Why the Olympics aren’t sport

halfpipeLet me ask you a question that will test your logical reasoning, general knowledge and understanding of the English language all at the same time:
What is wrong with the following sentence? “Despite a love of sports, I have never been a fan of the Olympics.

The correct answer is that the word “Despite” is used incorrectly. My love of sports and apathy towards the Olympics are completely unrelated, since the Olympics has very little to do with sport(1). There is a reason why they are called the Olympic Games.

I find the dictionary definition of the word “sport” to be wholly insufficient, being cast broadly enough to allow all sorts of undesirable activities to be included (this is something, by the way, that Mrs Pigfender finds very annoying and wishes I’d stop going on about whenever the Olympics are on). Anyway, unsatisfied with the current classification, I set about coming up with my own set of principles to decide if something really was a sport or not. The following five rules were the outcome:

1)   Two or more sides must be competing in the same capacity, such that any side is capable of winning and losing.
2)   Sides must have both offensive and defensive roles such that each side is able to influence the performance and outcome of the others.
3)   Winning must be it’s own reward, with no reliance on betting or money to provide meaning or influence tactics.
4)   There must be a risk of physical injury from taking part, without any fouls having occurred.
5)   Winning must be determined on an objective rather than subjective basis, such that any number of independent observers familiar with the rules would review a factual account of the event and come up with the same outcome.

I came up with this list employing the sensible and logical way that any mad dictator hell-bent on causing bigoted segregation would use; I decided what events I wanted to make sure weren’t sports, and then engineered a rule to make sure each was excluded.

Rule 1 was designed to prevent fishing and hunting from being a sport. Ignoring the blood and death, hunting an animal with a rifle is practically indistinguishable from wildlife photography(3). If your event fails to pass rule 1, it is not a sport, it’s a HOBBY.

Rule 2 was implemented to exclude darts from the lofty heights of sporthood. In darts (like a great many other events), it may look like individuals are competing against each other but in reality they have no influence on the other side. Each participant’s job is to do something as efficiently as possible, whether against a clock or in as few turns as possible. That doesn’t change if you’re competing against a field of others, or just trying to beat your own personal best. Inability to survive rule 2 means you weren’t a sport, you were a SKILL.

Rule 3 was put in place to prevent poker from participating. I did briefly consider a rule preventing competitions based on chance as well (eg, coin tossing), but ultimately decided that they’d be excluded via rule 2. Having your luck run out on rule 3 means you weren’t a sport, you were GAMBLING.

Rule 4 was a tactical move against things like chess. I readily acknowledge that there are any number of non-contact sports, but they still have a physical element that benefits from you being in good shape. If you aren’t using your body in some way that could at least cause you to trip, pull a muscle, or chafe, then even the dictionary definition agrees your event doesn’t cut it. Falling foul of rule 4 makes you a GAME, not a sport.

Rule 5 was my attempt to choreograph an exclusion for figure skating. At their core, events such as figure skating, diving, and gymnastics are an attempt to create something beautiful; to communicate through the medium of movement a carefully designed play. They are scored subjectively because their goal is not a physical competition, but the invocation of emotion in the spectator. Like the role of money in rule 3, these events require an external factor to give them their full meaning: the audience. Trip over rule 5 and you are not a sport, you are ART.

I was on the fence for a while about this last rule, for two reasons. The first is that it isn’t needed to exclude the kinds of events it was designed to cover. Figure skating could just as easily be excluded under rule 2 as it could rule 5. The second is that it excludes something that — in my mind at least — is about as pure a sport as you can get: boxing(4). In the end I decided to keep it, not least of all because of the impact it has on the logical(5) implications to the sporting world.

The first implication is for boxing. They need to abandon their current subjective scoring system in favour of a system that says a k/o is a win and anything else is a draw, else permanently be known as an art rather than a sport. I’ll leave it to the various regulatory bodies to decide whether they want to implement extra time or some sort of penalty shootout. While we’re on it, as part of my ongoing war against misnomers, they should be forced to either wear gloves with individual fingers, or call those things they put on their hands ‘boxing mittens’.

The other major implication is for the Olympics. Now, I’m not suggesting that we get rid of things from the Games that aren’t sports. In fact, I’m suggesting the opposite. Get rid of everything that is a sport. It strikes me as pretty bizarre that professionals who already have ample opportunity to compete in world championships organised by their respective sporting associations should take part in the Olympics. It devalues the Olympics because it’s no longer the pinnacle tournament on the calendar for that event. Soccer, I’m looking at you here. Tennis? You too. So the Olympic Games should get rid of everything that’s actually a sport and focus on what it’s really about: the rule 2 skills. Running as fast as you can, jumping as high as you can, throwing as far as you can, lifting as heavy as you can. They’re all skills, and they are what the Olympic Games (a misnomer again, because I’m not allowing chess in) are really all about.

It also means we can avoid all those silly figure skating and gymnastic things that go on for hours and Mrs Pigfender insists we watch, and I won’t have to listen to shockingly bad commentary(6) on the slope style events ever again.


(1) – Bonus points were available for knowing me well enough to realise that I actually mean the Summer Olympics here. The Winter Olympics ROCK(2).

(2) – Instead of every two years, we could have an Olympics every year if we add the Spring Olympics and Autumn Olympics to the calendar. Not sure what events they’d have though. Maybe chocolate egg hunts and abstaining for Lent in the Spring Games, and hiking for the Autumn ones? :P

(3) – If anything, photography requires a lot more technique and skill.

(4) – This caused me problems because I love boxing. By which I mean I never watch it, but am a HUGE fan of the Rocky movies.

(5) – Remember, we are using mad dictator hell-bent on causing bigoted segregation logic for this post.

(6) – I think it’s a nice touch when networks decide to stick with the old traditions of the games and only send amateurs to take part in the Olympic commentary. :)

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