Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Sport or competition?

Despite what my creative writing might indicate, I haven't been watching the Winter Olympics. I saw about 30 minutes of ice dancing Sunday night, sticking with it only because the couples kept falling down. Hilarious!

Ice dancing is like ballroom dancing, except the costumes are thinner and include skates. The comparison is appropriate -- even though there are no Olympic medals awarded for ballroom dancing -- because neither is a sport. Sure, they require fitness, training, and a mix of born talent and learned skill, as do sports. But they're not sports; they're competitions.

What separates the two? Sports have two main distinctions:

1. Objective outcomes. Sporting results are defined and ruled by numerical superiority; winners kick or shoot the most goals, score the most points, hit the most runs, throw something the greatest distance, reach the finish line fastest, etc. While there is officiating in some sports, it exists mostly to enforce rules, not to determine the outcome.

Competitions like ice dancing, ballroom dancing, figure skating, and gymnastics, however, are judged subjectively. Sure, there may be general criteria, and the best judges have well-trained eyes and can break a performance down to a science, but it's still a personal science. Also competitions: boxing and diving.

2. No diva behavior. Based on its female operatic roots, "diva" is a term generally reserved for women, but I think the term applies to men as well. Sure, Elton John and Johnny Weir are divas, but so are Kanye West and Bode Miller. Divas are to be expected and even encouraged in competitions, but they have no place in sport. Prime example: Terrell Owens is a diva in football, and look where it's gotten him.

The two main attractions on TV tonight are competitions: women's figure skating and women's finalists on American Idol. Should you watch either, don't be surprised if a competitor embraces divahood to distinguish herself, or at least gets described that way.

By making these distinctions, I realize that I'm classifying NASCAR, golf, and bowling as sports. I'm okay with that. I'm not suggesting that a sport requires more athletic ability than a competition; I'm just pointing out an easy way to separate sports from all other competitive events.

Comments and exceptions to the rule are welcome.


K-Lyn said...

You forgot my personal rule for Sport vs Not Sport...Ask yourself if it is possible to drink or smoke while doing it. If you answered yes, it is not a sport.

But now I ask, since this question pops up (mostly with answers that echo yours) every 4 years. Where is it written that only Sports are included in the Olympics? They are the Olympic Games are they not? Should we instead be asking if everything included can be described as a game? Because if so, I want to see Olympic Dodgeball!!

Neel Mehta said...

Where is it written that only Sports are included in the Olympics?

Good question. As far as I'm concerned, the Olympics aren't and shouldn't be limited to sports. It already includes boxing, figure skating, diving, and a few other subjectively judged athletic events. No reason they shouldn't add, say, ballroom dancing.

I want to see Olympic Dodgeball!!

Now I don't know about that. Maybe if it were co-ed, like in the movie...

Quinn said...

I was under the impression that they were planning to add ballroom dancing.

Yup, it's now an Olympic "sport."

Neel Mehta said...

You sure about that?

The Olympic trend is to become exclusive rather than inclusive when it comes to new events. No golf, no ballroom dancing, no more baseball.

Quinn said...

I stand corrected. Except I'm sitting. Because I'm so very very lazy.

Anonymous said...

Fine, but what distinction can be drawn between Sports and Games? Is Scrabble a sport? Or a game? Bowling? Lawn Darts? Checkers? Monopoly? Ro Sham Bo? Spelling? Competitive Eating? Frisbee Golf? Jeopardy?