Debating William & Mary, sports and culture since 2011. Updated every Wednesday.

Figure Skating Is Not a Sport

In Sports Philosophy on February 13, 2014 at 6:34 pm

With the 2014 Winter Olympics in full swing in Sochi, CDH has caught Olympic fever. Bobsleigh, ‘boarding, bathrooms — we can’t get enough of it. But this week, we turn to the Winter Games’ dirty secret. What is a “sport?”

Figure skating is the uncontested king of competitions at the Winter Olympics. That’s especially true at the 2014 Games. Host country Russia’s reputation as a figure skating powerhouse is well known, and a crop of young Americans, led by fan favorite Gracie Gold have reaffirmed the event’s prominence at the Games. Emphasis on event, because, like it or not, figure skating is not a sport.

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This is not an attack on figure skating. No one is saying that figure skating is easy or pedestrian. It’s incredibly difficult, takes years of training, and, as Russian skater Evgeni Plushenko can attest, it can be incredibly dangerous. It really is an art form, combining the most complicated elements of athleticism, grace, movement and dance. But it’s not a sport.

This is sure to cause controversy. Figure skating’s defenders will surely point to the dictionary definition (let’s be honest, Wikipedia), that sports are simply organized and competitive physical activity. But there is a difference between “sport” and the popular idea of “sports.” Fox hunting is “sport.” Baseball is a sport. (Nick Carraway is an Old Sport.)

But what is the popular definition of a sport? Probably something along these lines: an athletic competition between teams or individuals governed by set rules, in which one side tries to beat the other in an objective fashion. Whether “objective” would actually appear in someone’s written personal definition doesn’t matter — it’s really a gut feeling that’s difficult to articulate, but it’s essential to the popular idea of sports. In general terms, what it means is that one side beats the other by scoring more points, finishing in less time, or some other fashion that can be measured objectively. In football, the team with the most points wins, and points are scored by touchdowns and field goals. In baseball, the team with the most runs wins, and runs are scored by crossing home plate. Hockey, basketball, lacrosse, soccer, it’s all the same — the team with more points wins.

So why doesn’t figure skating fit this definition? Doesn’t the skater(s) with the most points win? Technically, yes. But consider how those points are scored. Before the competition begins, skaters create programs consisting of music, movement and tricks (that might not be the correct term, but if it’s good enough for snowboarding, it’s good enough for figure skating). No two programs are alike — the music and the moves are supposed to be different. Furthermore, figure skating uses judges. Unlike referees or umpires who maintain play by enforcing rules, skating judges adjudicate the performance and award points based on their subjective feelings. Imagine an NFL game where Ed Hochuli can award a four-point touchdown because the quarterback missed an open receiver and threw into coverage instead. It’s not a sport if the judges decide the winner rather than the rules.

Figure skating can be fun to watch. And Olympic figure skating has had many memorable moments. But it’s not a sport. When the game clock runs out or the final out is secured, you know who wins by looking at the scoreboard. In figure skating, you wait for the judges to tabulate their scores. Athletic, but not a sport. Sorry, Old Sport.

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  1. First Id lik to know if you have ever attempted to Skate? A referee in football decides wether a play was legal or not. If it wasnt, the other team a point or one team loses a point. In figure skating if a skaters body does not rotate completely than a point is deducted, but if the skaters body was in the perfect position they are awarded a pont. Last time I checkek (beign an experienced figure skater), figure skating judges do the exact same thing. they use instant replay and playback to review the skaters body position just as a ref may do in a football or soccer game. This article ( if its even worth being called that) is unprofessional and clearly shows that you are judging the sport based on a matter of opinion rather than experience. Figure skaters endure vigorous conditioning and train harder than most football players do. Just becuase you put on a jock strap or shoulder pads, that doesnt make you an athlete. I participate in many other so called sports besides figure skating, and I have to say that figure skating is by far superior.Id like to see you jump in the air and use you ab muscles to rotate four times and land on a blade less than an eighth on an inch – backwards- on one leg. when your done, your eyes will probablystill be crossed. your ranting is very unprofessional and you might want to do more research of how figure skating is scored before posting something like this. I know you said no offense to us figure skaters but by totaly misconstruing the intire sport of figure skating, its very difficult to even take you seriously.

  2. sport
    spôrt
    noun
    1.
    an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.

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