Any definition of sport can be controversial. In practical terms, sport is defined by its sociological interpretation and its strong relationship with performance and physical exertion measures. These are considered to be the key elements of sport. The sociological perspective of sport is the one that places the importance of sport in the larger context of society and the contemporary state of its people. This would include the status of women in sport and the place of sport in the greater cultural traditions of a country.
A sport can also be considered as a set of activities that have been consciously chosen, and developed, for the purposes of providing contact or exercise with a set of objectives, some of which are competitive, some of which are social, and some of which are directed toward particular ends. These ends may include protection from harm, participation in competition, and pursuit of some form of reward. The definition of sport therefore will depend on its purpose, and the ways in which it is defined.
The definition of sport therefore will not be complete without reference to the activities performed by the athletes and teams. These definitions also bear witness to the history of sports. A sport can thus be said to be defined by those whose actions define it in the sporting sense. The activities that define sports can themselves be categorized by sport history. Thus, there are four different phases in the development of sports, and there are four different types of sports: the sporting, the competitive, the neutral, and the non-sporting activities.
The sporting activity involves physical exertion, competitive spirit, and skill. This definition includes games such as soccer, baseball, basketball, tennis, golf, swimming, sledding, and horseback riding. The term’sport’ is therefore not always used to imply that the events themselves qualify as sports; for example, polo matches and sailing do not engage physical exertion, but they are sportsmanship. The sporting definition is therefore more inclusive of all activities that involve athletic contest, even if these involve physical exertion.
The second definition of sport is that of the competitive sports. It includes games such as ice skating, swimming, rugby, American football, and Australian foot ball. The sport element of the competitive sports definition includes a degree of skill in applying physical strategies and applying superior physical exertion. It is this application of skill that distinguishes the games from traditional games such as bowling, horse-riding, and wind-sailing. The competition inherent in these games may be further subverted by an element of chance, with the competitors depending solely on skill.
Finally, the third and most vague definition of sport is that of the non-sporting activity. This is, however, an exception to the general principle that there is a need to engage in some physical activity in order to be a sport. In fact, the requirement to physically engage in some activity does not extend to non-sportive pursuits. For example, if someone wants to go sailing, they have every right to do so; they have no need to take part in a game of basketball, because both are essentially non-sporting activities. Sport is thus a word used in a very elastic sense, covering a wide range of possibilities.