What makes a sport a sport?


Our main definition of ‘sport’ includes
the criteria ‘involving physical exertion’,
which may disappoint players of darts, golf,
snooker, and chess who argue that these less
physical games also constitute sports.
The origin of the word ‘sport’ might provide
some interesting insights into this debate.
‘Sport’ is a shortening of ‘disport’,
a now archaic word meaning ‘diversion from
serious duties’ or ‘recreation’.
This paints a much broader picture of ‘sports’
than that which the word generally covers
today.
In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary’s
earliest evidence of the shortened term ‘sport’
refers to ‘the sport of reading’!
The association of ‘sport’ with physical
activity didn’t become dominant until the
18th and 19th centuries, when it became associated
first with hunting, fishing, and shooting,
and eventually with more familiar sports like
football and cricket.
So, while most people using the term ‘sport’
today include ‘physical exertion’ in their
understanding, someone arguing the case for
chess as a sport might do well to include
some word history in
their argument!

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