The Definition of Sport

Any definition of sport can be highly controversial. In most practical terms however sport is defined by its strict social interpretation and its strong association with individual sporting activity, competitive and achievement-oriented goals, and a positive emotional response to participation in sporting events. Activities engaged in primarily for the pure purpose of fun, relaxation and health or for the pursuit of achievement and physical fitness, and the main focus of the activity or sport… The term sport can also be used to describe a set of related activities and sporting competitions involving contact sports (contact sports are those which involve players actively engaging in contact combat with each other) and non-sport physical activity… Sport can also be used to describe any activity that provides an element of competition such as horse racing, ice climbing, golf and squash.


The term sport is increasingly being applied to describe different types of activities and sports. Many people are familiar with the term but less familiar with some of the common terms. Some of these are described below. This is an interactive list of some commonly used terms relating to sport. Some of these descriptions may be considered as definitive definitions of the meaning of sport. When adding to this list or new meaning of sport is sought, it is recommended that reference be made to an authoritative source that has detailed discussions on the subject.

Physical Activity This includes the performance of a series of physical actions in which the participant has little or no control over the outcome. The activities are normally repetitive in nature and involve competition, with a prize or monetary prize generally being the aim or incentive for participants. This definition is inclusive of games such as tennis, golf, swimming, rugby and skiing, but does not exclude other more popular activities such as cycling, climbing, skating, gymnastics and other physical exertion. Consistent with this definition is the fact that sport involves continual interaction between people. It can also include competitive games such as chess, baseball and badminton.

Physical Performance The ability to engage in a prolonged bout of physical activity with minimal impact to the body and minimal effort is the basis of performance. A sport which requires sprinting, jumping, diving or any other type of extreme physical movement is usually considered to be a sport. This is clearly defined in the Olympic Games and other major sports competitions.

Physical Exercise Having a defined set of measurable physical actions to participate in provides the basis for assessing sport. There are different types of sport, which include motor sport, stationary sport and contact sport. Motor sport involves motor vehicle racing, motorcycle racing and Formula One racing while contact sport includes boxing, rugby, ice skating, hockey, American football, soccer, wrestling, softball, surfing, skiing and climbing.

Competitive Bouts The definition of sport can also include competitive bouts where there is no artificial competitive equipment or participation by teams. Examples of these would be wrestling, surfing, rugby and boxing. There is a growing trend for women participating in sports that men traditionally dominate. Examples of these include breaststroke and breastathlon. Women’s World Championships, swimming events and other forms of competitive exchanges are increasing in popularity.