Saturday, July 7, 2007

Sport? by Mouth of the Mersey

GU (remember them?) have chosen to cover the World Series of Poker on their Sports Blog, a editorial decision with which I concur. Other posters, predictably, have pooh-poohed poker, believing that the decision to raise, call or fold with an up and down straight draw against a likely top pair with big kicker, falls somewhat short of the Olympic ideal. That set me off on one of my favourite daydreams - what are the boundaries of this thing called "sport"?

My favourite online dictionary (dictionary.cambridge.org) feebly offers:

"sport (GAME) noun
1 [C] a game, competition or activity needing physical effort and skill that is played or done according to rules, for enjoyment and/or as a job"

That won't do at all - the "tapping your head with one hand whilst rubbing your tummy with the other" is inside that tent as is "drink ten pints then name all seven dwarves".

Wikipedia, as usual, is good, if a little woolly:

"Sport is an activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively. Used by itself, sports commonly refer to activities where the physical capabilities of the competitor are the sole or primary determiner of the outcome (winning or losing), but the term is also used to include activities such as mind sports and motor sports where mental acuity or equipment quality are major factors. Sports are used as entertainment for the player and the viewer."

Finally, the Olympic motto:

"Citius, Altius, Fortius - Faster, Higher, Stronger".

I'm going to propose three criteria and look at what lands inside and outside my tent.

1. Competition.

Sport has clearly defined winners and losers: so that's dance out and yoga too.

2. Rules.

Sport has widely shared and understood rules: so that's business out.

3. Scoring.

Sport has clear scoring systems: faster (time); higher (tally of goals or points); stronger (knockouts). This criterion rules out a large number of quasi-sports where judging (often subjective judging) is the sole means of identifying winners and losers. Bye Bye (with no regrets) dressage; ice skating; freestyle skiing. Bye Bye (with regrets) gymnastics; diving; trampolining.

I'm pleased that poker gets in the tent as does chess, but I'm a bit ambivalent about angling and I'm very uneasy about competitive eating.

Enough of me though - what do fellow pseuds think?

46 comments:

DoctorShoot said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zephirine said...

Do the competitors have to be human beings for it to count as a sport? Doc mentioned pigeon racing, what about greyhound racing? The competitors are certainly athletic, but the humans are only peripherally involved.

MotM said...

Cheers!

All the sentient world are in, horse racing, pigeon racing, greyhound racing, camel racing etc.

Fox hunting is out (no scoring) and hare coursing is probably out on that criterion too, as is bullfighting.

MotM said...

Diving is an aesthetically pleasing "sport" (particularly with the technological advances in cameras and broadcasting) and it's my first big regret on my criteria.

I particularly like the plain fact that there appears to be little advantage in being excessively tall or short, muscular or wiry - just fit as a butcher's dog and, nine times out of ten, film star photogenic whether female or male.

Zephirine said...

Ah, but does participation have to be voluntary for it to count as sport? Because the other sentient beings don't normally have a choice - though in my view most of them are reasonably happy to co-operate in exchange for three square meals a day.

DoctorShoot said...

re-posting with the majority of typos fixed:

Excellent piece Mouth. Homour, challenge and an alomost certain century out of this innings.

Removing the subjective judgement arenas from 'Sport' certainly dumps some old favourites, especially diving which is always worth the visuals and could get in via the higher and higher dive (whilst survivng).

Pigeon racing should be in, as unquestionably, should be the taproom trio of darts, horseshoes, and quoits.

competitve eating might get a nod if there was a drinking componenet and australia had a chance!! for China you could include some of the new age police sports?..

Zephirine said...

And can I argue about ice-skating, Mouth? I think figure-skating is a sport because there are actual physical moves which can either be perfomed correctly or not. While ice-dancing is... something else.

MotM said...

I think there's an ethics of sport argument re the "consent" of the horse etc, but that's slightly different territory.

Ice skating is close agreed, but as far as I am aware, most top level competitors do more or less the same moves which are then judged on their... something. If the winner was the skater with the most somersaults - no problem. But the winner is the skater with the best somersaults - problem.

(I know it's salchows and double-lutzes etc, but the example works better with somersaults!)

Zephirine said...

Yep, see what you mean. So basically anything where a row of people hold up cards saying 5.6, 5.6, 5.5, 5.7, 5.6 is out? Quite a relief really.

file said...

competitive rock climbing too makes great TV, to me, a lot of the x-games sports are seen as on the fringe but are attracting big audiences these days

just as Sumo is suffering from a lack of street cred and is heading out the door, I only hope it can fit! No, actually I hope it can turn around and waddle back

mimi said...

Surely Ballroom Dancing should be in for competitiveness - they have points both for technique and presentation, and Dazz and Ramps get to raise a sparkly trophy at the end? Where animals are concerned it's much more tricky. In horse-racing, there's no doubt the jockeys are fit athletes, but do the horses want to do it? Well that they run on in both flat and steeple-chasing without the humans suggest they do. But who can know. Greyhound racing is murky and full of awfulness. Elephant polo - Scotland are world champs you know - do the nellies like it? Hum.
I think Rhythmic Gymnastics is a no-no for me. Waving ribbons round while doing back-bends may be physically challenging, but not really a sport.
Some might say, at present, that One-day cricket is not a sport for England. Honk!!!!

file said...

sorry, eternally, forgot to say 'Good piece Mouth, thanks'

it's an age old question isn't it; what constitutes a sport? The examples the regulating bodies come up with seem so random, as your article points out, that the answer can only really be Sport is what the regulating bodies (in their divine wisdom) say it is

competitive eating is big business in the states, I wouldn't be too surprised if some entrants think of themselves as sportsmen (and women)

DoctorShoot said...

and Mouth can't you do something about those luge people I mean is that really a sport?..
and if it is can we have sandhills downward rushing on waxed cardboard included also?..

mimi said...

Hey Doc: is sport art???!!!

file said...

mimi, that occurred to me too!

I got a major problem describing the jerk'n'lifters as artists

mimi said...

file: if the jerk n lift merchants could be preserved in aspic, or even their own substances of abuse, they'd probably be in Damian's collection.
I exempt "Rocky" from that obviously as he was a work of art from the possibly dubious dark thoughts of Dr Frank n Furter. Step up the reaction oscillator one more point .... and no doubt someone will correct me on that filmic quote!

MotM said...

I like a lot of the x-games stuff especially that street version of luge (or is it a version of the splendidly named skeleton). Sorry Doc - they're all in my tent!

On art, I'm happy for something to be "art" if interested parties deem it so, but with sport, I'm a little less liberal for three reasons.

1. Sport has a limited amount of government funding / sponsorship / facilities and if that is diluted by being spread as far as ribbon-waving, the baby is gone with the bathwater.

2. Some "sports" are dysfunctional - see the outer reaches of extreme fighting and the recent Benoit tragedy in WWE. This is probably more an "ethics of sports" issue, but sharply defining the boundaries would get rid of some dubious practices and stop them hiding behind the word "sport".

3. I feel a bit protective towards sport as a concept - these carpetbaggers can, in the words of Robert Smith, try jumping someone else's train.

chelseaexile said...

Mouth, you know my opinion as I was one of the nay-sayers.

I still think we should examine the possibilities for Endurance Knitting though...

munni said...

My online dictionary includes the following definitions (among many others):
14. Obsolete. amorous dalliance.
22.Botany. to mutate.
Opens whole new realms of possibility, I think.

Personally I think an element of physical skill is an essential part of the definition, and things like poker and chess should be ruled out on that basis. They are games, not sports. But who am I to argue with wikipedia.

Re. non-human sentient beings: with things like horse-racing or polo (horse or elephant variety), there is a partnership and collaboration between human and animal, and (based on the horses and elephants I've met, anyway) I suspect they enjoy it. As opposed to greyhound racing or cockfighting (ew), where there are definite issues of consent. Oh, I don't know. I haven't had coffee yet this morning and need to think more on this when my brain is less woolly.

mimi said...

A thought occurred to me as I was listening to the tennis today - just after watching the Tour. Are raquet sports the only ones that are not under the cosh of time? Apart from crown green bowling and curling, that is. And where does Mouth stand on those sports? Random thoughts after a weekend of WAAAAY to much stuff to keep track of.

MotM said...

I'm all for crown green bowling and curling - not to mention ten pin bowling, even marbles.

Great weekend for sport - I switched briefly to Talksport today who were discussing... the Tevez transfer. What a bore!

I guess few sports screw up a TV schedule like tennis, except snooker.

mimi said...

Mouth: I was under the impression that marbles are banned now in schools. Along with clackers and that thing you put round your ankle and jumped over the other bit. And conkers.
Blimey - how are the youth of today supposed to develope a competitive spirit? I always like best the marbles we called aggies - kind of the non-see-through ones, with pretty colours.

MotM said...

Like Mike Read's approach to FGTH, nothing has increased the kudos of marbles like the whiff of illicitness.

And if my kids are anything to go by, it's les competitiveness that's needed not more - like that scene in Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, they'd have a competition via snail racing. Or that scene in Python where John Cleese and Eric Idle bet on which stockbroker is next past the window.

levremance said...

Mimi – Baseball, famously, doesn’t run by the clock.

Munni – agree that sport needs a physical element. Chess and Poker may cause sweating and hypertension and opponents may be subject to staring and bluffing but I don’t think that’s enough to move these activities from game to sport.

Mouth – can’t agree that judged scoring systems knocks out a sport. Plenty of sports are decided by a dodgy judgement made by an all too human umpire/referee.

The multiple judging panels used by diving, ice skating etc. are probably fairer scoring systems than relying on the whims of one person who (a)may not be in good position, or (b)having a good day, or who (c)just didn’t appreciate the sarcasm of number 15 from the black and whites.

There is plenty of room for subjectivity in supposedly clear cut scoring systems.

MotM said...

Lev - The physical element of sports is one that can probably be added to the criteria, so long as it can have a precision aspect to it.

Point taken re the fallibility of umpiring / refereeing, but I'm going to stick to the criterion that says that if judging is the sole means of scoring, it's an activity that is outside the sports tent. It's just too much like a TV talent show otherwise.

offside said...

What happened to the old definition: "it's a sport if you can't smoke while doing it"? I thought we had a consensus on that...

chelseaexile said...

offie, you've clearly never seen my old pub side play...

guitougoal said...

poker, four aces and you win the pot.Do we need to add a medal?

HannibalBrooks said...

There is a sport that represents the quintessential essence of every other testosterone driven sport or form of competition that the world has ever seen, distilled into one simple competative format.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Bollock Conkers ... a man's game.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7dtttb_rr94

I put this link on GU's poker blog today in a genuine response to a pertinent question, and the blog was closed down within 60 seconds ... sorry about that poker fans :o)

MotM said...

Hannibal - "... a man's game". Ace!

mimi said...

But surely the only way to win at conkers is the cheat's way? You take the bollocks (sorry, conkers) and bake them in a slow oven for at least 2 days before smashing your opponents and your "conkers" to pieces, and rendering yourself unable to use said "conkers" ever again. Non?

MotM said...

mimi - there are places that charge very significant sums for that sort of thing.

honolulu said...

Hello MotM, noble endeavor, but I have to beg for a reconsideration a yoga. Sure, they don't give out places or trophies in a studio, but you have to know that there are winners and losers in every class, based entirely on their ability to perform certain poses.

Honestly, I'd rather face the All Blacks than sociopathic bitches in my middle school class again... yoga can be that kind of competitive.

And besides, if "conkers" is a sport, than it has to have a female equivalent (says ME!, a beneficiary of Title IX.

MotM said...

Lulu - I've the greatest respect for yoga's practitioners (and the synchronised swimmers) and devise me an objective scoring system (longest time holding a position?) and it's in. Technical merit and artistic interpretation and it's out.

DoctorShoot said...

Mouth
in 'meetings with remarkable men' did not Gurdjieff talk about a statue with rods and perches that could be set to different traditional positions against which the dancers would contort, and be judged as to the accuracy or not of their positions?
Higher, Faster, Stronger, More Contorted...

MotM said...

Let's hope it wasn't a statue of Shiva!

mimi said...

Rods and perches? Raises the question is Fishing a sport?

DoctorShoot said...

Mimi
in the Northern Territory there is fishing as 'sport' where size and numbers measure success, and somnetimes 20 or so tagged fish are released and if you catch a taggie during the comp you win a monster money bonus...

but then it's a big game fishing, more than a sport really...

mimi said...

In Scotland otherwise sane grown men dress in extraordinary galoshes and stand in raging torrents for hours on end in the hope of catching a salmon. Odd.

DoctorShoot said...

and meanwhile catching salmonella from ingesting bait in mistake for lunch, and flu from icy water seeping into high boots...

guitougoal said...

that's why Dr Toxic is an indispensable member of the clique.

MotM said...

Doc - Fishing must be a sport. You've just reported the final score: Fish 2 Fishermen 0.

DoctorShoot said...

Mouth
only my own pathetic experiences of being idle on the bank then lured into more daring efforts and finally drenched and laughed at by the fish as they retire from another day's sport...

NESTA QUIN said...

What is sport? Always fond of the philosophical conundrum, Mouth.

Considering that the word sport is a hunting term, I suggest there should always be an element of violent expression when it comes to games that reach the lofty title of sport.

This violence can be perceived or imagined but it must always be lurking even if only in the sub-concious. It matters not how the winner is adjuged but only if someone could be injured and in some cases, maimed. The punters love it.

Sports must be somewhat dangerous and challenging in my definition.

I do agree that dancing be it with ribbons, in the water, in glitter or on skates is hardly sport. The violence factor is far too low.

Fishing and even fox hunting - a popular and necessary pastime with rifle from the back of a ute in Oz - could be sport. Not organised sport but still sport all the same.

This won't surprise anyone but drinking contests are considered sport in some parts. The Yard Glass Challenge is a major sporting event at Tasmanian Agricultural Shows. So is Woodchopping which is a fantastic sport to spectate.

Anyway, good thought provoking article I would like to write a bit more but time doesn't permit. Nice one Toots.

MotM said...

Cheers Nesta - incipient, restrained violence is certainly present in most sports. The learning of its control, then channelling is one of sport's greatest gifts to its participants and fans.

DoctorShoot said...

So javelin is in darts is out.

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