Sport: A modern definition
'Ultimately, sports should be for the purpose of enjoyment.'
Robert Barrow | 8 November 2015

Since the dawn of humankind, man has endeavoured to compete with one another, battling physically and proving themselves to be the strongest, the toughest and the fittest. Even cave paintings depict sprinting and wrestling. The Greeks developed a structured tournament system in the form of the Ancient Olympics Games. Since then, sport has gradually moved away from purely physical feats to games of both exertion and skill. For example, the likes of football and rugby have become more accessible local activities, somewhat replacing Greco Roman Wrestling and the javelin. This is all well and good. From a fitness point of view, these sports still demand of the players to maintain their bodies in order to perform at their peak, but also to challenge the ‘sporting intelligence’ of the sportsmen and women, helping to develop both teamwork and communication skills. More recently, however, many modern sports or games rely totally on skill and precision, dispelling the image of a typically muscular and physically impressive sportsperson.

The popularity of darts, snooker and table tennis have been increasing year on year, both in a participation and spectating sense, all of which do not rely on running or throwing, kicking or fighting. As a result, what we really define as “sport” has begun to be called into question. Can we really compare the sheer physical battle undertaken by the cyclists in the Tour de France with five rounds of snooker at the Crucible? Maybe we can.

Sport today is not all about genetics, it is not all about physique, it is not all about what facilities are available to you. Instead the focus is also on skill, precision and practice. It is very possible that despite varying in intensity, the training programme of darts player Michael van Gerwen takes up just as much time as Usain Bolt’s sprinting practice. So why should we discriminate against sports that appear to be less strenuous on the human body, when they challenge other areas such as concentration and decision-making? Really, we should not. Everybody has their own preferences on what they want to spend their time doing and ultimately, sports should be for the purpose of enjoyment. Whilst the maintenance of your body is vitally important to stay healthy, the mental strain of alternative activities can also be just as significant elsewhere, in improving academic performance in the exam hall or how well you can concentrate in the workplace.

Similarly, we can also look at what we consider to be “sport” from a contrasting angle. As more and more people sign up for gym memberships, some people often argue that this focus on solely physical appearance and fitness is distracting people away from the sports field, resulting in an overall decrease in ‘traditional’ sporting ability. However, this view is parallel to the negativity towards skill-only sports, and fails to take into consideration the huge benefits that personal training has to offer. In a western society that sinks ever further into the depths of obesity, the accessibility of a gym provides a real opportunity for people who are not technically gifted, do not enjoy working in a team or just do not like conventional sports, to stay healthy and improve their lifestyle using the machines and programmes that they feel are suitable for them.

Essentially, this choice is what modern sport is all about. Due to a combination of the 2012 Olympic Games, the increasing amount of spending on grassroots sports and the expanding popularity of a fitness lifestyle, more and more people are beginning to turn to a wide array of sporting opportunities to occupy their spare time. It does not matter what you do, where you do it or whether you can compete to a high standard, nowadays sport is all about doing what you enjoy, socialising and learning to improve.

As we look towards the future, into a new and more technological age, it is likely that the shape of the sporting arena will change once again. The gaming industry is overtaking the movie industry in terms of global worth, with competitive gaming tournaments sweeping across North America and Europe. The rapid pace of this industry and its increasing popularity with people of all ages could perhaps mean that virtual events take centre stage in global tournaments. Perhaps by 2100, virtual reality sports could be a part of the Olympic Games? Either way, the development of e-sports headsets such as the Oculus Rift, personal mobility vehicles and many other emerging technologies, will certainly enter into our everyday lives during the next 50 years and inevitably the world of sport. We will just have to wait and see whether the definition of sport begins to drift even further away from its ancient origins.


Original image used

James Routledge 2016