Sports Law Blog
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Monday, September 28, 2009
Defining sport: An illustration

From Kris Lines, who heads the Sports Law Program at Staffordshire University in the UK, comes this animated video on the issue of defining sport. It pointed out one additional reason for defining something as sport: At least in the UK, financial considerations (lower taxes and subsidies) turn on whether an activity is sport or merely exercise or a pasttime. And we already know the definition may determine things such as tort liability and Title IX compliance. In other words, this may be more than a parlor game--genuine consequences may attach to the answer to "what is sport".

Two quibbles: First, the video suggests that a definitional problem is created because some activities can be done either as sport or as a mere pasttime. For example, if a person rides his bike as fast as he can in a race it's a sport; if he rides leisurely going to school or work, it's not. Fair point, as far as it goes. But I think the key is whether the overall activity would be a sport (however defined) if played in a competitive environment, not whether the activity could be a sport in some environments and not others. Basketball clearly is a sport, even if I am just shooting the ball at home.

Second, the video looks to the IOC definition, which famously (and despite litigation in Canada) excludes women's ski jumping, although men's ski jumping is in the Olympics. But the IOC is not purporting to define sport in the abstract, only those sports that are staged at the Olympics. And determinations are not made based on criteria aimed at the "essence" of sport, but of pragmatic considerations of how to stage a good competition. Ski jumping is a sport, no matter who is participating. The IOC just concluded there is not enough interest in it from the women's side to stage a successful (and well-watched) competition.

Anyway, enjoy.



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