What is sport?

In another thread about men vs. women soccer players, someone mentioned that they don’t consider archery, auto racing, and some other activities as sports. This brought back memories of my university days, when we studied this field (philosophy of sport). So I am posting this thread in hopes of generating some discussion on the subject. Essentially, the question is: What is sport?

My hope is that people will give reasonable and logical defintions, and a description of why they feel that way. At least go beyond saying “Football is a sport”, “Auto racing is not a sport”, or something else that is non-conclusive. An all-encompassing definition that is logical. I have my own definition which I will add if this thread actually generates some discussion.

Off the top of my head:

“Activities which lend themselves to competition, where physical skill, strength, speed, or endurance are applied with a sense of urgency to complete a task”

I can see your point about archery and auto racing, and along those lines I would also question golf, shooting (but not hunting), and body building (which I would consider to be an art before a sport).

To add to sqweels I think sport is.
A physical competition with a defined and agreed set of rules.

So war and fighting are not sports because they lack defined rules. Scrabble is not a sport because it is a mental rather than physical competition. Dance isn’t a sport since though it has rules and is physical, it generally is not a competition.
Competative ballroom dancing would be a sport under my deffinition, and really I don’t see any reason other than cultural for not calling it a sport.

I don’t like sqweels’ definition, since it technically includes, say, gang fights, warfare, or just ordinary dancing.

The operating definition we used in my sport class was that a sport is a contest of physical skill with defined criteria for determining a winner, played for its own purpose.

Archery, by that definition, is a sport (and to be honest I am amazed anyone would say it wasn’t.)

Ballroom dancing, figure skating et al. are sort of on the bubble. While they are mostly contests of physical skill, they are to greater or lesser degrees also contests of artistic agreement and fashion. It’s difficult to make the argument that something is completely a sport when the winner is determined to some extent by things that have nothing to do with physical skill. The SUBJECTIVITY really doesn’t bother me - I mean, football, baseball and basketball all have degrees of subjectivity in the official’s interpretation and calling of the rules. However, in those cases the officials are making decisions on objective outcomes of physical skill - was the ball a strike or not, did the reciever get both his feet down inbounds.

Officials in figure skating assign half the score based on something that is not a matter of athletic prowess. So I think clearly there is a sliding scale in some respects. Gymnastics, which is subjectively judged but really has no artistic aspect to it at all, is 99.9% a sport; singles figure skating, which is clearly mostly athletic but has a large artistic element, is maybe only 60% a sport.

To my mind, the percieved “difficulty” os a sport is irrelevant. Billiards to my mind is very obviously a sport and I cannot think of any rational or logical reason why it is not. Maybe you don’t sweat a lot doing it or have to be strong, but it’s sure as hell a sport, and if you don’t believe me, ask a decathlete to go 1-on-1 with a top ranked shark over a game of 9-ball and see if he lasts ninety seconds.

Oh, dear, someone please burn my philosophy diploma. :smack:

Essentially, the question is what are you asking in the question, “What is sport?” Provisionally, at least, what does “sport” refer to there, and how are we to study its features? If the question means, “What is the common usage of the word ‘sport’?”, then we’d be best off looking into linguistics, which is probably what you want us to do. You’ll find that the word refers to some broad features and patterns, but ultimately is merely their intersection, and thus can refer to things that have only some of those features, or to different degrees. You also have to ask what is the scope of “common,” since you’ll find plenty of variation and possibly little that directly represents the mean. However, most will be combinations of familiar factors, as noted above.

Typical elements composing the cloud we call “sport”:

Physical activity
Often competitive

Curiously, most dictionaries mention the first three factors, as their role is precisely to elucidate what people often mean by certain words.

played for its own purpose dosen’t stand, or else any professional activity (which is played for money) would be classed as not a sport.
I feel that criteria for determining a winner may not be a necessity, but can’t think of a good example of what would be a sport without this criteria. Maybe something like paintball where there is no criteria for being a winner, other than enjoying yourself.

electric!sheep, I think my purpose is pretty clear, to define sport. What’s the definition? Not what do we commonly refer to, but what is it? Not too complicated. Until you start to define.

So my best guess at a definition is “regulated competition”. I don’t really see why physical needs to be a part of it. Just about every activity requires some level of physical motion, even if it is just to move a chess piece, so I don’t see how one activity can be any less or more “sporting” than another. I think the main reason people have problems with the idea is that they cannot grasp the idea something like Scrabble can be a sport. I may not respect it much, nor do I care much for synchronized swimming, but I can’t logically argue that they are not sports, otherwise where do I draw the line?

I’m sure many people will argue, and that’s fine, that’s the point here. But I really can’t defend any other stance.

You cannot “define” a sequence of alphabetic characters. You can, however, state what people refer to when they use those characters (i.e., define the word), explore our intuitions based on word usage (basically the same thing), or elaborate on the properties of an otherwise provisionally defined entity. People who fail to understand this give philosophy a bad name.

I think criteria for determining a winner is a useful inclusion. For the example you cited, paintball, there typically is a criteria (capture a flag, neutralize an opponent, etc.). If you play paintball without a criteria (i.e. just running around shooting each other), even though it may be loads of fun, it strikes me as no more of a sport than just moving chess pieces around haphazardly.

To paraphrase St. Augustine, if you do not ask me, I know, if you ask me, then I no longer know. I have seen “sport” used as an insult (calling some types of fencing “mere sport”–but this was by a crusty old fellow whose own master was a career duelist in the long ago days). Likewise, I have seen it used to refer to activities in which there was no competition against other participants (“sport hunting” in contrast to “subsistence hunting”). In all, it seems to be a very nebulous category, with ideas of recreation, propriety, and a great deal of influence by the social rules of the time and place.

I think you are asking “what can properly be called a sport”. There is no answer to that question as it is too subjective. Some people would not call marksmanship a sport, but clearly other people do.

You’d be more likely to get an answer if you phrased your question more narrowly. For instance “What is an Olympic sport”? But even then the defintion would vary, at least, over time.

Well, it’s a worthwhile question to answer, John, since it’s a matter that does affect real life things. Like, say, what goes into the Olympics.

As a matter of course, the Olympics generally encompass as sports anything that seems athletic and that

  1. Is played in enough countries to qualify as an international sport,

  2. Has an international governing body for amateur play that sets rules of play and participation, and

  3. Can bribe enough officials to get in.

Basically, that’s why ballroom dan… excuse me, DANCESPORT is being considered. It’s being “played” all over the world and has an influential and hard-lobbying international federation. I’m personally disdainful of it, but by Olympic standards, I don’t see how they can really justify excluding it; if ice dancing is a sport, ballroom danc… er, Dancesport is sure as hell a sport. Football (real football, not soccer) isn’t in the Olympics because it’s basically played in just two countries, the USA and Canada, so it doesn’t qualify in terms of international standing.

It seems to me that the argument over what constitutes a sport is awfully relevant when talking about this sort of thing, because there’s millions and millions of dollars at stake. Olympic inclusion is worth an absolute mountain of money to a sport and its international federation(s).

Snooker was one of the sports in the orginal thread that wasn’t thought to be a sport, it is however recognised as an olympic sport and might appear in the Olympic games in the year 2004.

Snooker strongly involves all the elements of what are usually thought of as sport except for the fact it doesn’t really rely on the physical fitness of the competitors in anyway, though obviously having two arms in good working order is essential to play at a high level.

That is essentially what a defintion is, meaning what people refer to when they use a particular sequence of alphabetic characters. I fail to see your point. I was never asking for anything other than a defintion of the word. So the idea is that, when you open a dictionary, what definition would you like to see, what do you think the definition should be.

RickJay soccer is real football. The football played here and in the US is a bastardized version of rugby, and really has little to do with the feet in the way soccer does. You are definitely right about why it isn’t an Olympic event though.

The idea that physical activity need be involved with sport leaves an open-ended question: to what degree? At what point should something be considered a sport because of the physical activity level and another thing not? I think this is where the biggest debate is.

Level of physical activity required is a good question/debate.
Target shooting is an Olympic sport, yet the physical activity required by this sport is minimal. Formaula 1 car racing is often considered a borderline sport at best, yet race drivers need to keep extremely fit to be competitive. Chess is not a sport, yet it requires some physical skill to move pieces quickly and accurately when the time starts to run out, and the level of concentration required at the top level seems to be truly exhausting to the competitors.
Maybe something is a sport if as well as the characteristics allready disscussed above in this thread, there must also exist a correlation between a competitors physical skill and the competitors ability to reach the goals of the sport. ie in a sport lack of physical fittness will always be a major dissadvantage, which cannot be overcome by mental capabilities of the competitor.

As to the criteria for determining a winner part of the definition is too broard, but should be replaced by something like the existance of pre defined goals. Hunting is often defined as a sport, and as such the goal is hitting the target, but I don’t think there needs to be defined a method of chosing a winner per se. Certainly shooting at random in a field could not be a sport (lack of targets, ie no defined goals). Fishing is another sport with goals (catching fish) but with no need for defined method of calculating a winner.

The issue is whether the game in question is a contest of physical skill.

You can argue this way or that about how much “physical activity” is involved in target shooting, but it is unquestionably a test of physical skill. The central element of the sport is the ability to exercise prowess in a physical act. The same can be said of automobile racing (which is really a team sport) - it’s a test of physical skill.

The same thing cannot be said of, say, chess. Chess is a game of strategy; there’s no test of physical skill involved. You could play a game of chess without even having arms or legs; if a player was a quadriplegic, they’d just have someone move the pieces for them, as the physical movements aren’t the point of the game. In fact, you could play chess without even using physical pieces. I know there are time limits involved, but the ability to move pieces isn’t the reason they have a clock.

I would argue that hunting in and of itself is not a sport - I think we’re using a different meaning of the word “sport” there. The simple act of hunting isn’t a contest between two willing competitors; it’s no more a sport than mugging people is a sport. I suppose you could argue that a hunting contest of some kind between two hunters - e.g. who can find a bring down a buck the fastest - could constitute a sport.

Very interesting point. I guess my question would then be: “Why does physical activity have to be involved at all?” To me, the idea that any form of competition, in which there are agreed-upon rules and a clearly defined winner at the conclusion or provision for declaring both sides or all sides equal in performance, should be considered a sport.

In other words, without the competition, it’s just a game or activity, like when my friends and I pick up the ball and kick it around on the weekend, without keeping track of goals. Without the rules, it’s just some form of movement or activity, like when you bounce a ball off the wall or ride your bike to work. Adding either provides the opportunity to make a quantitative and to some degree qualitative observation on the outcome of an attempt, and thus determine winners and losers and ties.

Very good point about chess though, though I would still call it a sport.

This suggested otherwise:

“Should be” is perhaps too strong of a phrase, since you’re only trying to grasp what common usage actually is. In which case, adding, “Why does physical activity need to be involved at all?” seems strange. Common usage is what it is, and it doesn’t “need” to be anything; we can only ask if there’s a discernable cause. In this case, it’s probably because physical activity and mental activity are different types of experiences, and language reflects that. In particular cases, those experiences are not always completely separate, so overlap exists within language as well.

If me and my brother take turns to throw stones in an attempt to knock a rock of a brick wall, then that is not a sport, even though it meets pretty much every definition in this thread (contest of physical skill; defined, agreed-upon rules, etc.) I think that a game should have some sort of governing body if it is to be truly considered a sport.

By the way, I once heard John McInroe claim that golf isn’t a sport because it doesn’t involve running.

Why isn’t it a sport? Assuming you have agreed upon rules for the contest, and have clearly defined goals for determining who wins, why should it not be a sport? It may not be the kind of sport that people will pay to watch, but that can’t reasonably be an acceptable criterion. The key is that there are agreed upon rules and competition is the purpose, in order to determine a winner or declare a draw.

Honestly, if you and your brother decide that only certain types of rock, only certain sizes and from a specific throwing distance the contest takes place, and you have determined a set of criteria for determining victory, I say you are participating in a sport. Call that sport what you will (since names mean nothing - just look at Ultimate), but you’ve got yourself a sport there.

Now if you are just throwing rocks, with no rules, no winner or loser or draw, then your just throwing rocks. There’s just no logical reason why anything else should be added to the list beyond rules and competition.