Power surge for minor ‘sports’

So, the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award 2010 was won by Tony McCoy, fifteen-times Champion Jockey, winner of the 2010 Grand National with 3000 race wins and counting. Other contenders for the award included Phil Taylor in second place, Jessica Ennis in third, along with Tom Daley and David Haye – some of the most acclaimed and highly-achieving performers of the past year.

Following the BBC broadcast of the awards in December, there was, as always, comprehensive media coverage. But, amongst the usual few “did he deserve to win?” headlines (despite a whopping 41 percent of the vote) another interesting point of debate reared its head: is horse racing really a ‘proper’ sport? And what about darts, snooker, golf and Formula One – which have all had past winners of the award, with the exception of darts?

The debate with darts is mostly about our perception of an athlete. Athletes are fit, strong and, well, athletic – and Andy “The Viking” Fordham certainly is not. The game is one traditionally played in pubs, and doesn’t provide the greatest physical workout for its participants. Phil Taylor is certainly a champion, but in the ‘Obese Britain’ of our times, should the BBC really be promoting a beer-bellied, middle-aged man as the second-best sportsperson of the year? Is he the image that children in P.E. lessons should have of an athlete?

Snooker also has the connotations of a pub game: like archery, golf and lawn bowls, it is a target game, but is classed as a sport. All require accuracy, immense concentration and steady nerve, and have a competitive element. But so do ten-pin bowling and tiddlywinks, so does skill alone separate ‘sports’ from ‘competitive leisure activities’?

Personally? I guess I could be called a bit of a ‘sports purist’. I don’t think that darts, snooker or golf really count as sports. Horse – racing and Formula One involve a high level of fitness, despite relying upon a horse or car to do a great deal of the work. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that all of these games demand admirable amounts of hard work and commitment to reach the top, and anyone who reaches these heights definitely deserves huge respect and recognition for their achievements. But being a top sportsperson is more than just about being skilled: it’s about consistently exhibiting a high fitness level, and hence the ability to push yourself to your physical limits during competition.
The Oxford Dictionary definition of a sport is “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another”. Horse racing, yes – but darts? The day that I’m left out of breath following a pint and a few sets of throws, I’ll agree that it’s a sport.