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What is Sport?

Prepared by: Christine May, Senior Research Consultant, Clearinghouse for Sport
Reviewed by: Australasian Sport Information Network
Last updated: 08 July 2021
Content disclaimer: See Clearinghouse for Sport disclaimer

Any definition of ‘sport’ can be contentious. In practical terms ‘sport’ has been operationally defined by its social interpretation as well as its strong association with physical exertion and performance measures.

What we perceive as ‘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. Equally important, if a physical activity is ‘not sport’, what is it? And what relationship does it have to sport?

Defining sport

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

Mature age - golf

Sport

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.

Girls football

Organised sport

The degree of organisational structure that surrounds and influences the sport helps to distinguish whether an activity is classified as ‘organised sport’.

Officiating women

Sport participation

Sport participation is not easily defined and will often depend on how it is perceived by the observer. As a guide, a ‘sport participant’ is a person who takes part in a sporting activity, whether in a formal or informal capacity. Some examples of sport participation can be described by a particular role performed in sport (including playing and non-playing roles), such as an athlete (or player), coach (or trainer, instructor), or official (or umpire, referee). There are many roles in sport, and these can be volunteer or paid. How a person describes their engagement (such as solo or group, impromptu or scheduled, or the place/setting) can also help to determine if their sport participation is organised or not.

Sport participation settings: where and ‘how’ do Australians play sport, Eime, R., Harvey, J. & Charity, M. BMC Public Health 20, 1344 (2020).

Physical activity

Any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that results in energy expenditure. It can be undertaken in many different ways.

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.

Further definitions

The first English language use of the word ‘sport’ to mean a game involving physical exercise appeared in the mid-1500’s.

Sport as a concept

Our concept of sport can be viewed as a continuum of interacting relationships between organisations and individuals.

Related concepts

Currently ‘sport’ tends to take on the look of traditional (standard) sports; modified sports designed to attract targeted audiences; or, social sports having various motivations at their roots. Many terms (i.e. sport, recreation, physical activity, exercise) are 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, ‘sport’—what it looks like and its place in our culture—will also change.

Future of Australian sport
A megatrend represents an important pattern of social, economic, or environmental change.

Market segmentation study
Market Segmentation studies provide insights regarding what motivates (or fails to) individuals to engage in sport and sport clubs.

AusPlay survey
The data tracked by AusPlay helps the sector better understand the participation landscape and identify strategies to grow participation.

International practice
International strategies, policies, programs, reports and research relating to the future of sport.

Is this information complete?

The Clearinghouse for Sport is a sector-wide knowledge sharing initiative, and as such your contributions are encouraged and appreciated. If you would like to suggest a resource, submit a publication, or provide feedback on this topic, please contact us.

Alternatively, if you would like to be kept up to date with research and information published about this topic, please request a research profile setup.

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