Sunday, July 21, 2013

Bowling Is Not A Sport

Rules To Live By

Back in 2003-2004  I completed an internship with IHS Energy in Calgary, Alberta. Not to spark too much controversy, but as an Edmontonian at heart, I cannot advise anyone else to do the same. The company had a lot going for it, many of the people were great, but I couldn't get over the fact that I felt like I was a double agent living within the walls of the enemy base. For those who have not yet sworn allegiance to the Edmonton side of the battle of Alberta, it was a great experience.

While I was there, I was privileged enough to work with a bright and charismatic coworker named Demetrio (I hope I've spelled that correctly). Originally from the Bronx in New York, he was one of those people that everyone seems to like instantly. I admire people with that gift and wonder where that special quality comes from. I came to see him as somewhat of a mentor over my time in Calgary.

Among work-related talks and intense games of foosball, Demetrio would share nuggets of wisdom and humor. On one such occasion, he shared that he and a few of his college friends each came up with a list of three rules to live by. I can no longer remember his first two rules, but the third was so profound that it has stuck with me to this day: "bowling is not a sport".

Obviously, this rule was meant in jest. Yet, somehow, I couldn't get the idea out of my head. Meditating on this thought led me to ask the question, "How do I define a sport?" This question is tougher than it seems. Pause here for a moment and think about your answer it before proceeding.

(I'll wait here ...patiently)
Stay tuned and I will share my thoughts on this important topic.

A Spectrum Of Games

There are some games that the vast majority of people would define as a sport. Whether or not you enjoy it, very few would claim that football (European or American, take your pick) is not a sport. Balanced competitions between opposing teams with a great deal of strength, speed, agility, and strategy are almost universally accepted as sports.
At the other end of the spectrum are games that have no physical component to them, but may contain some amount of strategy. Most board games and card games fall within this category. Indeed, some of these games require great time and commitment to master. Chess is the definitive example of a complex challenge for great minds. Some people include these games in their definition of sport, but most will protest their lack of a physical component.
In the middle lay games and competitions whose validity as a sport are hotly contested. Is, as Demetrio would deny, bowling a sport? What about equestrian events? The jockey clearly has skill and athleticism, but the heavy lifting is done by the horse. What about car racing? Again, drivers have great skill and a long race can be a great test of endurance and concentration. What about individual contests like golf, where the player faces the course, not any opponent. What about judged competitions such as figure skating, dance, or gymnastics?

Formal Definitions

The definition of the word 'sport' as found on contains a list of activities that I would not personally include using my definition of sport (more on that later). It even includes Demetrio's maligned bowling in its list of sports.

The International Olympic Committee recognizes sports as activities that are based in physical athleticism or physical dexterity. This guiding rule seems to be widely accepted by many.

My Definition

To find my own definition of sport, I examined games and competitions that I thought were not deserving of the title. My first target was games without a physical component. If the game can be adequately simulated by a computer, that is a bad sign. If an able-bodied man in his twenties has no advantage over a seventy-year-old retiree with arthritis, I cannot consider the game to be a sport. This rules out most board games and card games. Sorry poker, I love you, but the sports networks are just plain wrong.

I generally like the definition from the International Olympic Committee, but I feel it is still too broad. Prepare yourself for my first controversial criterion. True sports must include an element of strategy. Part of the joy of being a sports pundit is speculating on how I would do things differently if I were calling the shots. Nobody ever told a short-distance sprinter to hold back and lull his opponents into a false sense of security. No, the only strategy is to run as hard and fast as possible.

Another requirement is that the structure of the game must seek to put opponents on an even footing. By this, I mean that a game is designed to be symmetrical with both competitors trying to achieve equivalent goals. While games that break this structure are rare, this requirement becomes necessary for some of the more esoteric competitions out there. This eliminates most events from American Gladiators.

My final rule, which may also be controversial, requires a form of direct opposition. While one of the competitor tries to accomplish a physical task, the opponent must have a way to try to stop or impede his progress. A great deal of the glory of sport derives from a struggle of man vs. man. This rule puts the final nail in the coffin of bowling's claims to sporthood in my mind.

Applying The Tests

My criteria for a sport are quite clear and easy to apply. Even so, there are some events which sit on the border line. The first one that comes to my mind is curling. Let's take a closer look:

1. Curling requires weight control, precise aim, and physical sweeping. CHECK
2. Curling has many strategic components from guards, to freezes, to raises. CHECK
3. Each team has the same number of players and stones and uses the same playing surface and target. CHECK
4. The only "direct" opposition consists of sweeping stones out the back half of the house. check?

Is curling a sport? I'm still not sure.

Please Don't Hurt Me

Before I find myself impaled by javelins, being thrown across the room by weightlifters, or having my face used as a surface for ice dancers, I would like to express my respect for athletes of all forms. You train long and hard to achieve excellence and distinguish yourself in your field. You perform fantastic feats of of strength, skill, and elegance that are exciting and inspirational. Please take my writing with a grain of salt.

My definition of sport comes from the concepts that comes to my mind when I hear the word. I picture hockey, baseball, football, soccer, tennis, and wrestling. These other competitions are wonderful too, but they just seem different to me. For those who see things differently, more power to you.

What Do You Think?

I asked you to come up with your own definition of a sport first. Now that you've heard my theories, how well does it hold up? What do you disagree with? Is there something I've missed?

Demetrio, if you're reading this, I hope you've kept the faith. Thank you for all the good advice.


Joshua Ganes

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