Monday, July 19, 2004


Check out the interesting article at Slate that discusses what constitutes a sport, and specifically, whether math competitions could enter the Olympics.

Now, I was a member of the math club back in high school. No reason to hide it, I went on to major in math - so I was a geek. At least I didn't get my master's in math, that would be really geeky.

Anyway, my point was about sports. What do you think is required to make something a sport?

I'm very proud of my requirements to be a sport. It lets in some sports like bowling and tiddly winks - which many might object to. But the rules do get rid of stupid sports like ice skating, rhythmic gymnastics.

My rules are:

  • must require physical skill - some combination of dexterity, coordination, strength, stamina
  • must have objective scoring to determine winner

That's it.

The first, physical skill, seems obvious. Things like chess and go may require a lot of strategy, but a computer can play the game - it requires no physical skill whatsoever.

Secondly, the winner (and there must be a winner) must be decided by some objective means. These "judged" sports are just stupid - consider the judging fiasco of the couples figure skating during the last winter Olympics. Sure, you can give some points for the physical degree of difficulty in figure skating, but when you have to factor in things like "style" you're pretty much admitting that there's no way to objectively determine a winner. And then it all boils down to fads and politics.

The second rule gets rid of some of the stupidest "sports" out there: figure skating, ice dancing, rhythmic gymnastics, dancing, and synchronized swimming. I'm not claiming that any of those are easy to do, or that they don't live up to some manly notion. I just don't think the winner be determined like an animal at the fair.

At the rate we're going, the Olympics are soon going to be adding sports like break dancing, abstract painting, and trampoline. Oh, wait, trampoline is already a "sport".

I think people have some stupid notion that "sports" should be accessible to all people. My question is, why isn't it good enough to just do some kind of athletic activity? Why does what you're doing need to be a "sport"? And once it's been given that title, what does that gain you?

This is the kind of drivel you hear:

"I'm downright pissed that competitive embroidery isn't getting the world-wide attention that it deserves. Our athletes train very hard and are just mocked in the media. Little Jeannie can satin stitch multi-colored rose faster than anyone in history! And Bobby is a very promising young man, his detached chain stitch is the best I've seen since Alice Becker's (aka Grannie-Stitch) in 1972!"

Why aren't people happy doing what they're doing without worrying about what others think about them?

I'm sure that I'll probably have a kid that gets into competitive square dancing, and I'll drive all across the state taking my kid to square dancing meets. But you'll never hear me whine about the lack of recognition from the IOC.

Back to my two rules. Sure, basically anything that is timed can be a sport under my rules, competitive burping, for example. Sure, that's a sport, but I just made it up - that's not very interesting. So try to apply the rules to activities that people are actually doing.

Whether you like bowling or not, you have to admit it's darned difficult to get a strike, let alone 12 in a row.

But I hear you snicker, "what about the referees in sports like basketball, hockey, football, etc.?" Yes, those sports do have people who monitor what is within the rules and what is outside the rules, but they don't decide who wins, they simply determine when a rule is broken.

So, according to my rules, the math Olympics is not a sport and shouldn't be considered for the Olympics. And the Olympics should actually begin to clean house and get rid of all those non-sports.

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