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In practical terms ‘sport’ is often defined by its social interpretation.

What we consider ‘sport’ in one instance may not be in another; sport takes on many forms and is constantly changing based upon societal norms, trends, and new directions. 1, 2, 3

In December 2023, there were 97 National Sporting Organisations (NSOs) and National Sporting Organisations for People with Disability (NSODs) recognised by the Australian Sports Commission and listed in the Australian Sports Directory.

Defining sport

Definitions of sport may also be accompanied by definitions for one or more closely related activities that are ‘not’ sport. 1

Mature age - golf


A human activity involving physical exertion and skill as the primary focus of the activity, with elements of competition or social participation where rules and patterns of behaviour governing the activity exist formally through organisations and is generally recognised as a sport. 2

Girls football

Organised sport

The degree of organisation or institutional structure that surrounds and influences the sport helps to distinguish whether an activity is classified as ‘organised sport’. 1, 4, 5, 6

Officiating women

Sport participation

A ‘sport participant’ is a person who engages in some way in a sporting activity or event, including playing/competing; coaching, officiating, administrating, or other enabling roles (paid or volunteer); and/or supporting (e.g., cheering, being a fan, etc.). 7

Lady in a gym lifting weights with a personal trainer

Physical activity

Any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that results in energy expenditure. 5

People looking to go surfing

Active recreation

Activities engaged in for the purpose of relaxation, health and wellbeing or enjoyment with the primary activity requiring physical exertion, and the primary focus on human activity. 2, 8

Further definitions

Many definitions of sport exist in dictionaries, policy documents, and research papers.

How Australians describe sport

Australians generally have a personal interpretation of what they consider sport, and in particular ‘organised sport’.

Related concepts

Terms (e.g., sport, recreation, physical activity, exercise) are often used interchangeably when they have similar structures and outcomes; and discretely to make a distinction of difference.

Future trends and perspectives

What will Australian and world sport look like in five, ten, or 30+ years? As society changes, what ‘sport’ looks like and its place in our culture, will also change.

  1. Sport participation settings: where and ‘how’ do Australians play sport, Eime, R., Harvey, J., Charity, M., BMC Public Health, 20, Article 1344, (2020).
  2. National Sport and Active Recreation Policy Framework, accepted by all Australian Governments, (2011).
  3. How Australians describe the value and benefits of sport, Australian Sports Commission, (July 2022).
  4. Sport, Recreation and Play, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), (2004).
  5. WHO guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour, World Health Organisation, (2020).
  6. Value and Benefits of Organised Sport: Research report, ORIMA for the Australian Sports Commission, (June 2022). [access may be restricted]
  7. Play Well: Australia’s Sport Participation Strategy, Australian sport sector, supported by the Australian Sports Commission, (November 2023).
  8. Every Body Active Strategic Plan 2020-2024, Sport New Zealand, (2020).
  9. Macquarie Dictionary [online], Macmillan Publishers, (accessed 9 January 2024).
  10. Revised European Sport Charter, Council of Europe, (adopted 13 October 2021).
  11. Implementation of a modified sport programme to increase participation: Key stakeholder perspectives, Buszard T, Oppici L, Westerbeek H,, Journal of Sports Sciences, Volume 38(8), pp.945-952, (March 2020).
  12. Modified Sports, Clearinghouse for Sport, (accessed 10 January 2024).
  13. Play more, enjoy more, keep playing; rugby is a simple game, Ben Jones, Ed Hope, Andrew Hammond,, International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching, Volume 16(3), pp. 636-645, (June 2021).
  14. Baskin – a new basketball-based sport for reverse-integration of athletes with disabilities: an analysis of the relative importance of player roles, Davide Sisti, Stefano Amatori, Roberto Bensi,, Sport in Society, Volume 24(2), pp.277-285, (2021).
  15. Informal Sport as a health and social resource, Ruth Jeanes, Justen O’Connor, Dawn Penney, et al., Monash University, (June 2023).
  16. Social 7s, Softball ACT, (accessed 10 January 2024).
  17. Women’s social smash, Play Cricket, (accessed 10 January 2024).
  18. Fun Fit: Women’s Social Water Polo, Water Polo NSW, (accessed 10 January 2024).
  19. Footy 9s, Australian Football International, (accessed 10 January 2024).
  20. FIBA 3x3 World Cup, Wikipedia, (accessed 10 January 2024).
  21. History of 3x3 Basketball, International Olympic Committee/FIBA, (accessed 10 January 2024).
  22. The rise and development of pole sports worldwide, Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF), (21 July 2020).
  23. International Pole Sports Federation [website], (accessed 10 January 2024).
  24. Esports, Wikipedia, (accessed 10 January 2024).
  25. The Future of Australian Sport. The second report: Megatrends shaping the sport sector over coming decades, CSIRO/Australian Sports Commission, (December 2022).
  26. Is An Esport Really a Sport? Phil Birch and Edgar Chekera, Psychology Today, (19 April 2020).
  27. eSports – Competitive sports or recreational activity? Hallmann, Kirstin; Giel, Thomas, Sport Management Review, Volume 21(1), (February 2018).
  28. Virtual(ly) athletes: Where eSports fit within the definition of “Sport”, Jenny S, Manning D, Keiper M and Olrich T, Quest, Volume 69(1), pp.1-18, (2017).
  29. Actually, Esports Is Sport: A Response to Parry’s (2019) Misguided View, Michael Naraine, Sports Innovation Journal, Volume 2, pp.33-44, (2021).
  30. Global Esports & Live Streaming Market Report, NewZoo, (March 2021).
  31. IF Gaming and Esports Strategy, Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF), (September 2019).
  32. Major determinants for International Federations to adopt esports as part of their digitalisation strategies, Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF), (2019).
  33. Olympic Agenda 2020+5: 15 recommendations, International Olympic Committee, (May 2020).
  34. How extreme skiing works, Tom Scheve, MapQuest Travel, (accessed 10 January 2024).
  35. Defining Extreme Sport: Conceptions and Misconceptions, Rhonda Cohen, Bahman Baluch, Linda Duffy, Frontiers in Psychology, Volume 9, (October 2018).
  36. To Analyze Thrill, Define Extreme Sports, Ralf Buckley, Frontiers in Psychology, Volume 9, (July 2018).
  37. Extreme sports, Encyclopaedia Britannica, (updated 13 November 2023).
  38. Editorial: Understanding Extreme Sports: A Psychological Perspective, Eric Brymer, Francesco Feletti, Erik Monasterio, et al., Frontiers in Psychology, Volume 10, (January 2020).
  39. Downhill skiing: winter sport, Encyclopaedia Britannica, (updated 28 December 2023).
  40. How extreme skiing works, Tom Scheve, MapQuest Travel, (accessed 10 January 2024).
  41. The Park and Recreation Professional’s Handbook, Hurd A, Anderson D, Human Kinetics, (2011).
  42. Active Impacts: The economic impacts of active recreation in Victoria, Marsden Jacob for Sport and Recreation Victoria, (March 2018).
  43. The value of community sport infrastructure: Investigating the value of community sport facilities to Australia, KPMG for the Australian Sports Commission, (2018).
  44. Monash Active Recreation Opportunities Strategy, City of Monash, (November 2021).
  45. The Play Return: A review of the wider impact of play initiatives, Gill T, commissioned by the Children’s Play Policy Forum, United Kingdom, (2014).
  46. Play, Psychology Today, (accessed 11 January 2024).
  47. You think you are too old to play? Playing games and aging, Bronkkowska M, Bronikowski M and Schott N, Human Movement, Volume 12(1), (2011).
  48. Play for adults, National Institute for Play, (accessed 11 January 2024).
  49. The Importance of Play for Adults, Saya Des Marais, PsychCentral, (updated November 2022).

Related Topics

Last updated: 12 January 2024
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