In the ever-evolving landscape of sport, the question of what truly defines a sport continues to spark lively debate.

Discussion over what truly constitutes a sport has been ongoing for decades, and has been especially prominent since the recent inclusion of new sports in the Olympics, such as skateboarding, breakdancing, parkour, and speed climbing. From traditional sports like football and basketball to more unconventional activities such as darts, cheerleading, chess, and esports, the spectrum of what is considered a sport is vast and varied. But what exactly makes a sport a sport?

The word 'sport' traces back to the Old French word 'desport,' meaning leisure. Its earliest known English definition, dating back to around 1300, referred to "anything humans find amusing or entertaining". This broad interpretation suggests sport encompasses activities that not only require physical exertion, but also provide enjoyment and entertainment to participants and spectators alike.’s definition is slightly more specific: "an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature." However, even this definition, while encompassing traditional athletic endeavours like racing, baseball, tennis, and golf, also opens the door to activities that might not immediately spring to mind.

Consider darts. It might be a pub favourite, but it still requires high levels of hand-eye coordination, precision, and strategy, and it has evolved into a fiercely competitive sport with millions of international fans. In fact, the 2024 PDC Darts World Championship final between Luke Littler and Luke Humphries was watched by a record 4.8million people on TV - the highest-ever viewership in darts' history on Sky Sports, and the network's highest-ever viewership for a non-football event.

Esports is another activity which lacks the physicality of more conventional sports, but is often recognised as a sport. It demands lightning-fast reflexes, strategic thinking, and unwavering focus from its competitors, and is incredibly popular, boasting massive arenas, lucrative prize pools, and millions of devoted fans.

So what about chess? It may not require significant levels of physical exertion, but it is a game of intellect and strategy, it has international competitions drawing top players from around the globe, and according to the UN, 605 million adults worldwide play the game regularly. 

Cheerleading is another example. According to Women’s Health Magazine, cheerleading is one of the fastest-growing sports in the UK, but is often dismissed as a sideline activity despite it being highly competitive and extremely physically demanding. In fact, SportCheer England are actively seeking official recognition as a National Governing Body through Sport England. That being said, despite the International Olympic Committee (IOC) officially recognising cheerleading as a sport in July 2021, it was not included in the list of sports that will make a debut appearance at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic Games.

READ MORE: SportCheer England to use technology as foundation to gain Sport England recognition

Skateboarding on the other hand featured in the Olympic Games for the first time in 2020, and is another example of a sport which causes debate. Skateboarding requires great athleticism, creativity, and mental focus, and its elevation to Olympic status not only validated skateboarding as a legitimate sport, but also signalled a shifting mentality, where non-traditional physical and leisure activities are gaining mainstream acceptance as sports in their own right.

The debate over ‘what makes a sport a sport?’ transcends strict definitions and rigid categorisations. While athleticism and competition are undoubtedly central to the sporting experience, the true essence of sports lies in the passion, entertainment, and sense of achievement they inspire. Whether that’s victory on a pitch or playing field, the strategic mastery of a chessboard, or the adrenaline rush of an esports competition, the term 'sport' encompasses a wide range of activities that unite individuals in the pursuit of enjoyment and entertainment.