When is a sport no longer a sport but simply a game?

Last week I posed the question about the difference between a sport and a game: a question that sprang to mind having partially overheard a conversation on the canal towpath during last year’s Olympiad.
MO FARAH: Everything about him meets the truest definition of sportMO FARAH: Everything about him meets the truest definition of sport
MO FARAH: Everything about him meets the truest definition of sport

One dog walker was quite happily telling the other that all sports were just games really, following it up with the comment that he wasn’t really interested one way or another.

It got me thinking for the remainder of my morning trip.

But it was the morning of Super Saturday and by the time Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis and Greg Rutherford had weaved their collective magic, I had forgotten all about it.

Until last week, of course.

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And this week I have been challenged by a colleague to try and come up with a definitive answer.

So here goes ...

When I was sports editor of this newspaper, I firmly believed that if it wasn’t in the Olympics, it wasn’t sport.

But I have since decided that argument holds little water as many martial arts, true sports in my opinion, are not in the modern games.

And neither are any of the motor sports which attract such fanatical followers.

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Another argument about the classification of sport came from a sports editor of another newspaper who argued that if you could play your chosen sport with either a pint or a cigarette in one hand, what you were actually doing was playing a game, not a sport at all.

That seems fair enough to me and I think it is a fairly good yardstick, although David Bryant did manage to dominant the world of bowls for many years with a pipe dangling from his mouth!

After those two attempts to settle the discussion left things a little too open-ended for my liking I reverted to the dictionary.

For those of you under the age of 25 (clearly a light-hearted and sarcastic jibe), a dictionary is a book (ask your mum or dad what one of those is) which contains both the spelling and meaning of words.

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SPORT: A physical activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively.

GAME: An activity providing entertainment or amusement, a pastime.

Now, perhaps, we might be getting to the heart of the matter.

Most of my adult life, though no longer, has seen me engaged in writing about literally hundreds of different sports/games, while actively participating in just three on anything like a regular basis.

In my own life the three are running, golf and snooker.

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Running fits all the criteria of sport as defined in the definition above.

Golf is a physical activity and therefore, in my book, a sport.

Snooker? A game, nothing more nothing less. I love the game, but it cannot be sport if you use the definitions above.

So look to your own favourites and decide if you are a true sportsman ... or you just like games.

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I am sure that the simple definitions as set out previously will cause much debate.

And I know that many former colleagues both on my own sports desk and at sports desks around the country have their own views.

But, it may not surprise you to learn, I have a further angle to add to the arument.

And it goes back thousands of years to one of the most fascinating sporting venues I have ever visited – Olympia.

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This was a venue of such hero worship thousands of years ago that the adulation afforded to modern-day sportsmen and women pales into insignificance.

These were sportsman quite literally pilloried for cheating and able to command any favour they sought for winning.

They assumed almost god-like status in a culture that had a god for just about everything.

If you look at the sports contested in the Ancient Olympics you can see they have something very much in common.

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Briefly, the list typically includes events such as running – including races run in partial or full armour – chariot racing, long jump, javelin and discus throwing along with boxing, wrestling and pankration, a brutal mixture of both.

So what do they all have in common? Warfare and hunting, or put more simply, a means to stay alive.

Now look again at what it is that you do to fill your spare time. If it can keep you alive it is sport ... anything else is just a game!