Is Your Sport Really a Sport?

The debate on which athletics are only activities


There’s often an argument made in athletics about which activities can truly hold the coveted title of a “sport”. Usually the most heated debates center around judged sports, such as diving, all-star cheerleading, figure skating and gymnastics.
These are all sports where, instead of trying to earn the most points, run the fastest, or jump the highest, the winner is based on who can be most perfect.
In such a case, the winner cannot be decided by a timer or scoreboard. Athletes are scored by a set of trained judges who look for errors in the performance. This means the competition cannot ever be entirely objective because there is an element where discrepancies can occur.
Some like to argue, because of this potential bias, judged sports should not be labeled as such. They are simply ‘activities’ meant for viewing and aesthetic entertainment. This is an unrealistic view of sports culture that is frankly disrespectful to hard-working athletes.
The definition of a sport is “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another for entertainment,”. Some feel that when a competition’s winner is not determined in an entirely objective way, it nullifies the purpose of the competition.
I will be the first to tell you that the judging in aesthetic sports is in no way objective. Some judges score people higher for having long lines and extension, while others might penalize the hardest for flexed feet. Some judges even prefer certain body types. Still, I think that disqualifying them as a sport does an injustice to the athletes who put in countless hours of training and dedication.
There is nothing wrong with participating in physical “activities”, but the word carries a negative connotation in regards to athletics. It makes it appear as somehow less work, or requiring less dedication\; something more casual than spending twenty plus hours a week training for.
I don’t find it coincidental that a majority of these judged sports are female dominated. No one would dare question the status of a 200-pound football player as an athlete, but they are willing to tear down the accomplishments of a young girl in a leotard, or one holding pom-poms.
Yet, by discrediting the legitimacy of sports that aren’t entirely objective, it also questions the status of sports like football, basketball, or soccer where the winner is determined based on earning the highest number of points.
While these sports may appear as if there is a clear winner, any sports fan will tell you it is not the case. There are still rules of play that have to be followed. The rules are enforced by referees that can be extremely subjective.
After a close game, a passionate fan will blame a loss on the “stupid” calls of the referees. They’ll say their team was being targeted. They’ll say they only called penalties on certain types of players and ignored obvious fouls from others. And chances are, this could be true.
Research shows that all NFL ref crews are more likely to call penalties on the away team than the home team, giving them an advantage in the game. It has also been shown that there are consistently more calls made for fouls such as illegal blocking than there are illegal tackle or formation.
The championship formation of NCAA football also calls into question potential biases. The College Football Playoff (CFP) system recently replaced the BCS National Championship structure for determining the Division 1 football national champion. In the system, teams are ranked, with the top four seeds getting a spot in the playoffs and a shot at the championship. However, these rankings are determined not explicitly by numeric factors, but by a selection committee with “expertise in football”. Their potential biases can pull a team out of the playoffs that could have stood a chance at winning. So, no one is truly able to say that there is a “real” national champion in college football.
By definition of the critics, the only athletics that could actually be considered a sport would be those with a measurable difference between participants that is not subjective to any question by a judge or referee. This would include sports like track and field, cross country, swimming, or golf.
While I do feel that these sports are deserving of the title, I think it is a disservice to athletes to only allow their status to be defined by the biases of another person.
Are sports always one hundred percent fair? Absolutely not. Are judges and referees biased? You bet they are. But, these biases are just a mere obstacle in the game. As an athlete, you have to learn how to take the biases and work them towards your own advantage.
Overall, I think it is ridiculous to try to discredit a sport simply because of the rules. It tears down hard-working athletes and makes them feel as if they somehow work less hard because not every aspect of their performance is in their control. Any physical activity that requires dedication and competitiveness deserves to be recognized as a sport, no matter how the winner is decided.