Systematic structure of the aesthetics of sport

Here, I explain the systematic structure of the aesthetics of sport. Before the object of consideration in the aesthetics of sport can be defined, the definitions of “sport” and “the aesthetic” require examination.

The concept of sport

“Sport” is an everyday word. We glean some meaning from the word, but we notice that it is obscure when considered carefully. For example, baseball and basketball are called sports generally, but is fishing a sport? Is hiking or going on a cycling trip with one’s family sports? Further, card games and chess have been called sports, but is this an adequate description? There are probably various answers to these questions.

The meaning of the word “sport” is variable. We shall examine the expansion of the meaning of sport. When we think about the meaning of the word, an etymological investigation generally gives us a useful outlook. In brief, the original meaning of the word “sport” was quitting and leaving work to play. Therefore, sports in the old days contained all enjoyable activities, such as joking, singing, dramatic acting, dancing, playing chess, and playing card games.

The concept of sport, however, changed with the transition to modern times. The most notable difference between the original meaning and the modern meaning of sport was the emphasis on competitive physical activities in the modern concept.30 We can differentiate between the original meaning and the modern meaning regarding sport in this way. The original interpretation was much broader than the modern one.

To deduce the characteristic factors of sport, I will refer to Allen Guttman’s theory31 where he defined the factors immanent in play, game, contest, and sport and clarified the features of modern sports through historical investigations.

First, Guttman understood play as a nonutilitarian activity for its own sake, including the application of both physical and intellectual skills. Play was dividedinto two categories: “spontaneous play” and “organized play.” “Organized play” was called “game,” which was divided into “noncompetitive games” and “competitive games.” “Competitive games” were “contests,” which were further divided into “intellectual contests” and “physical contests.” The “physical contests” were sports, according to Guttman.32 From Guttman’s discussion, we can see that his concept of sport was formed by adding such factors as “organization,” “competition,” and the “physical (body-ness)” to “play.” This concept of sport was a narrow modern interpretation. Thinking about the flow from the original interpretation as play to the modern one as competitive physical game and modifying Guttman’s figure regarding the relations in play, games, contests, and sports, we can schematize the relations of the factors that characterize sport in Figure 1.1.

Spontaneous play <1> is, for example, children’s play in throwing stones. Intellectual games <6> include crossword puzzles, and physical games <7> include Japanese kemari, as Guttman mentioned.33 Examples of intellectual contests <8> include chess and shogi, a Japanese board game. Physical contests <9> arc sports like baseball and basketball.’4

Such an understanding of the extended concept of sport is a methodological means for analyzing the aesthetic in sport. The four characteristics of play, organization, competition, and body-ness are crucial as well. They do not function, however, as concrete clear standards to qualify sports as physical competitive games. Even if we demand that sports must involve intense physical activeness with big muscular movements, the standard of intensiveness could not be represented objectively in numbers. We could only say that the judgement of whether something is a sport depends on the social and historical agreements among people. If shogi or the game of go become Olympic sports someday, it would mean that the concept of sport in position <8> in Figure 1.1 is accepted by people who came to an agreement based on the arguments about the body-ness of sport. Moreover, the characteristic of organization defined by rules does not imply that all phenomena in sport are mechanical, merely following the rules. Sport certainly has organization by rules, but it is nothing but langue, Ferdinand de Saussure posited.35 In the same way, as the concrete language as langue turns into reality through the practical acts of parole, phenomena in sport could be understood as the development of the sort of variations based on the agreement among the people concerned.

  • —Spontaneous Play
  • — Noncompetitive Game


  • —Organized Play (Game) —
  • — Competitive Game (Contest]

□ Intellectual Game<6>

Physical Game<7>

□ Intellectual Contest<8>

Physical Contest<9> [Sport]

Figure 1.1 Phases of Play, Game, Contest and Sport.

Although the concept of sport in position <9> in Figure 1.1 signifies the so-called modern athletics, it technically does not contain exercises for health like jogging. Therefore, it does not fit the ordinary usage of the word in which jogging and walking are called fitness sports in modern society. This shows that the presupposition of the definition of sport, as discussed in my research, exists not in the consistency of the concept itself, but in the significance of the phenomenon called modern athletics. This sort of discussion of the conceptual definition is sometimes colored by a positivistic nuance and misinterpreted. In my discussion, somaesthetic phenomena and experiences of modern athletics are prioritized and applied to the concept of sport itself. An examination of the various factors in Figure 1.1 would be useful in grasping the position of the concept of sport in reality' since we could comprehend the locations of such related matters as play, game, and contest by moving the positions of <1> to <6> further to <9>. We clearly understand that “exercise” exists in a different dimension outside of this extension of the concept of sport.

After all, I defined the concept of sport in the consideration of the aesthetics of sport as follows: sport is a physical activity [body-ness] that involves competition with others or a confrontation with nature [competition] based on artificial rules [organization] in a special circumstance where the association of significance is different from the one in everyday life [play].

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