A sport consists of a normal physical activity or skill carried out under a publicly agreed set of rules, and with a recreational purpose: for competition, for self-enjoyment, to attain excellence, for the development of skill, or some combination of these. The difference of purpose is what characterises sport, combined with the notion of individual (or team) skill or prowess.
Therefore swimming competitively in front of thousands in an indoor arena is considered a sport, whereas swimming in a pool or in the sea by oneself is seen simply as a recreation.
There are many kinds of sports, and they take up a substantial proportion of people's time, money and interest, if not as participants then as spectators.
Definition of "Sport"
Sport is a major area of human interest and activity. A large part of our leisure, and newspaper and TV time is given over to it.
A pragmatic approach to defining "sport" is to look at the common usage of the term.
A sport can be operationally defined as an activity characteristically involving :
- The exercise of a useful physical skill recreationally, i.e. for a purpose other than its practical application in daily life.
- Conforming to a set of rules for the activity while aiming to attain excellence.
The excellence referred to above may be measured against previous benchmarks, time measurements, performance of the other team or participants, world records, etc..
Examples of skills which have become sports:
- Gladiators in Rome fought and killed for the delectation of the audience, rather than to protect the Empire:
- Yachting is the travel across water for enjoyment or competition rather than e.g. for transport or commerce:
- Running is done on a course for a fixed length of time or distance, rather than simply to catch a bus.
Physical sports use characteristics such as strength, stamina, speed, dexterity and other skills, other sports use more cerebral skills (see mind sport), such as strategic thinking in chess. This article, however, will concentrate on physical aspects of sport.
The line between sports, games, exercise and play is certainly not clear; games are often redefined as sports when they involve particularly skilled participants, which gives them appeal to non-participants. This is especially true in the modern age, which gives much weight to the spectator aspect of sports. Similarly, play is usually understood as less purposeful activity, but can become more like a game or sport as it conforms more to external rules or patterns of behaviour. Exercise is action to develop skill or ability, and may be a forerunner of both sport and games.
History of sport
Main article: History of sport
The development of sport throughout history can teach us a great deal about social changes, and about the nature of sport itself.
There are many modern discoveries in France, Africa and Australia of cave art (see e.g. Lascaux) from prehistory which provide evidence of ritual ceremonial behaviour. Some of these sources date from over 30,000 years ago, as established by carbon dating. Although there is scant direct evidence of sport from these sources, it is reasonable to extrapolate that there was some activity at these times resembling sport.
There are artifacts and structures which suggest that Chinese people engaged in activities which meet our definition of sport as early as 4000 BC. Gymnastics appears to have been a popular sport in China'Persian" title ="Persian">Persian sports such as the traditional Iranian martial art of Zurkhaneh had a close connection to the warfare skills. Among other sports which originate in Persia are Polo and jousting.
A wide range of sports were already established at the time of the Ancient Greece. Wrestling, running, boxing, javelin, discus throwing, and chariot racing were prevalent. This suggests that the military culture of Greece was an influence on the development of its sports and vice versa. The Olympic Games were held every four years in Ancient Greece, at a small village in Pelopponisos called Olympia.
Sport has been increasingly organised and regulated from the time of the Ancient Olympics up to the present century. Activities necessary for food and survival became regulated activities done for pleasure or competition on an increasing scale, e.g. hunting, fishing, horticulture. The Industrial Revolution and mass production brought increased leisure which allowed increases in spectator sports, less elitism in sports, and greater accessibility. These trends continued with the advent of mass media and global communication. Professionalism became prevalent, further adding to the increase in sport's popularity.
A classification of sports
Main article: List of sports
One system for classifying sports is as follows, based more on the sport's aim than on the actual mechanics. The examples given are intended to be illustrative, rather than comprehensive
- Human-powered (Running, swimming,....)
- Human-assisted (Cycling, rowing, canoeing, ...)
- External power source (Motor racing, sailing, powerboating...)
- Combat (Judo, karate, boxing, fencing...)
- Court (Tennis, badminton, volleyball, squash...)
- Team (Baseball and Football are the most popular globally, with Baseball being popular in the Americas and in Japan, and Football being popular throughout the world. Other examples are: Rugby, ice hockey, field hockey, softball...)
- Target (Archery, shooting ...)
- Display (Gymnastics, bodybuilding, equestrianism, diving...)
- Strength (Weight-lifting, triple jump, shot put ...)
A combination of all categories
- (Athletics) (Human-powered, Team, Strength, Paintball)
It is interesting that the motivation for sport is often an elusive element. For example, beginners in sailing are often told that dinghy racing is a good means to sharpen the learner's sailing skills. However, it often emerges that skills are honed to increase racing performance and achievements in competition, rather than the converse. 'Sportsmanship' expresses an aspiration or ethos that the activity will be enjoyed for its own sake, but often the pressures of competition, individual achievement, or introduction of technology can seem to work against enjoyment by participants.
People responsible for leisure activities often seek recognition and respectability as sports by joining sports federations such as the IOC, or by forming their own regulatory body. In this way sports evolve from leisure activity to more formal sports: relatively recent newcomers are BMX cycling, snowboarding, wrestling, etc. Some of these activities have been popular but uncodified pursuits in various forms for different lengths of time. Indeed, the formal regulation of sport is a relatively modern and increasing development.
Sportsmanship, within any given game, is how each competitor acts before, during, and after the competition. Not only is it important to have good sportsmanship if one wins, but also if one loses. For example, in football it is considered sportsmanlike to kick the ball out of play to allow treatment for an injured player on the other side. Reciprocally, the other team is expected to return the ball from the throw-in.
Violence in sports involves crossing the line between fair competition and intentional aggressive violence. Athletes, coaches, fans, and parents sometimes unleash violent behaviour on people or property, in misguided shows of loyalty, dominance, anger, or celebration.
Professionalism and the regulation of sport
The entertainment aspect of sport, together with the spread of mass media and increased leisure time, has led to professionalism in sport. This has resulted in some conflict, where the paycheck can be seen as more important than recreational aspects: or where the sport is changed simply to make it more profitable and popular therefore losing some of the traditions valued by some.
The successful execution of a sport requires the consensus agreement of the participants on a set of rules for fair competition. This has led to the control of each sport through a regulatory body to define what methods of competition are acceptable and what are considered cheating.
Sport and politics
There have been many dilemmas for sports where a difficult political context is in place.
When apartheid was the official policy in South Africa, many sportspeople adopted the conscientious approach that they should not appear in competitive sports there. Some feel this was an effective contribution to the eventual demolition of the policy of apartheid, others feel that it may have prolonged and reinforced its worst effects.
The 1936 Summer Olympics held in Berlin was an illustration, perhaps best recognised in retrospect, where an ideology was developing which used the event to strengthen its spread through propaganda.
In the history of Ireland, Gaelic sports were clearly carried on with nationalistic overtones: for example, in the mid 20th century a person could have been banned from playing professional Gaelic football, hurley, or other sport if the person played soccer, or other game which was seen to be of British origin.
Nationalism in general is often evident in the pursuit of sport, or in its reporting: people compete in national teams, or commentators and audiences can adopt a partisan view. These trends are seen by some as contrary to the fundamental ethos of sport being carried on for its own sake, for the enjoyment of its participants.
See also: List of countries by national sport
Art and sport
Sport has many affinities with art. Ice skating and Tai chi for example are sports which come close to artistic spectacles in themselves: to watch these activities comes close to the experience of spectating at a ballet. Similarly, there are other activities which have elements of sport and art in their execution, such as performance art, artistic gymnastics, Bodybuilding etcetera.
The fact that art is so close to sport in some situations is probably related to the nature of sport. The definition of "sport" above put forward the idea of an activity pursued not just for the usual purposes, e.g. running not simply to get places, but running for its own sake, running as well as we can.
This is similar to a common view of aesthetic value, which is seen as something over and above the strictly functional value coming from an object's normal use. So an aesthetically pleasing car is one which doesn't just get from A to B, but which impresses us with its grace, poise and charisma.
In the same way, a sporting performance such as jumping doesn't just impress us as being an effective way to avoid obstacles or to get across streams. It impresses us because of the ability, skill and style which is shown.
Art and sport were probably more clearly linked at the time of Ancient Greece, when gymnastics and callesthenics invoked admiration and aesthetic appreciation for the physical build, prowess and 'arete' displayed by participants. The modern term 'art' as skill, is related to this ancient Greek term 'arete'Olympic_Games" title ="Olympic Games">Olympic Games which, as we have seen, were celebrations of both sporting and artistic achievements, poetry, sculpture and architecture.
- The Meaning of Sports by Michael Mandelbaum (PublicAffairs, ISBN 1-58648-252-1).
The following entries go into further detail into issues important to sport:
- history of sport, sportsmanship, professional sports, aesthetic appeal of sport, nationalism and sport, and regulation of sport
- List of professional sports leagues
- Minor sports / developmental leagues
- List of sports
- List of sporting events
- List of sportspersons
- Sport governing bodies
- Olympic Games
- Sporting venues
- Sports coaching
- Sports equipment
- Sports injuries
- Sports marketing
- Sports memorabilia
- Sports timeline
- Spectator sport
- Multi-sport events
- Sports art
- Sport in film
- Sporting club
- Disabled sports
- Female sport.
- Sports history organizations
- Mind sport
- Fantasy sports
- Sport Record
- Extreme Sports
- Violence in sports | NHL violence
- Sports and Politics of Extravagance
- LookSmart - Sports
- Open Directory Project - Sports
- Yahoo! - Sports
- Google - Sports News
- MSN - Sports News (UK)
- Yahoo! - Sports News
- Sports Info
- SportsFilter - Community Weblog
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