A few months ago, a friend of mine was trying to tell my class that figure skating was a sport due to the physical strength, precision, and agility required to be successful. I really wanted to chime in but I bit my tongue since I didn’t want to start a war in my classroom especially since class was almost over. While I respect figure skaters’ training regimen and the ability it takes to be a world-class figure skater, the athletic aspect is only one criterion in determining whether an activity is a sport. Cheerleaders have been doing a great job advocating for their activity for the longest time, trying to argue that it is a sport using the same logic that my friend did, but again, athleticism doesn’t make or break whether an activity is a sport, or not. In this post I want to establish a working definition that defines the term “sport.” Before I move on though, I want to make a few things clear:
a. I am not of the opinion that if an activity isn’t a sport, it is somehow lesser than activities that are considered sports, or diminishes what they are.
b. Just because one participates in a activity that is not a sport, does not mean they are not “athletes.”
c. Though I am ranting on this for the heck of it, I think it’s time sport junkies got together and tried to develop a definition for a sport because I believe the definition in the Oxford English Dictionary is inadequate:
An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment: team sports such as soccer and rugby.
I don’t feel intellectuals are qualified to speak on this subject since sport talk is not a true academic discipline. Journalists, sport archivists, sport museum/hall of fame curators, and well-read fans tend to be the authorities on this topic. I feel only those invested in sports can define what a sport is. I consider myself a well-read fan and have aspirations of becoming a sport archivist.
d. I am not trying to make fun of other people or what they do by rejecting the notion that their activity is a sport. This is meant to be an intellectual discussion with an end to developing a proper definition for this word.
e. I would love feedback on this post. Please put your two cents in the comments, or better yet, write your own blog post and refute it.
Criterion #1: Physical Ability
This is a foundational requirement for any sport. Physical ability can refer to foot speed, accuracy and precision, and strength. A sport must require some kind of physical ability to be successful in it.
Criterion #2: Defence
A participating team or individual must have a means of legally preventing their opponent(s) from scoring.
Criterion #3: Objective Scoring
By “objective” I mean there is a surefire way of knowing whether a point was scored, or not. For example, in soccer the ball must completely cross the goal line between the goal posts and under the crossbar in order for a goal to be tallied. An example of a subjective scoring system would have an individual’s performance scored by a panel of judges or referees.
Criterion #4: Governing League or Organization
Finally, there needs to be a recognized and legitimate governance structure that accredits and regulates an activity for it to be considered a sport. Though schoolyard games like red rover and four square meet the previous three requirements, there’s no legitimate governing body that regulates those activities and hosts tournaments and leagues, etc.
So which sports meet these four criteria?
More than you might think:
Basketball, Ice Hockey, Field Hockey, American Football, European Football, Rugby, Netball, Baseball, Volleyball, Lacrosse, Ringuette, Tennis, Racquetball, Squash, Badminton, Table Tennis, Curling, European Handball, Cricket, Polo, Water Polo.
How do we categorize other activities that are covered on channels like ESPN and TSN?
Figure Skating, Ice Dance, Cheer Leading, Ballroom Dancing, Synchronized Swimming, Floor Routine (Gymnastics).
Running races, Cycling, Speed Skating, Swimming, Auto Racing, Bobsleigh, Luge, Skeleton, Skiing, Horse Racing, Kayak, Rowing, Sailing.
Measurement contests (participants compete on their own and their performance gets measured against that of their competition):
Golf, Bowling, Darts, Shotput, Javelin, Hammer, High Jump, Long Jump, Triple Jump, Weight Lifting.
Fencing, Martial Arts, Ultimate Fighting, Boxing, Wrestling
Prepared routines scored by a panel of judges that are not art forms:
Diving, Gymnastics, Skateboarding, Half pipe, Body building.
I don’t mean to ruffle any feathers with this post, but I wanted to begin a dialogue in defining what a sport is and develop some criteria for it. Please respond with any feedback you might have because it’s time we got this figured out.