Defining Sport

What is a Sport?

The debate of our genre is, what qualifies as a sport. Especially during the Olympic season this debate seems to flow more freely. Here I am, to answer the question.

I want to start with a qualifier that I believe gets completely ignored or over dramatized in this debate. Just because something is disqualified from the definition of “Sport” does not diminish its value nor our respect. There is a common misconception that sport is the ultimate title every physical activity deserves. And to make something not a sport is a form of disrespect. That’s complete garbage. The most obvious example is ballerinas. Anyone who has even a little bit of understanding about ballet understands it takes dedications, skill and ability. Those that do it well are to be admired and awed at their physical abilities. What they do is breath taking. However, it is not a sport. That does not take away from any of the otherwise stated facts. Ballet is not diminished because it is not a sport. Ballet is ballet.

misty-copeland ballet.png

As we go forward with this discussion realize two things can be true. Something cannot be considered a sport AND it can still be an activity worthy of recognition and admiration.

Moving forward. Here is the definition of sport:

Sport (noun): An activity that takes physical exertion and skill in which a team or individual can compete where a winner is determined objectively.

Perfect? I agree. But let’s discuss what that means.

Obviously first it is “an activity that takes physical exertion and skill”.

What gets knocked out of our definition here? Chess, cards and other board games. Chess, Cards and other board games take no physical exertion so they do not qualify as a sport.


In which a team or individual

Of course, we include team and individual events as being sports.

Can compete

This knocks out digging a hole or running for exercise. Both of these activities take physical exertion and skill but are not done in competition.

where a winner

Here again dance or orchestra gets knocked out of the definition because there is no competition element to crown a winner.


is determined objectively

Ok, so here is where a whole bunch of people will turn into crazy people. This seems obvious until we actually apply the word “objective” versus the word “subjective”.  There are activities that are decided through judges or a subjective fashion that regularly get called sport: gymnastics, ice dancing, figure skating, skiing long jump, half pipe etc.


Subjectivity is the opposite of sport. In sport there are winners and losers, there is someone who made it to the finish line first or there are teams that scored more points. These are all determined objectively. Once you include subjectivity to “sport” you have poisoned the word. Sports is not art; a winner is not crowned based off people’s opinions.  Sport began with a challenge, “I can run faster than you” or “I bet I can throw this rock farther than you.” It was objective.

But activities like gymnastics or figure skating are not judged objectively but subjectively. A judge, or two or more, determine who is the best. This is outrageous. I do not understand how every sports fan is not appalled that a person gets to pick a winner and we still deem it a sport.

In 2002 this issue made headline news when judges had to pick who was to win the Gold Medal in Pairs Figure Skating at the Salt Lake City Olympic Games. Everyone watching “knew” that the Canadian team had skated the best performance. Yet somehow, the judges chose the Russian pair ahead of the Canadian. Eventually the news of corruption and pressure came. There were some judges who were told who should win ahead of time. In an activity where the crowning of a winner is subjective how can we argue this point. Subjectivity is a breeding ground for corruption. Subjectivity has no place in crowning or granting winners and losers.

Figure Skating Scandal

We should clarify here, we understand that all sports have subjective elements. Subjectivity can come in on rules application such as referees or officials. There are rules in place for every sport, yet sometimes the application of them have a subjective element. However, the winner of a basketball game is the team that scores the most points. The winner of a soccer game the same. In Figure Skating, the winner is who the judges determine the winner to be. Yes, they have a set of criteria they are judging on. But again, it is subjective. The whole crux of who wins and loses is on who a judge thinks won.

Kids Racing

So now you know what a sport is. The great question has been answered. Sport has objectively decided winners in a team or individual activity that takes physical exertion and skill.


Common Activities that people ask about being a sport


Tricky but yes. It checks all the boxes. It is objectively decided who wins. It is a team and individual activity. It takes physical exertion and skill to be a good NASCAR driver. (Note: if you have never researched the amount of physical training that goes into NASCAR you do not know much about it. NASCAR drivers heart rates average about 150 over the course of their 4-hour event.)

Horse Racing:

Again tricky, but again yes. Objectively won, individual event, physical exertion and skill all used by a jockey.

Figure Skating

No, not at all. The winner is determined subjectively.


This, of course, I have the hardest time with. But no, it is not a sport. A winner is subjectively chosen. Does this take away from the skill and work gymnast must put in to be good, no. Does this insult them, no. But it doesn’t pass the definition.


Yes, it is objective on who wins and loses (most points, points awarded by being closest to the button). It takes physical exertion and skill (more skill than physical exertion, but it still takes some).




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