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Sport

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A sport consists of a physical activity or skill carried out with a recreational purpose: for competition, for self-enjoyment, to attain excellence, for the development of a skill, or some combination of these. A sport has physical activity, side by side competition, and a scoring system. The difference of purpose is what characterises sport, combined with the notion of individual (or team) skill or prowess.

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Contents

History of sport

Main article: History of sport

The development of sport throughout history can teach us a great deal about social changes, and about the nature of sport itself.

There are many modern discoveries in France, Africa, and Australia of cave art (see, for example, Lascaux) from prehistory which provide evidence of ritual ceremonial behaviour. Some of these sources date from over 30,000 years ago, as established by carbon dating. Although there is scant direct evidence of sport from these sources, it is reasonable to extrapolate that there was some activity at these times resembling sport.

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There are artifacts and structures which suggest that Chinese people engaged in activities which meet our definition of sport as early as 4000 BC. Gymnastics appears to have been a popular sport in China's past. Monuments to the Pharaohs indicate that a range of sports were well developed and regulated several thousands of years ago, including swimming and fishing. Other sports included javelin throwing, high jump, and wrestling. Ancient Persian sports such as the traditional Iranian martial art of Zurkhaneh had a close connection to the warfare skills. Among other sports which originate in Persia are Polo and jousting.

A wide range of sports were already established at the time of the Ancient Greece. Wrestling, running, boxing, javelin, discus throwing, and chariot racing were prevalent. This suggests that the military culture of Greece was an influence on the development of its sports and vice versa. The Olympic Games were held every four years in Ancient Greece, at a small village in Pelopponisos called Olympia.

Sport has been increasingly organised and regulated from the time of the Ancient Olympics up to the present century. Activities necessary for food and survival became regulated activities done for pleasure or competition on an increasing scale, for example hunting, fishing, horticulture. The Industrial Revolution and mass production brought increased leisure which allowed increases in spectator sports, less elitism in sports, and greater accessibility. These trends continued with the advent of mass media and global communication. Professionalism became prevalent, further adding to the increase in sport's popularity. Not only has professionalism helped increase the popularity of sports, but additionally the need to have fun and take a break from a hectic workday or to relieve unwanted stress, as with any profession.

A classification of sports

Main article: List of sports

One system for classifying sports is as follows, based more on the sport's aim than on the actual mechanics. The examples given are intended to be illustrative, rather than comprehensive.

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Racing

Opponent

Achievement

Sports Which Fall Into Multiple Categories

Sportsmanship

Sportsmanship is defined as "conduct and attitude considered as befitting participants, including a sense of fair play, courtesy toward teammates and opponents, a striving spirit, and grace in losing."

It is interesting that the motivation for sport is often an elusive element. For example, beginners in sailing are often told that dinghy racing is a good means to sharpen the learner's sailing skills. However, it often emerges that skills are honed to increase racing performance and achievements in competition, rather than the converse. Sportsmanship expresses an aspiration or ethos that the activity will be enjoyed for its own sake. The well-known sentiment by sports journalist Grantland Rice, that it's ?not that you won or lost but how you played the game," and the Modern Olympic creed expressed by its founder Pierre de Coubertin: "The most important thing . . . is not winning but taking part? are typical expressions of this sentiment.

But often the pressures of competition (See the related article, "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." or an obsession with individual achievement - as well as the intrusion of technology - can all work against enjoyment and fair play by participants.

People responsible for leisure activities often seek recognition and respectability as sports by joining sports federations such as the IOC, or by forming their own regulatory body. In this way sports evolve from leisure activity to more formal sports: relatively recent newcomers are BMX cycling, snowboarding, wrestling, etc. Some of these activities have been popular but uncodified pursuits in various forms for different lengths of time. Indeed, the formal regulation of sport is a relatively modern and increasing development.

Sportsmanship, within any given game, is how each competitor acts before, during, and after the competition. Not only is it important to have good sportsmanship if one wins, but also if one loses. For example, in football it is considered sportsmanlike to kick the ball out of play to allow treatment for an injured player on the other side. Reciprocally, the other team is expected to return the ball from the throw-in.

Compare Sportsmanship with Gamesmanship.

Violence in sports involves crossing the line between fair competition and intentional aggressive violence. Athletes, coaches, fans, and parents sometimes unleash violent behaviour on people or property, in misguided shows of loyalty, dominance, anger, or celebration.

Professionalism and the regulation of sport

The entertainment aspect of sport, together with the spread of mass media and increased leisure time, has led to professionalism in sport. This has resulted in some conflict, where the paycheck can be seen as more important than recreational aspects: or where the sport is changed simply to make it more profitable and popular therefore losing some of the traditions valued by some.

The successful execution of a sport requires the consensus agreement of the participants on a set of rules for fair competition. This has led to the control of each sport through a regulatory body to define what methods of competition are acceptable and what are considered cheating.

Sport and Politics

There have been many dilemmas for sports where a difficult political context is in place.

When apartheid was the official policy in South Africa, many sportspeople adopted the conscientious approach that they should not appear in competitive sports there. Some feel this was an effective contribution to the eventual demolition of the policy of apartheid, others feel that it may have prolonged and reinforced its worst effects.

The 1936 Summer Olympics held in Berlin was an illustration, perhaps best recognised in retrospect, where an ideology was developing which used the event to strengthen its spread through propaganda.

In the history of Ireland, Gaelic sports were connected with cultural nationalism. Even until the mid 20th century a person could have been banned from playing Gaelic football, hurling, or other sports administered by the GAA if s/he played or supported soccer, or other games seen to be of British origin. The GAA continue to ban the playing of soccer and rugby at Gaelic venues under the controversial Rule 42, although Gaelic games are frequently played on soccer and rugby arenas, particularly outside of Ireland. Until recently, under Rule 21, the GAA also banned members of the British security forces and members of the RUC, now reconstituted as the PSNI, from playing Gaelic games, but the advent of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 led to the eventual removal of the ban.

Nationalism in general is often evident in the pursuit of sport, or in its reporting: people compete in national teams, or commentators and audiences can adopt a partisan view. These trends are seen by some as contrary to the fundamental ethos of sport being carried on for its own sake, for the enjoyment of its participants.

See also: List of countries by national sport

Art and sport

Sport has many affinities with art. Ice skating and Tai chi, for example, are sports that come close to artistic spectacles in themselves: to watch these activities comes close to the experience of spectating at a ballet. Similarly, there are other activities that have elements of sport and art in their execution, such as performance art, artistic gymnastics, Bodybuilding, Parkour, Yoga, dressage, etc.

The fact that art is so close to sport in some situations is probably related to the nature of sport. The definition of "sport" above put forward the idea of an activity pursued not just for the usual purposes, for example, running not simply to get places, but running for its own sake, running as well as we can.

This is similar to a common view of aesthetic value, which is seen as something over and above the strictly functional value coming from an object's normal use. So an aesthetically pleasing car is one which doesn't just get from A to B, but which impresses us with its grace, poise, and charisma.

In the same way, a sporting performance such as jumping doesn't just impress us as being an effective way to avoid obstacles or to get across streams. It impresses us because of the ability, skill, and style which is shown.

Art and sport were probably more clearly linked at the time of Ancient Greece, when gymnastics and callesthenics invoked admiration and aesthetic appreciation for the physical build, prowess and 'arete' displayed by participants. The modern term 'art' as skill, is related to this ancient Greek term 'arete'. The closeness of art and sport in these times was revealed by the nature of the Olympic Games which, as we have seen, were celebrations of both sporting and artistic achievements, poetry, sculpture and architecture.

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Related topics

The following entries go into further detail into issues important to sport:

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