Saturday, December 2, 2006

What is a sport?

Interesting question. What qualifies as a sport? I heard a discussion recently on radio sport to this effect. For me a sport is an activity that involves these elements.

Firstly, competitiveness. That is, one person/team is trying to beat another in a pursuit. The aim of a sport is to win. You can play sport to not win and to merely have fun; but built into the essence of the activity, is a system to delineate win, lose or draw.

Secondly, rules and fairness. That is, there is an organised set of rules to govern the game to ensure fairness. This calls into question climbing Mt Everest as a sport. Even though I would rate what Sir Edmund Hillary did on Everest as the greatest physical achievement by a New Zealander, I do not consider it a sport as it was not a governed, fair race to the top of Everest. I do not think that Hillary should have been listed second in the recent Radio Sport poll of NZ's greatest history makers in sport. In terms of running, running an 800m on the track is a sport; going for a run is physical activity.

Thirdly, physicality. That is, there is some degree of physical effort involved in the activity. Sitting at a board moving pieces is not a sport then, it is a board game. Golf on the other hand, although more gentle than some sports, is definitely a sport. Indeed, the effort required in hitting a ball at the moment of striking can be quite intense.

Fourthly, a time limit and result. A sport has clearly demarcated time frame and result. The result may be a win, a loss or a draw. Having a draw as a result is not a weakness in a sport; rather it recognises the equality of the competitors. Time frame is critical. Again, the conquering of Everest is an impressive physical achievement but it was not in the frame of a governed sport.

If this is correct, how do some activities look? To me there is a distinction between sports, games, physical and non-physical past-times. Games are static affairs (e.g. chess) or activities which are sports but are played for fun. Physical past-times would be things like walking, gardening, jogging, fishing and other enjoyable outdoor pursuits that have no real goal other than doing what one does or does not have a competitive goal in an organised context.

So, for me then, unfortunately and although it was one of the greatest physical achievements of the twentieth century, climbing Mt Everest was not sport. I would rank Sir Edmund Hillary among our greatest history makers perhaps behind Rutherford, Kate Shepherd and several others; but it was not sport by my reckoning.

No comments: