What is a sport?

Sports are an incredibly important contributor to human nature in our pussified society. The lack of responsibility and risk taking swells to the point where people avoid any kind of competitive activity because of the inherent risk of failure. Participating in sport at any level will replace the necessary competitive edge in an individual and kindle the fire of dedication, hard work, and almost reckless intensity; the stuff of 70′s Big.

But what is a sport? We have the Shrug Thug to inform us about the activities that aren’t a sport (geared lifting, calculus, or fixing a pair of glasses), but what qualifies something to sport status? I always consider sport to encompass the following:

- Individuals or groups participating in a sanctioned competition that has a standard set of rules for achieving victory.
- The competitors (who are human) exhibit physicality

The highlight of the first portion of the definition is “sanction”. Regarding the competitive events, this implies that the type of event, how it is officiated, and how victory can be attained are all inherently known before hand. American football has a rigid set of rules and is played indoors our outdoors, yet it’s known where the game will be played and to what standards the players must perform. Strongman competitions are sanctioned events in that the federation indicates that each competition will have a given number of categories and the types of events that are permitted in each category. The “meet director” in this case will choose the required events from this list and lists them on the registration form. Not only are there x amount of events in y amount of categories, but they are known when the athlete signs up for the event. This is in contrast to CrossFit which is self described as “random”. This doesn’t aim to bash CrossFit, but it’s intentional lack of congruity removes it from the discussion of qualifying as a sport, given the above definition. (I’ve also heard adamant CFers try and make the point that it isn’t any different than strongman competitions, and if strongman is a sport, then CF must be to. Again, since strongman has a rigid method of creating competitions from a pool of listed events (types of pressing, types of deadlifing, types of carrying, etc.), then it is most definitely sanctioned — and thus a sport — while the random CF competition is not.)

Rugby is a sport

Having a standard for achieving victory is obviously important. Victory in sport is inherently not subjective. Basketball, American football, hockey, and baseball all have a point system. When the game ends and your team has more points, you win. Gymnastics and diving are a bit different, yet those judges have a defined set of criteria that they look for in a performance — the fact that we have never cared to look to see what that criteria is doesn’t mean they are judging randomly. This would indicate that cheerleading competitions qualify as a sport while the sideline rah-rah obviously does not.

The second part of the definition is debatable. I think it’s fair to refer specifically to human competitors when discussing sport; I always get pissed when horse racing, chess, or poker is on ESPN (although they do it because it makes them money). Human competitors would also imply that NASCAR, while beloved among plenty of Americans, is not a sport (motor sport is more fitting anyway). However, requiring that “physicality” is necessary for sport status becomes a quantification problem. The term physicality (or the requirement of physical exertion in the competition) is too vague and hard to quantify; I deem this the hole in the definition. Changing this definition would merely serve the definer to eliminate or accept activities that he considers a sport, and that’s not how definitions are made. Nevertheless, I consider it an important distinction; if there was some sort of physicality quantification, then things like golf, darts, or catfish noodling would be reduced to a game or hobby.

Quantification requires a measurement so that there is an objective distinction in what you intend to say. “Physicality” must be measurable, and the only way I can think to do that is with caloric expenditure relative to the size of an athlete (perhaps a percentage of the basal metabolic rate). If it isn’t done internally, then it must be done with rate of movement. Nevertheless it isn’t something we can implement, but will instead have to debate.

By competing in a sport, as defined above, the competitor is deemed an athlete. People who do not compete in sport are not an athlete, and instead should be considered a trainee (assuming they train). This doesn’t mean that the trainee isn’t athletic, yet athlete is quantified as a sport competitor. This also doesn’t imply that athletes themselves are athletic; there are certain bowlers, golfers, or even some baseball players who aren’t exactly athletic (calling golf and bowling a sport is debatable — see “physicality” quantification above). If someone has played sports previously in their life, are they still considered an athlete? I’m not the one to make that distinction, but if it were up to me I’d say “no” unless they were paid to compete in a sport and still train. In any case, “athlete” is a distinction for a sport competitor. This would eliminate catfish noodlers and CrossFitters alike from “athlete” status. This doesn’t mean they aren’t athletic, yet given the quantifiable definition above, it makes the distinction black and white.

Feel free to debate this topic in the comments. If you’re going to improve my definition or change my mind, you’ll have to provide a dose of logic as I’ve tried to do here. Debating what is or isn’t a sport may be fun, but 70′s Big is primarily interested in getting you to funnel your training into sport whether it be powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, rugby, or bat fighting. Besides, you’re just a trainee until you do.

65 thoughts on “What is a sport?

  1. I want to point out that if you don’t like the argument that I laid out, then you have to give a solid definition for changing the definition I provided. You also can’t tweak the definition to include or exclude activities you consider a sport or not.

    Adamfromjapan is the only person to try and make an amendment to the definition, yet it isn’t quantified (yet) and he seems to be doing it in order to create a satisfying definition that is in line with what he considers sports instead of objectively creating a definition and separating them from there.

  2. what is a sport?

    semantics that really won’t influence the way I train or the activities I choose to do. Sports, games, doesn’t really matter, and defining which is which probably won’t make a difference to most people. Not being a troll, but it is just my opinion. I weightlift, I play golf, I mountain bike, and if any of those are deemed sports or non-sports doesn’t really change anything.

  3. @stonkus, you’re doing the whole internet flame war all wrong.

    If baseball is a sport, so is cricket. both are boring as hell. I’d rather watch someone do a crossfit wod. At least it would be over in 20-30 minutes.

    I liken the definition for sport to the supreme court’s definition for obscene. I’ll know it when I see it.

  4. @Justin

    I understand your argument, but I guess not the Crossfit Games. I don’t do crossfit so I don’t know the “rules” per se. So I guess from your response that means that the Crossfit Games doesn’t have standardized skills that are sanctioned by crossfit or any federation to be in an event and then randomized by the meet director like a strongman comp. The Crossfit Games is just a smorgasbord of anything under the sun that the meet director picks randomly.

    Also can anybody tell me why they call their gyms “boxes”? It’s kind of weird.

  5. Powerlifting isn’t a fuckin’ sport. There’s nothing athletic about it whatsoever. I lift sometimes so I know what it’s like and any powerlifter that calls it a sport is kidding themselves. Crossfit requires you to be athletic, powerful, fast and fit. It is more of a sport and more serious than old fat powerlifters could ever hope to be.

    This is why you got banned from the chat that one night.


  6. Any activity that requires you to shave and oil your body and present yourself to a crowd wearing nothing but a banana smuggler then doing silly poses to dramatic music cannot in any way ever be considered a sport. Sorry Arnold.

  7. Justin – I think that the ‘direct physical impact’ works well, but then that would cancel out racket sports like tennis or badminton. When I mean ‘impact’, I mean impact on their ability to achieve the requirements for victory. So, baseball would qualify (although I am not a fan of the sport), since the pitcher is directly trying to make it hard for the batter to hit the ball effectively. Basketball, while not being a contact sport, features the ability to limit how well someone can get to the basket, blocking passes, and how often they get the ball.

    While you can screw with someone’s head right before they go on the platform, and there are many ways to mess with people during endurance events, it’s not quite the same thing. An athlete with a good mental game will not be affected by this as much, while a well placed curve ball will directly affect a batter.

    If we included a tackle element to Oly lifting (which I don’t advocate), then it would change things. Like if you had to get past all of your opponents to even get to the bar to lift, or if there was one barbell, 10 athletes, and only one person gets to lift the bar. Duke it out, and the last person standing gets a chance to lift :)

    Then your definition turns to strategy and tactics. If you watch any big battles in Oly lifting, there is undoubtedly strategy in choosing attempts because of how it forces a change of strategy in the opponent(s) to keep their total close (usually in snatch) or get their total within medal or victory contention (usually in clean and jerk). The same, albeit weaker, case could be made for powerlifting, yet weightlifting inherently has a lot of strategy in this regard. Obviously the necessity for strategy is relieved in newer lifters or local meets (you see more strategy to milk the clock so that the stronger guys can have some time between their attempts since they will be following themselves).

    While I have competed in Olympic weightlifting and do consider it a sport, I’m still being objective about it regarding your potential amendment to the definition. Since I’ve competed in it, watched it, and read about it (from the early days until now) I can see how there is a lot of strategy.

    Your idea of affecting the opponent is interested, and I’d like to hear more of a case made for it.


  8. My definition:
    To be called a “sport”, the activity must require it’s participants to display a minimum of three of the following attributes in order to be successful:

    Skill, Athleticism, Strength, Speed, Endurance

    An activity displaying two or less would be deemed training.

  9. Strongman events aren’t rigidly determined pre-competition. The stairs at last year’s WSM changed without any of the competitors knowing in time to train the higher stairs. I have even heard that some events in America don’t publish the events prior and are essentially just heavy CF competitions. In any case, this definition that the events are known ahead of time in a sport seems completely arbitrary and made up.

    The rest of the argument strikes me as a boring, pointless and probably retarded (haven’t read the comments) backdrop to a played out shot at @F during games season.

    Not that I have a particular problem with that.

  10. @ burningnun …The fact that the events are known in advance is not arbitrary as it implies some level of specificity of training in preparation for competition. The randomness of crossfit implies that one need not specify their training for competition which to me deters from the aspect of excelling at a specific athletic endeavour. Being ok at a multitude of exercises does not constitute specificity of training either.

  11. Pingback: Friday, April 15, 2011 – CrossFit Toronto – Forging Fitness for Life

Leave a Reply