I admit I bit my tongue during class when Jon brought up the matter of whether or not video games were sports. I would put sports at the top of the list of polarizing subjects, jostling for position with religion and politics; debates over contentious issues in sports are no less heated than those related to, say, sex or war. My point is that this topic is one that will not (and cannot) come to a clear resolution; things will get heated, tears will be shed and we won’t budge an inch.
Thankfully we all love a spirited discussion and this is the kind of quagmire we call home.
Inspired by Tax class, I thought I would start by taking a look at Canadian legislation and see what it had to say about sports. Surely the Canadian Physical Activity and Sport Act, of all things, would have a satisfactory definition of what a “sport” is. The act uses the word “sport” no fewer than fifty times, but does not provide a definition. Section 36 states that the Governor in Council defines the expression “sport” by regulation – Google came up empty, so I changed tack.
Next up: Sport Canada, part of the Department of Canadian Heritage. Thankfully they provide a workable definition within their Sport Funding and Accountability Framework: “Sports is a regulated form of physical activity organized as a contest between two or more participants for the purpose of determining a winner by fair and ethical means. Such contest may be in the form of a game, match, race, or other form of competitive event.”
This definition continues, stating that sport is government and sanctioned by a governing body that regulates rules of play, designating winners and awarding championships. Sport Canada has established that a sport should meet certain characteristics, including:
- Physical interaction between participants and the environment
- Specialized neuromuscular and cardio-vascular skills, involving large muscle groups or those which the individual has the ability to utilize, and which can be taught, learned and improved
- An established process for long-term athletic development
- Requires fair, ethical and effective tactics and strategies
- Requires competitive format, sanctioned by a governing body for the sport at a national or world level, open to all participants
So, where does this get us? For one, sports should be competitive and regulated; they involve more than one person and the purpose is to determine a winner (wait – can’t you tie in soccer? – I guess I was right…). Still, as we are talking about video games, the physical requirement is the elephant in the room.
I suppose this illustrates what may already be obvious: the crux of the issue is whether or not video games are ‘physical’ activities. You can get lost down this rabbit hole – I say sports require dexterity, coordination, quick reactions; you say, so does typing or playing piano and yet neither are physical activities.
Interestingly, the International Olympic Committee’s Evaluation Criteria for Sports and Disciplines has no mention of a physical requirement for sports. Rather, the IOC’s criteria focus on the competitive structure, history and popularity of the activity. However, much to the chagrin of chess enthusiasts, the IOC excludes what it calls ‘mind sports’ from eligibility; these include “sports where the physical elements are not necessarily performed by the player in the conduct of the competition.” Funny enough, the IOC also admits that “while making reference extensively to ‘sports’, the Olympic Charter does not provide a definition of a sport” and that “there is no global definition of what constitutes a sport.” So it seems we are not the only ones confused!
Perhaps this leads us to an unsatisfying end: deciding what is and what is not a “sport” may be truly subjective. If we follow the definition from the Federal Government, video games, no matter how competitive, will likely fail on the physical exertion standard. Then again, I’m sure the World Darts Federation would have something to say about the fed’s exclusion of darts. Maybe the IOC has the right approach: not actually defining “sports” and instead classifying different species of activities – which seems like more of a cop out than anything.
For you video game evangelists, there might be hope after all. Unlike their western counterparts, the Korean government has taken a more progressive stance on the inclusion of video games as sports. In 2000, the Korean e-Sports Association (KeSPA) was formed with approval from the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. KeSPA’s mandate is to promote e-Sports as a sporting event, as its official governing body. So while the jury may be out in much of the world, the case is already closed in Korea.