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Questionable Sports

We have a huge list of sports from around the world, but some people would question if some of these should actually be called a sport. We have discussed and defined what is a sport, so it is easy to assess these sports to see if they fit the criteria. Let me know if I have left something off.

The Criteria

A sport is ...

  1. A human activity involving physical skill and exertion.
  2. Governed by a set of rules or customs.
  3. Undertaken competitively and capable of achieving a result.

Sports Involving Animals

Our first criteria is that a sport should be a human activity. In terms of sports that involve animals, this straight away rules out any sport that only involves animals, such as cock fighting, pigeon racing and greyhound racing, and the large range of novel animal races like cockroach and pig races. There is a large range of dog sports. Some include the dog owner in the physical activity, such as disc dog, bikejoring, so can be considered a sport, while in others the only human intervention is as a handler, so are not sports. Examples of these activities include competition obedience, dock jumping, sheep dog trials, and flyball.

There is a very big push to ban the 'sport' of bull fighting, which is more of a traditional activity than a sport. There are other so called sports which involve animals that are not too popular these days: hunting (such as fox hunting, deer hunting) is often called a sport, and similar activities include beagling, falconry, and even fishing.

sheep dog trails In sheep dog trials, the animal does all the work

When there is a person riding or controlling the animal, the consensus is that is it usually a sport as long as the activity involves physical skill and exertion on the part of the rider and is part of a competition. Examples include horse racing (the 'sport' of kings), camel racing and other animal riding sports. Then there is rodeo, which is a sport, but some forms may not be such as charreada which is more of a demonstration of horse riding skills.

Games not Sports

There are a lot of games that have high level competitions, but as they do not involve considerable physical skill and exertion and often have elements of luck, therefore cannot be called a sport. Some of these may be included in the category of activities called mind sports. Games such as chess, poker (and other card games), billiards/pool game types games (carom billiards, cribbage (pool), cushion caroms, cutthroat etc) may not be considered a sport by everyone. A game like marbles has the physical skill to be a sport, but lacks regular competition.

Activities with Machines

A sport by my definition requires some human physical exertion, so if a machine is doing all the physical work then it cannot be considered a sport. Motor boating made one appearance at the Olympic Games in 1908, thereafter any motorized sport has been explicitly left off the Olympic games program. That does not mean it is not a sport. Along with the large range of motorsports (e.g. formula 1, rallying, enduro) these are sports that do require human physical skill and exertion. Just ask any motocross rider if there is any physical effort required. However, purely motorized sports such as model airplanes, drone racing and robot soccer are not sports (but may be listed for completeness).

E-Sports (Gaming)

Competitive e-gaming is very popular, but does not have the physical demands that enable them to be classified as sports. That has not stopped it being promoted as a possible Olympic sport in the future. There are others too: contesting (also known as radiosport) is a competitive activity pursued by amateur radio operators.

Cheerleading Is cheerleading a sport?

Activities not Sports

There are a lot of recreational outdoor activities that involve high levels of physical exertion, but do not have the competitive element that make it a sport. Examples are hiking, canyoning (canyoneering), trailblazing, bungee jumping. Some of these types of activities also have a competitive branch, and are therefore sports at these times, such as indoor Climbing Competition form of rock climbing, and Skydiving.


There is some debate about whether professional wrestling should be considered a sport or not. Some people consider it to be a form of athletic entertainment, while others argue that it is more of a scripted performance or theatrical production.

Dancing a sport?

There is Dance Sport, which is the sports version of dancing, but other dance forms which are performed for entertainment and fun do not make it as a sport. Breakdancing will be part of the 2024 Olympic Games, which would catapult it from the streets into the realms of elite sports. A similar questionable sport is Pole Dancing.

ballroom dancing Is ballroom dancing a sport?

Martial Arts?

While there are some major martial arts that are sports, such as judo, karate, taekwondo, there are many martial arts that are practiced only as an art form, as a form of exercise, or for learning self-defence, and have no competitive elements. Even then, there are often competitions held. Capoeira for example is a dance/martial art that is usually non-competitive, though there is still a World Championship in Capoeira Sport.

Unusual Games and Championships

Bog swimming, wife carrying, cheese rolling and hundreds of other similar unusual sporting events are often held just once a year as part of a festival. If there were large scale competitions for these activities, they would be sports, but as once-off competitions they don't make my list of sports, but many are listed under unusual sports.

You may not agree with my conclusions, please let me know in the comments below.

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Sport Extra

Check out the 800+ sports in the Encyclopedia of Every Sport. Well not every sport, as there is a list of unusual sports, extinct sports and newly created sports. How to get on these lists? See What is a sport? We also have sports winners lists, and about major sports events and a summary of every year.

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