What is Sport?

What is Sport?

Prepared by : Dr Ralph Richards and Christine May, Senior Research Consultants, Clearinghouse for Sport
Reviewed by network : Australian Sport Information Network (AUSPIN); July 2020
Last updated : 30 July 2020
Content disclaimer : See Clearinghouse for Sport disclaimer
What is Sport?
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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

The etymology of the word ‘sport’ comes from the Old French ‘desport’, meaning leisure.  The oldest definition in the English language dates from around 1300 and means ‘anything humans find amusing or entertaining’ [source: Wikipedia]. The first English language use of the word ‘sport’ to mean a game involving physical exercise appeared in the mid-1500’s [source: Online Etymology Dictionary].  

Many definitions of sport exist. The definitions offered may also be accompanied by definitions for one or more similar, closely related, activity(s) that are ‘not sport’. Some examples include:  

  • A human activity involving physical exertion and skill as the primary focus of the activity, with elements of competition where rules and patterns of behaviour governing the activity exist formally through organisations and is generally recognised as a sport. Active recreation activities are those 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 [National Sport and Active Recreation Policy Framework, accepted by all Australian Governments, (2011)].
  • All forms of physical activity which, through casual or organised participation, aim at expressing or improving physical fitness and mental wellbeing, forming social relationships or obtaining results in competition at all levels [The European Sport Charter, European Union, (16 May 2011)].
  • All forms of physical activity that contribute to physical fitness, mental wellbeing and social interaction (including casual, organised or competitive sport and indigenous sports or games). Sport involves rules or customs and sometimes competition. 'Play' (especially for children) is any physical activity that is fun and participatory, often unstructured and free from adult direction. 'Recreation' is more organised than play, and generally entails physically active leisure activities. Play, recreation, and sport are all freely chosen activities undertaken for pleasure [Sport, Recreation and Play, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), (2004)].

The degree of organisational structure that surrounds and influences a physical activity usually helps to distinguish whether an activity is classified as ‘sport’, ‘active recreation’, ‘physical activity’, ‘exercise’, or any number of other terms. Sport activities are usually structured so that one or more of these conditions are satisfied:

  1. Individual or team performance is compared to another individual/team; or one’s own performance is compared to a past performance or a recognised standard (i.e. benchmark).
  2. Performances are achieved under known circumstances; rules are used as standards (i.e. how the activity is conducted, time and space limitations, use of equipment, etc.).
  3. A recognised organisational structure oversees the process.  Typically, organisations determine the rules, determine what an outcome means, record and compare results, and oversee the overall organisation and delivery of the activity.

These three conditions add a sense of formality or structure to ‘sport’ that may not be present in other forms of ‘similar looking’ activities, such as active recreation or exercise. 

For example, a group of people who meet in a common place (e.g. park, sports field, or backyard) and enter into a game of football would be engaged in 'social sport'. 'Social' because the element of organisational supervision is minimal, but 'sport' because the elements of competition (albeit the friendly nature of such competition) and rules are present. If the same group of individuals were registered in a football club and trained/played in an organised and structured competition under the supervision of a referee; they would be engaged in 'organised sport'.  In each case the individuals may perform the same skills, produce the same physical exertion, and may realise the same personal benefits (e.g. health, fitness, personal satisfaction, etc.).

More information about 'organised sport' is available in the Clearinghouse for Sport Structure of Australian Sport and Sport Participation in Australia topics.  

Overall, the current defining elements of 'sport' are that it is – physical (exertion and/or skill), competitive/has rules, and organised (e.g. governing bodies). These elements set sport apart from similar looking physical activities that are ‘not sport’ but may have similar aims/outcomes (e.g. physical fitness, mental wellbeing, relaxation, social interaction, etc.).

Where possible, direct links to full-text and online resources are provided. However, where links are not available, you may be able to access documents directly by searching our licenced full-text databases (note: user access restrictions apply). Alternatively, you can ask your institutional, university, or local library for assistance—or purchase documents directly from the publisher. You may also find the information you’re seeking by searching Google Scholar.


  • What constitutes a sport? BBC Teach, (accessed 16 July 2020). Provides an overview of how Sport England evaluates sports for recognition, including the cases of darts (recognised as a sport) and bridge (not recognised as a sport. Also provides a brief overview of the history of some sports in the Olympic movement (first sports, women in sport, former sports, and modern sports). 
  • What is 'sport'? United Nations Inter-agency Taskforce on Sport for Development and Peace, sportanddev.org, (accessed 16 July 2020). In the area of Sport & Development, ‘sport’ is generally understood to include physical activities that go beyond competitive sports. “Incorporated into the definition of ‘sport’ are all forms of physical activity that contribute to physical fitness, mental well-being and social interaction. These include: play; recreation; organized, casual or competitive sport; and indigenous sports or games.”


  • The European Sport Charter, European Union, adopted by the Committee of Ministers, (24 September 1992; revised 16 May 2011). ‘Sport’ means all forms of physical activity which, through casual or organised participation, aim at expressing or improving physical fitness and mental wellbeing, forming social relationships or obtaining results in competition at all levels. 
    • Sports that we recognise, Sport England, (accessed 4 September 2018). As an example of how the European Sport Charter definition can be used the UK Sport Councils (Sport England, Sports Scotland, Sport Wales, Sport Northern Ireland, and UK Sport) use it as the basis of determining the eligibility of organisations for sport recognition/funding. The sport councils themselves do not have a specific definition of 'sport' but determine if a sport under consideration meets the definition of sport as per the Charter. Additionally they look at if the sport is well established and organised within the jurisdiction. 
  • Finding the Roots of Sport (PDF - 2.5 MB), Bouverat M and Chevalley A, Olympic Museum and Education and Development Foundation, Educational Kit (2005). 'Sport' is understood to mean all forms of physical activity that contribute to physical fitness, mental well-being and social interaction. A 'Game' is a physical or mental activity whose only purpose is the pleasure obtained from practising it.
  • The Future of Sport in Australia (PDF - 14.4 MB), Crawford D, Independent Sport Panel, Australian Government, (2009). This review of the Australian sports system does not define ‘sport’ per se, but the report does offer a working definition of what Australia’s ‘sporting success’ should look like in the future. The panel considered the goals and aspirations of Australian sport at both elite and participatory levels, accounting for projected economic and demographic changes and the changing nature of how society views sport and physical activity.
  • Information Paper: Defining Sport and Physical Activity, a Conceptual Model (PDF - 595 KB), Australian Bureau of Statistics, Catalogue Number 4149.0.55.001 (2008). This paper presents a conceptual model defining key concepts commonly used in survey research on sport and other physical activities. The aim of developing a conceptual model is to aid interpretation and future development of surveys in this field. The conceptual model also helps to illustrate the similarities, differences, and overlap of sport, physical recreation, and exercise.  
    1. Sport is an activity involving physical exertion, skill and/or hand-eye coordination as the primary focus of the activity, with elements of competition where rules and patterns of behaviour governing the activity exist formally through organisations.(p. 8)
    2. Physical Recreation is an activity or experience that involves varying levels of physical exertion, prowess and/or skill, which may not be the main focus of the activity, and is voluntarily engaged in by an individual in leisure time for the purpose of mental and/or physical satisfaction.
    3. Organised Sport or Organised Recreation are activities delivered by a club or association or other body; such as a sporting club, social club, church group, workplace, or gymnasium. An organised activity may vary from a one-off fun run or bush walk, to an organised ongoing sporting competition.
    4. Physical Activity is any bodily movements performed by skeletal muscles that result in an increase in energy expenditure.
  • National Sport and Active Recreation Policy Framework (PDF - 1.0 MB), accepted by all Australian Governments, (2011). The NSARPF offers this definition of sport: “A human activity involving physical exertion and skill as the primary focus of the activity, with elements of competition where rules and patterns of behaviour governing the activity exist formally through organisations and is generally recognised as a sport.” The NSARPF also defines ‘physical recreation’ as: “Active recreation activities are those 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.”
  • Sport, Recreation and Play, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report, (2004). This report defines ‘sport’ as all forms of physical activity that contribute to physical fitness, mental wellbeing and social interaction. These include casual, organised or competitive sport; and indigenous sports or games. Sport involves rules or customs and sometimes competition. 'Play', especially among children, is any physical activity that is fun and participatory, often unstructured and free from adult direction. 'Recreation' is more organised than play, and generally entails physically active leisure activities. Play, recreation, and sport are all freely chosen activities undertaken for pleasure.
  • The White Paper on Sport and Recreation for the Republic of South Africa (PDF - 10.1 MB), Sport & Recreation South Africa, (2013). Provides a section on clarifying 'sport', 'active recreation' and 'passive recreation' [p.9-10]. The focus of Sport & Recreation South Africa (SRSA) is the physical well-being of the nation, so the focus is on supporting sport and active recreation. 


  • Play and work: An introduction to sport and organization, Vermeulena J, Kosterb M, Loosa E and van Slobbea M, Culture and Organization, Volume 22(3), (2016). This article provides an introduction to a series of papers appearing in the journal Culture and Organization which look at the way sport is used as a tool for social organisation. Sport as a social practice has become relevant in many different fields, such as health, economy, politics, education, work and leisure. The importance of sport transcends the confines of the sports field because sport involves not only organisation, but also organising. Sport becomes a social platform for organising collective efforts, performance and excellence. Professional and commercial sport have become big business, and the economic and political dimensions of sport are often intertwined. Sport also has a playful side that emphasises the activity itself, the pleasure of taking part, and the joy and friendship it entails. We thus perceive sport as both work and play and this gives social scientists an opportunity to rethink social relationships in the context of how sport is organised.
  • The Sports Participation: From research to sports policy, Puig N, Physical Culture and Sport, Studies and Research, Volume 70(1), (2016). The way we examine sport depends upon the context – social, economic, political, cultural – many relationships exist. This paper discusses research issues in the field of sports participation; first the author offers a definition of ‘sport’ based upon the 1992 European Sports Charter. “Sport means all forms of physical activity which, through casual or organised participation, aim at expressing or improving physical fitness and mental wellbeing, forming social relationships, or obtaining results in competition at all levels.” However, there are no limitations within this definition; for example, is recreational walking or jogging considered a sport? Consistent interpretation of the definition of sport has a profound effect on survey research and the analysis of trends in participation. 

Sport as a concept

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

A Modern View of Sport

Fig 1. [Source: Sport Australia (formerly Australian Sports Commission)]

Sport in its many forms has at its roots the fundamental principles of body movement and physical activity that contribute to our life experience. Human movement relies upon complex physiological processes and mechanical / neuro-muscular actions that are refined as part of our growth and development processes. Body movements (to a large extent) are learnt behaviours, so the acquisition of movement skills, body control and overall physical fitness are part of the process of becoming ‘physically literate’.

Sport, physical education (as one of many delivery mechanisms for these learnt skills), play, and recreational physical activity all provide pathways for the acquisition and refinement of human movement.

Physical literacy involves holistic lifelong learning through movement and physical activity. It delivers physical, psychological, social and cognitive health and wellbeing benefits [source: Australian Physical Literacy Framework, Sport Australia, (2019)]. 

Participating in sport activities becomes possible as an outgrowth of learning basic movement skills (also known as fundamental movement skills), and this is part of one’s lifetime growth and physical development process. Because physical literacy is a learning process, many elements of physical literacy have been incorporated into the school curriculum as part of ‘physical education’. Not only is physical literacy widely seen as the overall aim of physical education, but it is also being appreciated as a concept relevant throughout the lifecourse by those in medicine, psychology and social sciences. The influence of physical literacy on a person’s development is a concept that continues to be investigated and better understood.

More information can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport Physical Literacy and Sport topic or on Sport Australia's website

Compulsory school attendance provides a consistent opportunity for all children, regardless of their socio-economic circumstance or locality, to receive quality instruction and experiences in physical movement skills and participate in both individual and group (team) physical activities.  It is well documented that children who develop movement competencies have a much greater chance of participating in physical activity and sport during childhood, adolescence, and throughout life. 

School time also provides an opportunity for all children to achieve the nationally recommended amount of daily physical activity, and these objectives are reflected in the current physical education curriculum. Australian children in kindergarten to year-6 should receive a minimum of 25 – 30 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity as part of a planned physical education and sport program.  From year-7 to year-10, schools must provide students with a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity as part of planned physical education and sport programs.

Delivery of physical education programs may vary from one jurisdiction to another and within jurisdictions from one school to another. The recommended national curriculum teaches students how to enhance their own and others’ health, wellbeing and physical activity participation in varied and changing contexts by integrating contemporary, relevant, challenging, enjoyable, and physically active instruction. The acquisition of movement skills, concepts, and strategies that enable students to confidently, competently and creatively participate in a range of physical activities is achieved through games, sports, and physical activities delivered as part of the overall curriculum [source: Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA)].  

The Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation (ACHPER) is a professional association advocating for quality health & physical education curriculum, supporting professional learning of teachers and promoting active and healthy lifestyles for all Australians. In response to the draft national curriculum, ACHPER identified that the term ‘sport’, as an educational phenomenon, is under-represented in the curriculum, as there are very few references to ‘sport’. Further comment is made by ACHPER that a learning area called ‘physical education and sport’ exists in many parts of the world. Given the reference to sport as a key aspect of Australian culture it seems incongruous that the national curriculum would not provide a stronger and clearer recognition of the contribution made by ‘sport’. [source: ACHPER Response to ACARA - Australian Curriculum: Health and Physical Education (PDF - 224 KB), 2013]

The challenges faced by the physical education curriculum in Australian schools include: (1) competition with other curriculum areas for time, (2) control of specific content and delivery, (3) lack of performance outcomes or performance benchmarks at the school level, and (3) inconsistencies in the level of support and resources provided to teachers.  The structure and resources that organised sports have at their disposal may (in many cases) be recruited to complement the work done in schools and provide a platform for the delivery of broader physical literacy and physical education objectives.

More information can be found in the Clearinghouse for Sport Sport in Education topic. 

An athlete pathway spans the entire continuum of athletic development – from acquiring fundamental movement skills to initial/continued participation in sports programs and (in some cases) to competing at an elite level. Whether or not the pathway leads an athlete into elite competition, the skills and experiences acquired along the way help to support lifetime participation in physical activity and sport. This is the rationale that underpins the Foundation. Talent, Elite, Mastery (FTEM) framework, which provides a holistic view of athlete development.

Detailed information about the FTEM Framework is available on the Australian Institute of Sport website.  

A considerable amount of research has focused on identifying the ideal trajectory of an athlete from novice to elite competitor. Understanding this process allows a sport organisation to put in place effective support and delivery systems that optimise an individual’s chances of progressing to the next level and ultimately to the highest level that his/her ability and circumstances will allow. A large number of factors influence the process and impact upon the outcome; including (but not limited to) the quality of the daily training environment, access to competition, coaching, and sports science/sports medicine support. 

The recognition that such a framework exists and is an important part of the sport structure, is one of the things that sets ‘sport’ apart from ‘physical activity’.

More information about Athlete Pathways and Development is available in the Clearinghouse for Sport topic. .

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.

'Social sport' is a term used to identify one's engagement in sport in a less formal (i.e. anytime, anywhere) context. The motivation for participation and the personal and social outcomes of participation can vary from one individual to another. Social sport usually places less emphasis on performance results and their meaning and more emphasis on the relationships between participants. Although the element of competition is often present in social sport, it is generally not controlled or sanctioned by a governing body.

Social sports may have many of the elements of modified or recreational sports, and a similar look and feel to standard or traditional sports. Social sports may incorporate the elements of competition and rules, but they form a different relationship when compared to traditional sports.  This is because there is no governing organisation to influence the participants' intent, or assign external value to any competition outcome.

People engage in social sport for many reasons, most of them intrinsic, for example: enjoyment; personal health and fitness; emotional wellbeing (feeling good); and social interaction (inclusion and friendship). The motivation for engaging in social sport may be very personal or simply a means of engaging with other people, with sport as a convenient setting.

Beach cricket and the many forms of backyard cricket (i.e. house rules) are good examples of a social sport that has been part of Australia’s culture for generations. Local rules are agree upon, scores are kept, and the game can be very competitive – but, is it ‘sport’ without the involvement of a governing organisation? Most Australians would answer ‘yes’ to this question because social sport has such an inclusive meaning.

National sporting organisations increasingly view the social sport market as a way to increase their brand appeal, satisfy consumer demand, create a long-term affiliation with their (potential) customer, and engage a wide range of ability levels within a single sporting context. A common strategy underpinning a social sport product is to reduce the premium placed upon acquired skill level and experience, while highlighting the social and fitness components of the activity. This approach is intended to create a wider appeal to different ages and persons having different skill levels; encouraging them to participate together.

The below examples illustrate how a standard sport can become more social (Barefoot Bowls, AFL 9’s) and a social sport (Basketball 3x3, Pole sports) can become more mainstream.

  • Barefoot Bowls is an example of a Bowls Australia (i.e. the sport’s NSO) product that is delivered at club level to attract new participants. It uses existing bowls venues in a (primarily) social context to stage the activity. Participants don’t need any experience to have fun with the game. Some expert guidance is provided as part of the hosting arrangements, as well as equipment. Sessions are organised upon request, so a regular playing schedule is not necessary.
  • AFL 9s. A more ‘social’ version of Australian Rules Football was launched in 2011. Providers partnered with the Australian Football League (AFL) to develop the concept and run pilot competitions. The game is free-flowing and involves nine players on each team playing on a smaller field. It's a mixed gender form of 'touch football' with no tackling or bumping, making it suitable for people of any age or skill level.
  • Basketball 3x3. The sport of basketball is played in over 200 countries and by millions of people around the world. 3x3 basketball, a popular, half-court informal form of the game featuring three players on each side, has been a street and playground favourite for many years. Basketball 3x3 has now been brought into the mainstream of sport as national and international governing bodies formalise this version of the game – including launching a World Cup in 2012. In 2017 the sport was selected as an official Olympic sport for the Tokyo 2020 Games. This is an example of a social sport that has become mainstream by standardising rules (i.e. ten minute period, 12 second shot-clock, smaller ball, etc.). Sporting organisations see an opportunity to capture a larger segment of the population by offering a form of the game that has a strong social element as part of its history.
  • Pole sports. In around 10 years 'pole' moved from being a popular form of fitness training (2000), to first introduction as a sport (2006), the 2009 foundation of the International Pole Sports Federation (IPSF), and gaining Observer status with the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF), an important development milestone for international recognition (2017). The IPSF has worked to standardise elements including scoring, judging, and competitions. The first World Championship was held in 2012. A number of disciplines and categories have now been introduced including junior and senior men's and women's singles, doubles, mixed, artistic pole, para pole, and ultra pole. In July 2020 IPSF recognised 31 national federations (including Australia). It is an example of a potential for some activities to rapidly develop into organised 'sports'. 

Another way of conceptualising ‘social sport’ is to think of it as ‘play’ (i.e. having primarily social and intrinsic motivations and outcomes), but in the context of sport (i.e. having rules and competition) and with varying degrees of organisational structure.

Sports have evolved because an individual or group of people gives structure to a particular physical activity and assigns rules and meaning to an activity and its outcome.(i.e. an outcome that is relevant to the participants). However, over time sports have changed, usually to become more inclusive. Sports are modified to satisfy one or more of these objectives:

  • allow the sport’s activities to align with childhood growth and development considerations (example – In-2-Cricket, Little Athletics);
  • accommodate physical or intellectual variations due to the participants' capability (examples – Paralympic sports);
  • include both genders in an activity, or to segregate by gender (examples – AFL AusKick, Team Cheer) and;
  • use of the core ‘sport’ to achieve non-competitive outcomes (examples – Cardio Tennis, Get on the Green).

For more information see the Clearinghouse for Sport Modified Sports topic.

Creating a modified sport is the recognition by a sport’s governing organisation that offering a single product (i.e. traditional sport) may not suit the needs of a wide range of potential clients. This concept of variation has been successfully used by professional sports, cricket is a good example, as a one-day form of the game was introduced and an even shorter twenty-20 match format was created to attract new participants and appeal to more spectators. Other types of modified sport, such as Rugby 7’s (Rugby Union) and Rugby 9’s (Rugby League), have introduced variations without drastically changing the essential look of the game or most of its skills. The introduction of different forms of a sport means that participants can choose to specialise in the form of the sport that best suits their preference and skills.

The incentive to modify a sport to broaden its participation base or become more inclusive is also a characteristic that distinguishes a ‘sport’ from a ‘physical activity’. For example, a sport such as Athletics has a modified feeder sport, Little athletics; while the physical (recreational or social) activity of jogging has no set structure or developmental pathway.

How a sport defines itself will impact upon branding, marketing, membership, sponsorship; virtually every way a sport presents their products and services to the public.

Esports (electronic sports) is a collective term used to describe organized, competitive, video gaming, particularly professional gaming. The International ESports Federation (IESF) defines it as; ‘a competitive sport where gamers use their physical and mental abilities to compete in various games in a virtual, electronic environment.’

While not every video game is considered an esport (e.g. the Sims), every esport is a video game. Examples of types of esport games include: Tactical shooters (also called First Person Shooter); Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA); Fighting; and Sports SIM (simulation games of traditional sports e.g. FIFA and NBA 2K). 

There is considerable debate around whether or not esports can be considered ‘sports’ and if they should be recognised as such (which can facilitate new avenues of funding and potential to engage more people in sport). Esport advocates argue that they meet many of the criteria for traditional sport recognition. They are physical (require skill/fine motor control); competitive (have winners and losers within detailed rules and regulations); and organised (tournaments, national and international organising bodies). 

The esport industry is now valued at billions of dollars, with multiple professional leagues, hundreds of thousands of professional players, and even purpose-built stadiums. Professional esports players are increasingly looking to sport science/sports medicine professionals (e.g. nutritionists, psychologists, coaches) to help improve performance. Issues of doping and match-fixing have also been reported in esports competitions.


The surge in popularity of esports has often been tied to the rise of professionalisation and live streaming in the late 2000s, initially in China and South Korea. The Government of Korea founded the Korean e-Sports Association in 2000, to promote and regulate esports, including licensing professional players. Several other countries have now recognised esports including: China (2003), Turkey (2014), France (2016), the Philippines (2017), Germany (2018), Denmark (2019), and Malta (2019). 

In 2013 the United States Government recognised the 'League of Legends' esports format as a professional sport and its players as professional athletes. This enabled overseas professional esports players to move to the USA under specific visas, usually provided to professional sports players. In the same year, several universities started offering athletic scholarships to varsity level esports athletes.

Traditionally, esports competitions have been organised by video game companies. The first major multi-sport competition to include esports as an official medal-winning event (alongside traditional sports) was the 2007 Asian Indoor Games. The 2022 Asian Games will also include esports as medal events. 

IESF works with national federations around the world to promote esports. In July 2020 there were 72 registered federations, including Australia, New Zealand, Germany, China, and the United States

Inclusion in the Olympic Games

In recent years, the potential inclusion of esports within the Olympic Games has been seriously considered. In 2017 an International Olympic Committee summit concluded that "competitive 'esports' could be considered as a sporting activity, and the players involved prepare and train with an intensity which may be comparable to athletes in traditional sports" but would require any games used for the Olympics fitting "with the rules and regulations of the Olympic movement". 

A key objection to inclusion is the inherent violence of many popular games, particularly battle and shooting games, which are considered incompatible with the Olympic values. Licensing, fragmented governance, and a lack of compliance with anti-doping and integrity issues (e.g. match fixing) also need to be addressed. 

While the Organising Committees have ruled out including esports as medal events at the Tokyo 2020 and Paris 2024 Olympic Games, the IOC is committed to continuing the discussion. Sport simulation games, or potentially eActive games (games that utilise Virtual and Augmented Reality technology to represent physical activity, e.g. Zwift) may be considered for recognition and inclusion in the future. 

Whether esports are formerly recognised as ‘sports’ it is apparent that they will continue to grow as an industry and can be a way for sports organisations to engage with both existing and potential fans and participants. 


Adventure sport(s) use elements of traditional ‘sports’ (i.e. the performance skills involved with running, cycling, paddling, skiing, etc.), but in a modified format and in an outdoor environment.  The core elements of sport (i.e. physical exertion and/or skill, competition, rules, and organisations) apply, but not in a traditional sense.

The outdoor activities usually place great emphasis on adaptability to the conditions, rather than compliance with standardised conditions. Adventure sports emphasise resourcefulness, cooperation, group-cohesion, physical fitness, and proficiency. There may also be an element of managed risk, and this usually adds to the appeal.

Programs such as Outward-Bound use sport-like activities; including cross country skiing, rock climbing, and white-water canoe/kayak; within a structure that has boundaries, and often competition, to achieve personal and social outcomes. These activities often appeal to the non-conforming individual more than formal sports.

Risk-taking elements are likely to appeal more to youth, but adventure sports are not exclusively targeted at youth.

Adventure racing is a form of multi-sport competition that may include several different individual sports – such as running, cycling and paddling, in a natural setting with variable conditions.  Adventure sport events are designed for both individual and team competition. Organisations overseeing or sanctioning events set rules and monitor competition, but membership in the organisation by competitors is usually not required.  Adventure sport events are usually characterised as a collective of several individual sport components, delivered in a setting that is not typical of those individual sports.

Most sports contain some element of risk – there may be potential for injury or competitive risk in determining the outcome of a contest. Extreme sports, in some cases called action sports, take the risk factors to a level outside the traditional scope of a sport’s governing body. These activities usually involve speed, height, extreme physical exertion, and may require highly specialised equipment. In many cases a sport is modified (to the extreme), so that new rules modify the sport action into something new; or in some cases no rules apply.  Unlike modified sports (discussed previously) which become more inclusive; extreme sports, because of the risks involved, become more exclusive in their participation base. However, extreme sports have taken on greater popularity in terms of spectator appeal, media coverage, and corporate sponsorship.

Extreme sports evolved from mainstream sports and gained popularity in the 1990s through the marketing of competitions such as ‘X Games’. There is no exact definition of what determines ‘extreme’, but there are certain common characteristics among the collection of extreme sports, they include:

  • Although not restricted to youth, extreme sports tend to appeal to the under-25 segment of the population;
  • Extreme sports are rarely sanctioned by government entities (i.e. departments of sport and recreation and schools);
  • Extreme sports tend to be more solitary, rather that team oriented;
  • Athletes who take up extreme sports generally acquire their skills from past participation (although not always at an elite level) in a kindred (mainstream) sport.

In most traditional sports the function of a governing organisation is to establish rules that standardise the conditions within which competition takes place. One of the appealing aspects of extreme sports is the inconsistency of conditions. For example, the downhill skiing event in the Winter Olympics takes place on a course that is marked and where the downhill gradient is within rule parameters, the event is only conducted if weather and snow conditions are within accepted standards.  An extreme downhill skiing event would have no such limitations or restrictions on the slope, snow conditions or weather; adding to the element of risk for competitors.

Extreme sports may apply the three criteria of a ‘sport’ – competition, rules, and organisational structure; but in different ways. Fewer or different rules are likely to apply; competition may be with one’s self (rather than an opponent) or against the environment; and organisations (where they exist) generally sit outside mainstream international sporting federations or associations.

The public perception of ‘what is sport’ has changed over time because of the emergence and growth of extreme sports.  Some sport activities that may have once been considered ‘extreme’ have been modified and structured into mainstream sport.  Conversely, mainstream sports have been modified to become ‘extreme’.

Two examples of different evolutionary paths involving extreme sports are:

  • Sky diving was once considered an extreme activity, but over many years it has integrated itself into an accepted sporting code.  Skydiving events for individuals and teams are now sanctioned by national and international federations.  Competition events have rules, they are judged on athletic and artistic merit, scored according to judging criteria, and results are recorded. Australian Parachute Federation
  • Downhill ski racing was once considered the pinnacle of technical skill, speed, and excitement in alpine skiing within the Winter Olympic program.  However, extreme downhill skiing, also known as ‘big mountain skiing’ has taken the risk to a new level.  There are no ‘rules’ per se, no course, and no limit to the conditions which challenge extreme skiers to demonstrate what is humanly possible. How Extreme Skiing Works

‘Recreation’ is often defined by the amount of physical activity (i.e. active recreation) or leisure activity involved.  Physical recreation has many of the characteristics of social sport or modified sport. One’s recreational pursuit can be social; it can involve a lifetime progression of participation; it can be a modified version of a traditional sport; and it may rely on the application of movement skills that can be learnt.  The distinctive feature of recreation is ‘when’ people engage in the activity, usually on their own terms. Recreational sport may also be considered a kindred form of social sport.

Governments, particularly local jurisdictions, provide space (e.g. parks, ovals, indoor and outdoor facilities) for recreational activity. In fact, most Australian state government departments are labelled ‘sport and recreation’ as a reference to their primary user groups. Sporting organisations oversee a variety of forms of their sport, and they may be a primary user group of sport and recreation facilities and spaces. Individuals may also access the same facilities and spaces without the support of an organisational body to engage in recreational activities that look similar to ‘sport’.  However, people generally engage in recreation in a less-formal setting that fits within their own timeframe, and does not involve an arbitrary sporting organisation.

A useful definition of ‘recreation’ is provided in the book, The Park and Recreation Professional’s Handbook [Hurd A and Anderson D, Human Kinetics (2011)]: “recreation is an activity that people engage in during their free time, that people enjoy, and that people recognise as having socially redeeming values. The activity performed is less important than the reason for performing the activity, which is the outcome”. Clearly, this definition of ‘recreation’ often sits within our understanding of social sport. Recreation may include, but does not rely upon, varying degrees of competition, rules, and organisational involvement.  The key element identifying when an activity is considered ‘recreation’ is contained in the above definition. Individuals engage in recreation at a time that suits their needs, and those needs become the motivating factor for participation.

Although play is a universal human experience, it is difficult to define precisely – is it primarily a physical activity or a learning experience? Any definition of play is paradoxical because play can be serious, real, and purposeful; or play may have none of these qualities. There is evidence that play deprivation has a damaging impact on a child’s development, so it appears to be an essential component of cognitive as well as physical development. In general, play behaviour is intrinsically motivated, controlled by the players, concerned with process rather than product, usually in a non-literal context, free of externally imposed rules, and characterised by the active engagement of the players.

  • Let the children play: Nature’s answer to early learning (PDF  - 106 KB), Hewes P, Early Childhood Learning Knowledge Centre, Grant MacEwan College, University of Montreal, Canada, (2006). Play nourishes every aspect of children’s development—it forms the foundation of intellectual, social, physical, and emotional skills that are necessary for success in school and in life. Play ‘paves the way for learning’. Yet, the trend in most developed countries is for less time spent by children on play and substantially more time spent in settings that focus on structured educational and recreational activities. Children learn when they play in environments that stimulate/encourage exploration, discovery, manipulation, physical activity and engagement with self (i.e. imaginative play) or others (i.e. social interaction).
  • The Play Return: A review of the wider impact of play initiatives (PDF  - 1.1 MB), Gill T, commissioned by the Children’s Play Policy Forum, United Kingdom, (2014). This report presents evidence to build the case for improving play opportunities for children; the focus is on children of primary school age. It looks at quantitative evidence of the wider outcomes and impact of play interventions and initiatives. The report looks at four types of interventions that each target a different setting: (1) opportunities for free play during school breaks; (2) unsupervised public access play facilities; (3) supervised out-of-school (before/after) activities; and, (4) street play initiatives. Drawing on this review of the empirical evidence, the report reaches the following conclusions about the wider impact of play initiatives:
    • Play initiatives lead to improvements in children’s physical and mental health and well-being and are linked to a range of other cognitive and social developmental benefits. While evidence of beneficial outcomes is strongest for play in schools, it is reasonable to expect the same outcome in other contexts where children have comparable play experiences.
    • Families and communities, as well as children, benefit from play initiatives. Play initiatives generate high levels of volunteering and community action by adults. This finding is echoed by the consistently strong support for play initiatives stated in opinion polls.
    • Play initiatives are associated with inter-related benefits across a range of health and developmental domains.
    • The improvement in opportunities for play is a valid outcome in its own right. When combined with the well documented benefits of play’s contribution to health; physical and cognitive development; and social skills, the case for greater play opportunities is well supported. 

Play, as a creative expression of physical activity, is also evident among adults. In 2012 New York City added 24 adult playgrounds throughout the NYC boroughs. A pilot study demonstrated the value of purpose-built play environments as a way to encourage physical activity among adults and create social sport opportunities. These adult playgrounds provide convenient venues for recreational breaks during the work-day, as well as opportunities for social interaction through informal sport [source: New York Times, 29 June 2012].

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). Among the elderly, exercise compliance presents a barrier to improved health through physical activity. Older persons tend to drop out of programs that may be ‘too organised’ or too challenging. This paper explores the rationale for using traditional games to encourage physical activity, and as a way of engaging the elderly in social activities. Such activities do not have specialised skill requirements and may be useful as a form of physiotherapy.

Play Australia is the peak national advocacy organisation for PLAY. They support outdoor play by way of inspiration, advice, access to information and professional services. As the Australian branch of the International Play Association (IPA) they also help to protect the human rights of all children to play, as recognised within Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Where possible, direct links to full-text and online resources are provided. However, where links are not available, you may be able to access documents directly by searching our licenced full-text databases (note: user access restrictions apply). Alternatively, you can ask your institutional, university, or local library for assistance—or purchase documents directly from the publisher. You may also find the information you’re seeking by searching Google Scholar.


  • Action sports for youth development: critical insights for the SDP community, Thorpe H, International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, (4 June 2014). This article identifies new trends in youth sport participation, particularly the growing popularity of non-competitive, informal, non-institutionalised ‘action sports’ (e.g., skateboarding, moto-cross, kite-surfing, snowboarding). A number of international examples and qualitative research, including interviews and media analysis, are cited. The discussion considers the potential of action sports for making a contribution to the sport for development and peace (SDP) movement.
  • As E-Sports Grow, So Do Their Homes, C.J. Hughes, New York Times, (28 May 2019). The $10 million Esports Stadium Arlington in Texas, which opened in November in the city’s convention center, is the largest e-sports center in North America, with flexible seating, a state-of-the-art broadcast studio and an 85-foot-long LED wall. And in Philadelphia, developers are planning to build Fusion Arena, the first new United States construction to be dedicated to professional gaming, offering 3,500 seats and a training facility.
  • Bach: No Olympic future for esports until ‘violence’ removed, Stephen Wade, AP News, (1 September 2018). “We cannot have in the Olympic program a game which is promoting violence or discrimination,” he told the AP. “So-called killer games. They, from our point of view, are contradictory to the Olympic values and cannot therefore be accepted.”
  • Building enhanced collaboration between recreation and sport, Canadian Sport for Life, (2013). The relationship between municipal recreation and sport delivery systems can vary from one jurisdiction to another and among sports within the same community. This report outlines and discusses the relationships between sport and recreation organisations and identifies the challenges each face and the key areas where a collaborative approach can take place.
  • Denmark gets a strategy for esports, Ministry of Culture, (27 April 2019). The government today announces a sports strategy, which for the first time will support the spread of esports and take the initiative to bring together sports actors for a joint effort. The government is setting up a broad-based esports panel to look at a wide range of challenges and opportunities in esports. [Danish text: translated using Google translate]. English language version of the strategy
  • Esports, Wikipedia, (accessed 16 July 2020). Esports (also known as electronic sports, e-sports, or eSports) is a form of sport competition using video games.[1] Esports often takes the form of organized, multiplayer video game competitions, particularly between professional players, individually or as teams.
  • Esports: How The Term Was Coined And What Is The Correct Way To Write It? Federico Winer, D!gitalist Magazine, (27 March 2019). It is widely accepted that video gaming emerged from homes and arcades into a recognized sport sometime between 1999 and 2005, but there’s still a lot of debate around what to call competitive electronic sports. Depending on the source, country, and context, it might be written any of the following ways: esports, eSports, Esports, ESports, E-Sports, e-sport, Cybersport, Virtualsports, and more. According to the Online Gamers Association (OGA), the first recorded instance of the term was “eSports” in a 1999 press release.
  • Esports: The new sport business, Global Sports, (16 March 2018). Dive into the world of eSports: an exponentially growing industry predicted to be worth billions of dollars by 2020. The sky is the limit for investors, audiences, and participants alike. Professors Aaron CT Smith & James Skinner, from the Institute of Sport Business at Loughborough University London, examine this hot topic in the business of sport.
  • Esports is the future of all sports – here’s why, Andy Miah, Chair in Science Communication & Future Media, University of Salford, The Conversation, (23 October 2019). The future of all sports is esports. That may sound like a bold statement but there is growing evidence to support it. Today’s spectators and participants expect to be digitally engaged while they watch. And the most effective way to deliver digital engagement is through “gamification” – the transformation of watching into playing.
  • E-sports just got closer to being part of the Olympics, Karolos Grohmann, Reuters, (29 October 2017). The International Olympic Committee recently said that e-sports gaming could be a sanctioned sport for the Games. The IOC sees allowing e-sports as a promising way to grow viewership with younger audiences. Global audiences for e-sports are expected to reach 385.5 million this year.
  • French government creates an esports federation and reveals amendments to contract rules, Adrien Auxent, Esports Observer, (27 April 2016). This organization, named “Fédération France-Esport” or “association France-Esport,” will have the mission to enable the legal framework of competitions, create a legal status for the competitors, address the subject of television broadcasts, and to develop international events.
  • IOC to form ‘two-speed’ esports strategy, Sport Business, (9 December 2019). The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has agreed on a “two-speed approach” regarding its esports strategy, reiterating its stance that it will only consider games simulating sports.
  • Is An Esport Really a Sport? Phil Birch and Edgar Chekera, Psychology Today, (19 April 2020). Although a somewhat controversial debate, an esport can be considered a sport. With this consideration enters the interest of sport-related disciplines investigating how they can best fit within the esports industry. This includes physiotherapy, nutrition and psychology, to name a few.
  • Launch of Malta’s Vision for Video Games Development and Esports, Gaming Malta, (May 2019). Prime Minister Joseph Muscat launched Malta’s Vision for Video Games Development and Esports , a vision which will pave the way for the growth of this economic sector.
  • Pushing casual sport to the margins threatens cities’ social cohesion, Amanda Wise, Associate professor, Macquarie University, et.al., The Conversation, (30 April 2018). Park soccer, social cricket and street basketball bring the public spaces of our cities to life. For many of the most marginalised communities, access to public space for sport is crucial for developing and maintaining a sense of belonging. But as populations grow and competition for playing fields, courts and parks becomes fiercer, many communities are losing access to their sporting spaces. 
  • Tasmanian Adventure Activity Standard, Caving: advice for organisations, guides and leaders (PDF - 356 KB), Tasmanian Government, (2009). Adventure Activity Standards outline the duty of care and risk management strategies that may help reduce the likelihood of loss or injury while participating in certain adventure sport and recreation activities.
  • Video gaming as an Olympic sport? IOC hosting eSports forum to better understand competitive gaming, Global News, (19 July 2018). The IOC and Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) will host a two-day eSports forum in Lausanne, Switzerland, get a better grip on competitive gaming.
  • Virtual(ly) athletes: Where eSports fit within the definition of “Sport”, Jenny S, Manning D, Keiper M and Olrich T, Quest, published online (11 March 2016). The worldwide popularity of competitive video gaming has opened the question, “is it sport”. Competitive video gaming fits within (at least in part) most of the philosophical and sociological definitions of ‘sport’. It incorporates play, organisation, competition, skill, physicality (i.e. to some degree), has a broad following and recognition by institutions (e.g. government, education, etc.). With the decline of the percentage of the population (particularly youth) engaging in physical activity, eSport has the potential to bridge the gap between sedentary activities and physical sport through motion-based video gaming. In the United States, several universities have added video gaming to their suite of intercollegiate sports. The US government now recognises (for employment and income tax purposes) professional eSports-persons in the same way as professional sports-persons in other disciplines (e.g. baseball, football, basketball, golf, etc.).
  • What is esports? A beginner's guide to competitive gaming, Ford James, Games Radar, (13 February 2020). In essence, esports is the collective term used to describe competitive gaming at a professional level, with the top esports players often being the very best in the world at their respective game. 
  • What is eSports? A look at an explosive billion-dollar industry, AJ Willingham, CNN, (27 August 2018). eSports describes the world of competitive, organized video gaming. Competitors from different leagues or teams face off in the same games that are popular with at-home gamers: Fortnite, League of Legends, Counter-Strike, Call of Duty, Overwatch and Madden NFL, to name a few. These gamers are watched and followed by millions of fans all over the world, who attend live events or tune in on TV or online. Streaming services like Twitch allow viewers to watch as their favorite gamers play in real time, and this is typically where popular gamers build up their fandoms.
  • Why competitive gaming is starting to look a lot like professional sports, Andrew Webster, The Verge, (27 July 2018). As e-sports continue to chase mainstream popularity, traditional sports organizations have steadily joined the ranks. Now, some of the biggest professional e-sports leagues in the world are starting to look a lot like the NBA or NFL. That includes big-money owners, a structured schedule, and things like minimum salaries and other benefits for players. 


  • Planning for the provision of leisure and recreation in Australia (PDF  - 1.9 MB), Marriot K, Sport and Recreation Tasmania, (2010). Research indicates that recreational, cultural and leisure activities have a major positive influence on personal health and community wellbeing. Recent years have seen a far greater recognition of non-competitive social and recreational activities and most importantly, the critical contribution which leisure and recreation make to the health and wellbeing in the community.
  • Uncovering the social value of sport (PDF  - 1.6 MB), Sport & Recreation Alliance, United Kingdom, (2016). Sport and recreation deliver huge benefits to communities as a result of the involvement of millions of participants, volunteers, coaches, staff and spectators. The stated ambition of the Alliance is to make the contribution of the sport and recreation sector well known to government as a ‘go to’ place for solutions to some of society’s greatest challenges. The STEP framework (i.e. STEP, social-thinking-emotional-physical) can be used to highlight the potential power of sport and recreation to impact upon society.


  • An examination of the relationships between motivation, involvement and intention to continuing participation among recreational skiers (PDF  - 131 KB), Kouthouris C, International Journal of Sport Management, Recreation and Tourism, Volume 4, (2009). This study of 224 recreational skiers supported the hypothesis that intention to participate was predicted by motivation to participate. The significant motivating factors for these recreational skiers were: physical fitness, enjoyment, skill development, competency (mastery of skills), escape from pressure, excitement, and association with family and friends.
  • Examining group walks in nature and multiple aspects of well-being: a large-scale study (PDF  - 875 KB), Marselle M, Irvine K and Warber S, Ecopsychology, (September 2014). Outdoor walking groups promote the benefits of social interaction, connections with nature, and physical activity. This study sought to identify the mental, emotional, and social wellbeing benefits from participating in group walks in nature. A sample of 1,516 adults belonging to either ‘Nature Group Walkers’ or non-walkers were compared. Controlling for covariates, this research found that participants in walking groups suffered significantly less depression and perceived stress, as well as having enhanced feelings of wellbeing. This study identifies the mental and emotional wellbeing benefits derived from participation in group walks in nature and supports the potential mental health benefits of outdoor group walk programs.
  • Is eSport a ‘real’ sport? Reflections on the spread of virtual competitions, Ansgar Thiel & Jannika M. John, European Journal of Sport and Society, Volume 15(4), pp.311-315, (2018). eSports is a rapidly growing industry that attracts a high number of players and has a high economic value. Formats such as FIFA 18 were sold around 24 million times in the first 11 months after market launch. In the same period, FIFA 18 registered around 7 billion played matches and more than 20 million players from 60 countries took part in official online FIFA competitions.
  • What is eSports and why do people watch it? Joho Hamari and Max Sjöblom, Internet Research, Volume 27(2), (January 2017). The purpose of this paper is to investigate why do people spectate eSports on the internet. The authors define eSports (electronic sports) as “a form of sports where the primary aspects of the sport are facilitated by electronic systems; the input of players and teams as well as the output of the eSports system are mediated by human-computer interfaces.” In more practical terms, eSports refer to competitive video gaming (broadcasted on the internet).



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.  

In 2013 the Australian Sports Commission (now Sport Australia) partnered with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to identify the ‘megatrends’ likely to shape the Australian sport sector over the next 30 years. A megatrend represents an important pattern of social, economic, or environmental change. The six megatrends identified in the Future of Australian Sport report were: 

  1. A Perfect Fit - Individualised sport and fitness activities are on the rise as people try to fit sport into their increasingly busy and time-fragmented lifestyles.
  2. From extreme to mainstream - This megatrend captures the rise of lifestyle, adventure and alternative sports which are particularly popular with younger generations.
  3. More than Sport - The broader benefits of sport are being increasingly recognised by governments, business and communities. Sport can help achieve many personal and social objectives; such as: mental and physical health, crime prevention, social development, and international cooperation.
  4. Everybody’s Game - Australia and other countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) face an ageing population. This will change the types of sports we play and how we play them.
  5. New Wealth, New Talent - Population and income growth throughout Asia will create tougher competition and new opportunities for Australia both on the sports field and in the sports business environment.
  6. Tracksuits to Business Suits - Market forces are likely to exert greater pressure on sport in the future. In professional sports the disparity in salaries may draw athletes away from one sport and into another. Loosely organised community sports associations are likely to be replaced by organisations with corporate structures and more formal governance systems in response to market pressures.

Sport Australia also commissioned the Market Segmentation studies (2013-2015) to provide insights regarding how the Australian population consume sport participation. The research essentially looked at what motivates (or fails to motivate) adults, children, parents and volunteers to engage in sport and sport clubs. 

Each Market Segmentation study identified consumer segments that demonstrated different levels of engagement with sport and sport organisations, from loyalists to resistant. They then provide some ideas of how sports organisations could work to engage with each segment to maintain, or initiate, interest in sport participation.  

Some key themes that emerged across several of the studies included a tension between sport delivery that focusses on competition vs fun and enjoyment; a desire for playing with friends, rather than talent based teams; and, difficulties with the traditional scheduling/time/cost requirements of sports clubs/competitions. The studies demonstrated that while many current sports club members were happy with the traditional structure and competitive aims of sports, there are others who could potentially be attracted to sport, if different and/or more flexible options were available. This highlights why many sports are increasingly providing modified or social versions of the traditional sport. Understanding the needs of different segments, and providing products they may be attracted to, offers the potential for growth and more sustainable organisations. 

In 2015 Sport Australia launched the AusPlay survey (AusPlay), a large scale national survey to track the sporting behaviours and activities of the Australian population (both adults and children). The data tracked by AusPlay helps the sector better understand the participation landscape and identify strategies to grow participation.

Research in New Zealand has found many similarities with Sport Australia’s reports. The Future of Sport in New Zealand (PDF  - 2.7 MB) (2015) report identified various themes that are influencing New Zealand sport and suggests that sporting organisations must recognise: 

  • that sport is a matter of choice and it competes for people’s time; it must insure a viable offering. 
  • the importance of forming alliances across related sectors (health, tourism, education, etc.), aligning with both government and private sector. 
  • the need to adapt and tap into new, as well as traditional, forms of competition and memberships. 
  • the role of new technology is highlighted as both a potential competitor and facilitator in creating attractive and innovative experiences. 

Information from the Active NZ Survey (2018) of nationwide participation in play, active recreation and sport.also shows similar trends to Australia; the growth of participation choices and greater emphasis on recreational and social sport activities.

Other international research and reports have highlighted the increasing influence of technology and entertainment media as both potential competitors and facilitators of sport and physical activity, particularly for younger people. There is a strong need for the sport sector to understand and harness the ways in which technology can contribute to engagement for athletes, fans, employees, and volunteers. The Future Trends: Innovating to grow participation in sport report (2014) in particular discusses five future technological trends and their impact upon sport and physical activity:

  1. The quantified self – using technology to capture real-time information about sport participation, fitness, and performance; 
  2. Gaming – leveraging connected technologies to motivate, inspire, and connect users; 
  3. Healthy hedonism – any modern indulgence must have a health-centred proposition and the sport sector can expect these developments to affect choices; 
  4. Performance perfection – innovation in the way in which people interact, particularly online, will be driving sports and influencing participation choices; and, 
  5. The cult of the home – numerous in-home technologies already exist (Wii Fit, Xbox Kinect, BitGym, etc.) and these will continue to expand as populations becomes more urban based.

Technology, social media, and the desire for sport activities that meet individual needs will continue to shape future trends in sport participation and preferences. Current and future generations of participants will be more sophisticated users of technology and more engaged in social media; as a result, sporting organisations will need to keep pace with these developments.

Where possible, direct links to full-text and online resources are provided. However, where links are not available, you may be able to access documents directly by searching our licenced full-text databases (note: user access restrictions apply). Alternatively, you can ask your institutional, university, or local library for assistance—or purchase documents directly from the publisher. You may also find the information you’re seeking by searching Google Scholar.


  • Future Proofing Sport, Harkness T and Johnson L, BBC Radio 4 (28 January 2017). Presenters Timandra Harkness and Leo Johnson investigate the future of sport in the digital age. How will physical activity and organised sport be viewed in the years to come? (43 minutes)


  • Active NZ Survey, Sport New Zealand, (2018). Active NZ provides important insights into the changing landscape of participation through the lenses of age, gender, ethnicity and deprivation. Around 30% of young people and 12% of adults compete through competitive sports and activities. Apart from just 2% of adults, those who participate each week through competitive sports and activities are also involved in non-competitive sports and activities. The percentage of young people and adults participating in non-competitive sports or activities is similar.
  • The AusPlay Survey (AusPlay) is a large scale national population tracking survey funded and led by Sport Australia that tracks Australian sport and physical activity participation behaviours to help inform investment, policy and sport delivery. New data is released twice a year in April and October.
  • Class of 2035. Step inside a classroom of the future and imagine what the role of physical education, sport and physical activity might be? The Youth Sport Trust (United Kingdom) presents four potential future scenarios: (1) digitally-distracted; (2) fit-for-purpose; (3) go-it-alone, and; (4) sidelined.
  • The Future of Australian Sport: Megatrends shaping the sports sector over coming decades (PDF - 2.1 MB), Hajkowicz S, Cook H, Wilhelmseder L and Boughen N, CSIRO and Australian Sports Commission (2013). The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) partnered with the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) in this report.  It identifies six megatrends likely to shape the Australian sports sector over the next 30 years. A megatrend represents an important pattern of social, economic, or environmental change.
  • Future of Sport in New Zealand (PDF - 2.7 MB), a report by Synergia for Sport New Zealand (2015). This report was commissioned by Sport New Zealand to help sports leaders at all levels and across all codes think about the future of sport. The report does not supply answers; rather, it points to trends and explores the implications, as well as posing questions. Sport is being shaped by rapidly changing social, technological and commercial forces. In this review, ‘sport’ is defined in its broadest sense, and includes elements of active recreation and social sport as well as organised sports. This report identifies six themes that are influencing New Zealand sport: (1) the offering of sport – how commercialisation is influencing consumer demand; (2) individualisation – how technology is influencing personal choices and activity preferences; (3) connection – how sport is an agent for community connection and inclusion; (4) lifestyle and health – the value of sport and physical activity; (5) the built environment – infrastructure and facility needs to cater for future diverse sporting needs, and; (6) the structure of sport – how trends will impact upon sport leadership, capacity of organisations, workforce, and partnerships.
  • The Future of Sports (PDF - 3.5 MB) SportAccord Convention 2014, Zimmermann T and Falkenau J, Repucom (2014). Approximately 1500 delegates attending the SportAccord Convention completed a survey to determine their views on the development of sport over the next 5 years. Follow-up interviews were conducted on 14 per cent of the delegates (i.e. 216 persons) to obtain more detailed responses. The survey highlighted these responses: (1) the vast majority of delegates (up to 97 per cent) said sport has a positive effect on society, providing values for the young generation; (2) there is a trend toward more fan engagement; (3) technical developments in sport itself and in the media, particularly social media, would drive fan engagement; and (4) fighting doping and corruption in sport would be the greatest challenges. Sports identified as decreasing in their relevance included: boxing, wrestling, equestrian, motorsport, hockey and handball. Sports identified as increasing in relevance included: beach volleyball, mountain biking, snowboarding, women’s football (soccer), and disability sports. Survey participants felt that for sports to be successful they would have a stronger use of social and mobile media, appeal to a younger target group, and have a clear and dynamic event structure to increase their marketing profile. On the changing role of women in sport the survey indicated that 84 per cent of respondents felt that women will increasingly take up leadership positions in sport management; and the significance of women’s sport (internationally) will increase.
  • Future Trends: Innovating to grow participation in sport (PDF  - 2.3 MB), Warriner J, Sport and Recreation Alliance and Future Foundation (2014). Debate between technophiles and traditionalists is particularly heated when it comes to sport. The technologies and trends discussed in this report may help to bridge the gap between amateur and professional, participant and non-participant; as well as making quality coaching, information feedback, and support available to everyone. New forms of entertainment and technologies are capturing the attention of young people, so the sport and recreation sector must adapt and harness this potential to remain relevant. This report discusses five future technological trends and their impact upon sport and physical activity: (1) the quantified self – using technology to capture real-time information about sport participation, fitness, and performance; (2) gaming – leveraging connected technologies to motivate, inspire, and connect users; (3) healthy hedonism – any modern indulgence must have a health-centred proposition and the sport sector can expect these developments to affect choices; (4) performance perfection – innovation in the way in which people interact, particularly online, will be driving sports and influencing participation choices, and; (5) the cult of the home – numerous in-home technologies already exist (Wii Fit, Xbox Kinect, BitGym, etc.) and these will continue to expand as our population becomes more urban based.
  • Intergenerational Review of Australian Sport 2017 (PDF - 1.6 MB), Boston Consulting Group, for the Australian Sports Commission, (2017). This review focused on the overall sports sector, with a particular emphasis on participation in sport and community level sport. While the synergies between participation and high performance sporting outcomes are recognised as being important to any discussion about the value of sport, the primary purpose of this review was a global view of the sport sector. By observing trends related to participation, performance, and consumption of ‘sport’ (i.e. in terms of products and services sports provide). This review provides insight on the impact of sport, the challenges faced by the sector (now and into the future), and what might be done to best position the sector to achieve government aspirations.
  • Market segmentation for sport participation, Australian Sports Commission (2013). The Australian Sports Commission (ASC) in consultation with sport sector partners identified a need for research to better understand what is driving the Australian community’s participation in sport and other types of physical activities.

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