Open Mic: What is a Sport?

Andrew StevensCorrespondent IJuly 3, 2008

Sport, according to, is defined as “…physical activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively…” 

Meanwhile, Wikipedia, that modern internet descendant of the hard-bound encyclopedia, defines sport as a “…activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively….” 

It does not take much imagination to see what definition would be favored by those who engage in non-physical, non-traditional sports such as chess, poker, or games of a similar nature. 

However, does that make them sports?

Anyone, including your writer, who has played football, baseball, or soccer, is aware of what elements make up the pieces of a sport or sporting event.  A framework of rules, a set of two teams going against each other, points (whether they are in goals, touchdowns, or runs), and a defined result are all classic elements of sport. 

Overtime, the definition of sport has evolved, allowing for great elasticity in the definition.  One might imagine, for example, that bar events are beyond the bounds of sport.  This is simply not true. 

Pool, darts, ping pong, and shuffleboard all require players to exercise a vast degree of mental and physical exertion.  Without this effort and concentration, it’s impossible to be a success. 

Try to throw a dart accurately or hit a ball with a pool cue without concentration and physical awareness.  It cannot be done.  In addition, these games have defined rules and points awarded, just as there are in baseball, football, and soccer.

So what of activities beyond the traditional sport world?  

During a chess match, no one is running full speed down a field or hitting a ball.  No one is tackling or scoring a goal.  Yet, as anyone who has played chess can tell you, a chess match requires tremendous mental acumen and concentration skills. 

Sweat collects on the brow.  The shoulders are tense and taut.  The stomach churns.  As your writer can attest, after a grueling chess match one feels as if a full game of football was just played. 

Similar physical reactions occur in a game of poker or other card games.  In all of these games, you are using your talents, tools, and skill-sets to best an opponent in a defined arena of rules and outcomes.

Definitions, like a rock near the edge of a turbulent ocean, change and evolve over time.  Nowhere is this clearer than in sports.  Traditional sports definitions include the obvious (baseball, football, and cricket), but today’s definitions are found in the nuanced and less-physical (chess, pool, darts, poker). 

As long as there is competition and rules in a defined space, contestants in those games will find a way to define it as a sport. 

In this context, even Madden ’09 on the Playstation would be included in the definition of a sport.  Millions of teenage and adult Madden fans would certainly agree.