Any definition of sport can be controversial. In ordinary language, the word sport can be used to refer loosely to any contact sport, though the word is also used widely in other ways, referring to sports activities like swimming, cycling, rugby, golf, wrestling and gymnastics. In practical terms, however, sport is operationally defined as a set of activities whose goal is achievement of a course of physical exercise and competition.
The earliest roots of the concept of sport can be traced back to events and contests that took place in ancient Greece. Ancient Greece was a highly developed society where art, science, philosophy and athletics took root. One of the most famous of these activities was wrestling, which was closely associated with ancient Greek gods and deities. Ancient Greeks built huge wrestling contests that were regularly attended by large numbers of people, often including all the men, of a city or state. These large-scale competitions provided the ideal forum for all kinds of contests and fights, from boxing and unarmed combat to horse-riding and pankration.
Another very important preoccupation of ancient Greeks was the idea of camaraderie. Commonly associated with military activities, camaraderie in the Greek sense included an organized group of friends who practiced sports and shared recreational pursuits. One of the earliest recorded manifestations of such camaraderie came during the Peloponnesian War, when the Lacedaemonians and the Athenians would organize mock battles in order to practise their skills in war. Similar arrangements of camaraderie later took place between the Lydians and the Trojans in the second century BC, and it is therefore no wonder that in Roman times, whenever someone was unable to visit his family or his country for some reason, he was thought to be missing his sport. Such notions spread into European culture and soon became the basis for popular notions of amateur sporting events.
A number of years later, football and baseball made their way into English culture, and so did lacrosse, and the game called cockfighting. The public’s interest in these types of sports grew due to the fact that public drunkenness was becoming a serious social problem in many cities in England. In 1812 the first “boxing” competition was held in Great London, organized by the organizer John Jackson. Though not a real sport per se, it nonetheless became a favorite with the masses, with many people loathing the overly rough, masculine manner in which the matches were organized and promoted.
Athletic competition is the commonest and most famous kind of athletic activity. Since early man could not have done anything else, physical exertion was his only means of achieving a level of existence. Ancient man loved to exert himself, sometimes to excess, and he treasured every moment of exertion. Thus, the origin of the term “sportsmanship” can be traced back to the fact that ancient man loved to compete. Sports, however, should never be confused with merely exercising; sportsmanship requires a level of skill and athleticism which is the result of an individual’s own exertion. Therefore, while the modern sport of basketball may be enjoyed by all, it takes great skill to play tennis, and Great Britain has developed a number of skilled tennis players such as Andy Murray and Roger Federer.
Modern sport, in contrast, is largely governed by money and competitive matches. Professional sport is mostly concerned with financial success, often paying players astronomical fees and utilizing advanced technology to increase speed and strength. Professional sport is essentially business, though it sometimes reflects social status and class. Many people, in countries such as the United States and United Kingdom, are deeply passionate about their sport, and almost any type of competition can be considered a competition. However, this is a somewhat misleading definition, because sport can take many forms. For instance, polo and canoeing events, while not necessarily competitive games, are popular because of their nature, and polo and snooker are both regularly used as forms of exercise.