Is running a sport?

Of course it is!, I hear you say. You move your body, you sweat, and you may even run in a race from time to time. Well, not everyone would agree with you. In fact, there seems to be quite a lot of disagreement on what we are talking about when we use the word ‘sport’. What about Formula 1, chess and bullfighting, and even ‘electronic sports’? Are they all sports?

Despite football’s predominance as ‘the’ sport to follow and play, there is a long list of contenders that would also like a bit of attention. And I’m not just talking about basketball, the usual runner-up to ‘soccer’ (name for football in the US). For one reason or another, other activities are either ignored by the majority or tend to cause controversy.

Perhaps we can start to make sense of all this by looking at language

Past interpretations of sport – such as an “activity engaged in for relaxation and amusement” (Roget’s II) – were much more general and could probably apply to just about any leisure activity, even watching TV! Nowadays most people adhere to a stricter definition: “an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature, such as racing, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, wrestling, boxing, hunting, fishing, etc.”  or perhaps, “An activity involving physical exertion and skill that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often undertaken competitively.”


Then what about chess?

That’s not very physical, is it? Well, the umbrella organisation, SportAccord, which seems to represent international opinion on the subject, includes it under the category ‘primarily mind’ and also has a section for Formula 1 which is called ‘predominantly motorised’. That clears up part of the question asked in the first paragraph but what about bullfighting? Described by some as a ‘blood sport’, by others as ‘much more than a sport’, it is often thought of a something more like an art form, as described by Alexander Fiske-Harrison in The Telegraph. Others simply call it cruelty to animals. Whatever your opinion, in the UK it is usually put in the same category as hunting and fishing: traditional sports. However, in Spain its place in the ‘Culture’ section of the news instead of the ‘Sports’ section suggests Friske-Harrison is probably right: it is not a sport.

While running may comply with most of the characteristics and official definitions described above, it is not considered to be, in many people’s minds, a sport. Team sports such as football, basketball, and even funny ones like handball, enjoy ‘sport’ status. Individual activities like golf and cycling, because of their physical, competitive nature, also seem to be generally accepted.

So, why not running?

It seems to be simply a question of reputation. This could be highlighted by Jaymie Pizarro story about her 6-year-old son who found himself unable to defend his mum’s sport against his friends at a school. For them soccer, basketball and baseball are sports; running is not. Many people find it hard to understand why you would run if not as part of a game involving teammates, balls, and a goal. What’s the point?

From a personal point of view, I really enjoy running as way of exercising both physically and mentally. For me, it is not a sport, even when I run a half marathon, because I don’t feel like I’m competing against anyone else. It’s more a feeling of cooperation. We’re all in it together. It would be really depressing if I was trying to compete because it would mean being beaten by thousands of people in every race!

So, that could be it. Without the element of competition, maybe sport is not sport.


  • Bullfighting (n) : a traditional Spanish spectacle in which a matador, baits and usually kills a bull in an arena.
  • Contend (v) : to struggle in rivalry, battle, etc.
  • Beat (v) :  to arrive or finish before (someone or something); anticipate or forestall.

What about you? When you hear the word ‘sport’, what do you think of? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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2 comments on “Is running a sport?
  1. Nice work, Owain! I read this article with a Go English student who is a very keen marathon runner and we had a good chat about it. He thinks running IS in fact a sport, at least to him so I suppose his view is quite different from yours. Anyway, thanks a lot for posting it.

    • Owain Wilson says:

      Thanks Brett! Great to get some feedback and I’m glad the article was useful. What are your thoughts on whether running is a sport?

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