London Olympics - what is a "Sport"?

I am hoping to find some opinions regarding the various events at the Olympics (and in general). There are two kinds of events - those that are objective, where the clock or number of goals determines the winner. And those that are subjective, which rely on judges, to determine the winner. I have heard some arguments that the subjective events are not really “sports” because the outcome always depends on a person or persons, with all their human frailties and prejudices and tastes, making a judgment call. For example:

Objective: Track and Field, Swimming, Soccer, Cycling, Rowing, etc.

Subjective: Gymnastics, Diving, Synchronized Swimming, Equestrian, etc.

I can see the argument. Can the best gymnast really be determined any better than, say the best guitarist in the world, or the best painter? It is like judging which opening ceremony is better, London or Beijing? - it is all a matter of opinion. At least with the objective events, it is usually pretty clear who is the winner. The argument usually accounts for officiating to enforce rules, that can have some bearing on the outcome of events, but does not decide the winner directly.

Closer to home, there is debate over Cheerleading as a sport. I suppose if you accept Gymnastics, etc. as a sport, then you should accept Cheerleading as a sport as well, right?

In your opinion, are the subjective Olympic events less of a “sport” than the objective ones? Why?

I would disagree with your basic premise that Olympic sports must be completely one thing or the other. What you call objective sports still have some element of judging; did a soccer player commit a foul, did a sprinting cyclist move off his line and impede another rider, did a swimmer maintain the required form in the breast stroke, etc. In the subjective events, there are still specific, objective rules to adhere to; did a gymnast have more pauses in a routine than are permitted, did a diver perform dives from all the required groups.

You might be able to rank sports on a continuum of objective vs. subjective results, but it’s not a hard-and-fast line that divides them.

For that matter, I would disagree with your categorization of equestrian as subjective. Dressage has been much in the news lately, and it is judged. Other events, like show jumping or cross-country, are timed and have penalties for knocking down rails or refusing jumps.

Right. All sports fall somewhere on the objective-subjective spectrum.

You can determine the best guitarist if you have some criteria that is rated by judges. You can’t just say, “Steve Vai is better than Jason Vieaux” because it’s apples and oranges. But if you give everybody the exact same song to play and rate things like fretting accuracy and other mechanics, I would be comfortable with that. The criteria for most of what you listed are consistent and tend to be around mechanics and execution. However, you can see the shear subjectivity in the spread of the judges’ scores.

Where I do have a problem is in ice skating, especially ice dancing, where judging includes artistic interpretation which makes it not-a-sport as far as I’m concerned.

A sport is what I’m pointing at when I say, “That is a sport.”

Ultimately, that’s the only accurate definition.

I think I see a thread like this – maybe several like this – every time the Olympics come around.

But the bottom line is pretty much what** RealityChuck** said: It’s a sport if people agree it’s a sport.

I’m going to move this to the Game Room.

I’m curious what we said before. Can you link to some of them?

Is poker a sport? It’s not in the Olympics but it’s on ESPN.

Here is a good number of examples on the subject.

For the record, I have not read the threads, so their relevance may be limited.

More than any other aspect, a sport must include a physical endeavor in order to determine a victor. Holding one’s bladder is the closest poker comes to that.

[del]Pole Dancing[/del] Pole Sports.

D’oh! Thanks for that. I should brush up on my search skills before posting. I should have known this would have been covered here before.

I wouldn’t worry about it. The most recent thread I linked to was from 2008. I’m sure there’s been a few more since then, but as long as this subject wasn’t touched on less than a month ago, you’re good.

Bridge is a sport recognized by the Olympics, and is working toward eventually taking a seat in the Winter Olympics.

Chess is also a sport recognized by the Olympics. Note that motorized sports, including auto racing, speed boat racing, and water skiing, are recognized as sports, but due to being motorized can not be included in the Olympics.

What difference does a motor make, if they’re considering competitions with no physical component whatever?

In some competitive sports it is easier to determine a winner and in some competitive sports it is more difficult to determine a winner.

Whether a sport is a competitive sport or not is entirely unrelated to whether the sport is a sport or not.

Relative ease or difficulty in determining the winner of a competitive sport is entriely unrelated to whether the sport is a sport or not.


I think that RealityChuck got it in one:

Just because a sport may or may not be eligible for inclusion in the Olympics, and just because an eligible sport is actually included or not in the Olympics, has not bearing on whether or not that sport is a sport.

The Olympics has arbitrarily decided to not include motorsports or sports with a direct motor component in the Olympics. The Olympics has arbitrarily decided to consider including sports with no direct physical compent in the Olympics. Don’t expect any rhyme or reason in this, and do not expect consistency over time, for the Olympics will invite or drop sports as it sees fit at any given time.

In general, the Olympics requires that a sport have an international organizing body, and that it be internationally popular, but beyond that it is a crap shoot as to whether a sport will make it into the Olympics, particuarly now that the is little if any room left at the inn given the time and cost constraints the Olympics faces.

In general, sports with strong spectator appeal (e.g. snowboarding half-pipe) stand a much better chance at admission than sports with little spectator appeal (e.g. telemarking). I mention these two sports because they both tried to get admitted into the Olympics at the same time. One is based entirely on judging, but is hugely popular. The other only uses judges to decide penalties, but is mostly unknown. Being an organization that is based on popular appeal, particularly with respect to it’s income primarily being dependant on television broadcasting contracts, the Olympics chose to admit snowboarding half-pipe into the very limited space available in the Winter Olympics. The decision was based on practicality – on what sells.

Did anyone else see this and read telemarketing and say “What!!!”? I do agree it has little – probably no – spectator appeal.