Sport is an activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively. Sports commonly refer to activities where the physical capabilities of the competitor are the sole or primary determiner of the outcome (winning or losing), but the term is also used to include activities such as mind sports (a common name for some card games and board games with little to no element of chance) and motor sports where mental acuity or equipment quality are major factors.
The entertainment aspect of sports, together with the spread of mass media and increased leisure time, has led to professionalism in sports. This has resulted in some conflict, where the paycheck can be seen as more important than recreational aspects, or where the sports are changed simply to make them more profitable and popular, thereby losing certain valued traditions.
The entertainment aspect also means that sportsmen and women are often elevated to celebrity status.
When apartheid was the official policy in South Africa, many sports people, particularly in rugby union, adopted the conscientious approach that they should not appear in competitive sports there. Some feel this was an effective contribution to the eventual demolition of the policy of apartheid, others feel that it may have prolonged and reinforced its worst effects.
In the history of Ireland, Gaelic sports were connected with cultural nationalism. Until the mid 20th century a person could have been banned from playing Gaelic football, hurling, or other sports administered by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) if she/he played or supported association football, or other games seen to be of British origin. Until recently the GAA continued to ban the playing of soccer and rugby union at Gaelic venues. This ban is still enforced, but has been modified to allow football and rugby be played in Croke Park while Lansdowne Road (both in Dublin) is being redeveloped. Until recently, under Rule 21, the GAA also banned members of the British security forces and members of the RUC from playing Gaelic games, but the advent of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 led to the eventual removal of the ban.
Nationalism is often evident in the pursuit of sports, or in its reporting: people compete in national teams, or commentators and audiences can adopt a partisan view. On occasion, such tensions can lead to violent confrontation among players or spectators within and beyond the sporting venue (see Football War). These trends are seen by many as contrary to the fundamental ethos of sports being carried on for its own sake and for the enjoyment of its participants.
Sports have many affinities with art. Ice skating and Tai chi, and Dancesport for example, are sports that come close to artistic spectacles in themselves. Similarly, there are other activities that have elements of sport and art in their execution, such as artistic gymnastics, Bodybuilding, Free running, performance art, professional wrestling, Yoga, bossaball, dressage, culinary arts, marching band, drum corps, etc. Perhaps the best example is Bull-fighting, which in Spain is reported in the arts pages of newspapers. The fact that art is so close to sports in some situations is probably related to the nature of sports. The definition of "sports" above put forward the idea of an activity pursued not just for the usual purposes, for example, running not simply to get places, but running for its own sake, running as well as we can.
This is similar to a common view of aesthetic value, which is seen as something over and above the strictly functional value coming from an object's normal use. So an aesthetically pleasing car is one which doesn't just get from A to B, but which impresses us with its grace, poise, and charisma.
In the same way, a sporting performance such as jumping doesn't just impress us as being an effective way to avoid obstacles or to get across streams. It impresses us because of the ability, skill, and style which is shown.
Art and sports were probably more clearly linked at the time of Ancient Greece, when gymnastics and calisthenics invoked admiration and aesthetic appreciation for the physical build, prowess and 'arete' displayed by participants. The modern term 'art' as skill, is related to this ancient Greek term 'arete'. The closeness of art and sport in these times was revealed by the nature of the Olympic Games which, as we have seen, were celebrations of both sporting and artistic achievements, poetry, sculpture and architecture.
Technology has an important role in sports, whether applied to an athlete's health, the athlete's technique, or equipment's characteristics.
Equipment As sports have grown more competitive, the need for better equipment has arisen. Golf clubs, football helmets, baseball bats, soccer balls, hockey skates, and other equipment have all seen considerable changes when new technologies have been applied.
Health Ranging from nutrition to the treatment of injuries, as the knowledge of the human body has deepened over time, an athlete's potential has been increased. Athletes are now able to play to an older age, recover more quickly from injuries, and train more effectively than previous generations of athletes.
Instruction Advancing technology created new opportunities for research into sports. It is now possible to analyse aspects of sports that were previously out of the reach of comprehension. Being able to use motion capture to capture an athlete's movement, or advanced computer simulations to model physical scenarios has greatly increased an athlete's ability to understand what they are doing and how they can improve themselves.
In British English, sporting activities are commonly denoted by the collective noun "sport". In American English, "sports" is more used. In all English dialects, "sports" is the term used for more than one specific sport. For example, "football and swimming are my favourite sports", would sound natural to all English speakers, whereas "I enjoy sport" would sound less natural than "I enjoy sports" to North Americans.
The term "sport" is sometimes extended to encompass all competitive activities, regardless of the level of physical activity. Both games of skill and motor sport exhibit many of the characteristics of physical sports, such as skill, sportsmanship, and at the highest levels, even professional sponsorship associated with physical sports. Air sports, billiards, bridge, chess, motorcycle racing, and powerboating are all recognized as sports by the International Olympic Committee with their world governing bodies represented in the Association of the IOC Recognised International Sports Federations.