defense involved...it isn't the traditional football or basketball type of defense, but there still is. It's gray...but enough to make it a sport.

Baseball - After much long and hard thought...the National League is definitely a sport, no question. The American League however...eh...the DH really makes it tough. There are obviously some particpants (DHs and pitchers) who make this questionable (I'm looking right at you David Wells and Rich Garces)...but overall there is enough of the attributes to barely qualify the AL as a sport.

Soccer - I may not care for it... but it's a sport.

Paintball - This is a hard one that a colleague brought up. It does satisfy the attributes...but I think anything involving a gun doesn't count. It's a fun activity...but just not a sport.

Hunting, target shooting, etc. - Guns...not a sport. Bow and arrow...a skill...still not a sport.

Fishing - no.

Softball - oooh, now here is a tough one. Collegiate softball (fast pitch)...a sport. Your company softball team (no matter how competitive they are) not a sport. When you get to the giant fat guy hitting a home run and drinking a beer as he rounds the bases point of a game...you've just kinda removed yourself from sporthood. It hurts...but no, not a sport.

Now it's your turn. What do you think is (or isn't) a sport. Are there more attributes...do you disagree with one? I want to hear from you. Email me at wade@simpleprop.com, and I'll follow up with your responses!

- 05/12/2002

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