According to the Oxford English Dictionary a sport is classified as “An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment”, and “An occasion on which people compete in various athletic activities”.
SportAccord, the international sports federation association, determines what should be considered as sport based on the following criteria:
- The sport proposed should include an element of competition.
- The sport should not rely on any element of “luck” specifically integrated into the sport.
- The sport should not be judged to pose an undue risk to the health and safety of its athletes or participants.
- The sport proposed should in no way be harmful to any living creature.
- The sport should not rely on equipment that is provided by a single supplier.
SportAccord also recognizes that sports can be:
- Primarily physical (like athletics)
- Primarily mind-based (like chess or bridge)
- Primarily motorized (like Nascar and F1)
- Primarily coordination-based
- Primarily animal-supported (like equestrian activities).
The International Olympic Committee classifies activities as a sport based on their adherence to seven criteria: General, Governance, History/Tradition, Universality, Popularity, Athletes, Development, and Finance. And while they are not included in as events at the Olympic Games, the IOC also recognizes other activities, like chess and bridge, as sports through their membership to a governing national sports federation.
Sports pundit Jordan Bussanich classifies an activity as a sport if it conforms to the following requirements:
- Possibility of career ending injury (must be doable while competing in the sport),
- Involvement of all four limbs while performing the primary task of the sport (even if just for balance)
- An objective scoring system (i.e. no judges, but referees/etc. are okay)
The reality is that all of these classifications of what constitutes a sport are equally correct in their own way. These extremely varied definitions of what constitutes a sport only furthers the idea that the classification of an activity as a sport is a social construct where artificial constraints are used to group activities together as either being a sport or not.
A bigger question that needs to be asked is whether organizations like the IOC, AccordSport, other “sports” governing bodies, or anyone at all has the authority to definitively classify something as a sport or not. AccordSport for example has only accepted 5 mind sports into their classification of sports even though there are many more that should be considered as such under their definition.
Although whether or not golf is a sport has been discussed before, its inclusion in the upcoming 2016 Olympic Summer Games in Rio has presented an opportunity to revisit the subject.
Golf can be classified as a sport in the context of the definitions outlined above just as much as chess, bridge, motor racing, and Starcraft can be.
So while Golf can, by some metrics, be considered a sport, its inclusion as an Olympic Event is overreaching. Though Golf requires players to be extremely physically dexterous to compete at a high level there is little evidence of Golf requiring a similarly high level of physical athleticism. Popular Science measured a round of Golf while carrying your clubs to expend just 721 calories. “Data also suggested that players went past their anaerobic thresholds after walking through two uphill holes (feeling the burn).” This is hardly akin to the activities of runners, cyclists, and swimmers (or those that do all three in one event).
This is not to say that there are not sports already included in the Olympic Games which fail to be extremely demanding. Shooting at the Summer Olympics is a sport which requires an extremely high level of physical dexterity but next to no physical athleticism. In comparison, Biathlon at the Winter Olympics takes the high physical dexterity of shooting and combines it with the extreme athleticism of Cross Country Skiing.
So while shooting has no more right to be in the Olympics than Golf, its existing inclusion in the Olympics (and its historical value as a measure of battle/hunting skill) means that it is harder to remove a sport than it would be to include a new one. New sports being added to Olympic Event roster should be rigorously analysed to see how they measure up against the most demanding sports which are already Olympic Events.
The Olympic Games are the pinnacle of world sports competition and the benchmark by which other sporting activities are measured. The inclusion of Golf into the hallowed folds of Olympic sporting events lowers the bar for sports at the Olympics going forward. When athletes march into the Olympic stadium to represent their country at the worlds most revered sporting event do we really want the best runners, cyclists, and swimmers walking in alongside those who compete in collared shirts and Khaki pants?