What Classifies as a Sport?

What factors make an activity a sport, and should activities like speech and debate be included?

Allister McLeod, Editor of Student Opinion

People have long debated whether certain activities should be classified as sports. Things like cheer, gymnastics, chess, Esports, speech and debate, and golf are labeled by some as sports, but completely rejected by others. The question of what must be part of an activity for it to truly be classified as a sport has many different answers, and is especially relevant to students engaging in some of these highly debated activities, like Horizon’s speech and debate team, which recently competed in the ASDCA Division 2 Winter Trophy Tournament.

To determine whether or not something is a sport, it’s necessary to have a definition or list of elements to use. A quick Google search defines a sport as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” This definition covers most of the activities that are almost always agreed on as sports, but creates a conflict with many of the commonly debated activities. Things like chess and speech and debate both involve competition and are done for entertainment, but neither requires much physical exertion. Esports would also fall into this category. These sports fit half of the requirements, but not all of it, making it hard to classify them either way. However, this definition of a sport is far from the only one.

A more specific definition, provided by the Global Association of International Sports Federations, provides a different list of what it takes for activities to be included with sports. GAISF lists five main elements that are classified as a sport: some element of competition, no purposeful reliance on luck, no serious risk to the health of participants, no harm to living creatures, and the ability to be widely played, without depending on equipment from a single manufacturer. This definition excludes any mention of necessary physical exertion, making it possible to include chess, speech and debate, and esports as sports, but it brings up conflict in other areas. Activities like football and gymnastics are known for leading to many injuries, but are still regarded as sports by most people. People could also argue that activities like horseback riding lead to animals being harmed, which would discount them as well. Another organization, the Arizona Interscholastic Association, lists all of these debated activities, including speech and debate, as sports, without giving a definition for what does and doesn’t count.

Depending on the definition used, many debated activities could both be classified as sports or seen as hobbies and games. Even activities that are widely accepted as being sports, like football, don’t line up with some rules and regulations. In the end, there are multiple different ways people could determine between sports and other activities, and whether something counts as a sport or not is entirely dependent on what each person thinks a sport is.