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Is Math A Sport? 496

theodp writes "The close of the International Mathematical Olympiad prompts Slate to question if math is a sport, wondering if mathletes might someday compete in the Olympics alongside track stars and basketball players."
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Is Math A Sport?

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  • No. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Mr. Vandemar ( 797798 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @04:41PM (#9726531) Homepage
    • Yes (Score:3, Funny)

      And in addition:

      Oh, my, Is my math degree showing?

      • Re:Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

        by rokzy ( 687636 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @05:15PM (#9726767)
        Maths is not a sport.

        If it were, then why not Physics? or Chemistry? or Biology? or History? or Latin?

        I suspect people who want maths to be a sport are those who are good at multiplication tables and think they deserve recognition for it, but are too crap to actually do any proper mathematical research.
        • Re:Yes (Score:2, Troll)

          Actually, the International Biology Olympics [] are just over yesterday... And other sciences, like Informatics, Physics and Chemistry [] have them too...

          While there are a lot of History olympiads [] there doesn't appear to be an international competition. And as for latin, there is a country which hosts a "National Greek and Latin Olympiad" []

          Infer from that what you will...
          • Re:Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

            by michael_cain ( 66650 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @07:07PM (#9727348) Journal
            None of these are sports, even if someone did attach some variation of "olympiad" to them. Let me put it this way -- could you hold an annual competition for the "best" mathematician (or biologist, or physicist) in the world each year? Not the best at taking a multiple choice biology exam, or at solving differential equations in their head, but the best at creating new knowledge in the selected field? Various organizations give awards for the "best" paper in different fields each year, but any one of those may be the culmunation of years of work and experimentation. But the thing that makes people great at such fields are those elusive "Aha!" moments in the middle of the night, or in the shower, or whenever, when a collection of pieces fall into place and form a pattern that no one has ever seen before.

            I can just imagine the announcers at the typical annual world math competition in, say, the topological manifolds event. "And there's the final buzzer, Bob, and as usual -- NOTHING HAPPENED! The greatest topologists in the world went at it for 60 minutes and NONE OF THEM HAD A SINGLE INSIGHT!"

      • Re:Yes (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Senjutsu ( 614542 )
        My math degree says:

        Absolutely no. There is no way in hell math could possibly be considered a sport. Is this question some kind of joke?
    • The formalists [] thought it was a "game" -- which is to say a formal system interesting mainly because of the relations between various components in the system.

      Unfortunately, that was only fun for a little while until Gödel's Incompleteness Proof [] successfully proved that not all truths of arithmetic could be proved using the rules of arithmetic. The result generalizes.

      So the real question here is "Are all sports games?" If so, and it seems quite reasonable, then quite objectively the answer to "Is m
    • Re:No. (Score:3, Informative)

      As a British Junior Invitational Mathematical Olympiad (Yes, really.) I must say, unequivocally, no.
  • Ridiculous. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Chess_the_cat ( 653159 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @04:42PM (#9726541) Homepage
    Absolutely ridiculous. If math is a sport then what isn't a sport. Fuck. The world has gone nuts.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 17, 2004 @04:44PM (#9726554)
      If math is a sport then what isn't a sport.

    • by Corgha ( 60478 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @04:53PM (#9726619)
      If math is a sport then what isn't a sport. Fuck. [emphasis mine]

      You said it. That is something that probably won't be in the Olympics for a long while.
    • I guess you are one of those people who decry both Curling AND Ballroom Dancing as Olympic sports. Basement dwelling trogledyte.


      (Yes, sarcasm folks....)
    • Re:Ridiculous. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SydShamino ( 547793 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @07:50PM (#9727628)
      No, math is not an athletic sport. But it is still something to compete in and be proud of. I got a few nice trips and multiple days out of school in high school to travel for math competitions, and I wasn't particularly good at them.

      What upsets me more, though, is how academic and athletic achievement are recognized so differently.

      For example, a student athlete has their records published in the newspaper, the yearbook, and is recognized at student events. The student athletes that aren't as good don't get as much recognition, but their performances are public record as well.

      Contrast this with schools that are having to eliminate 'A' and 'B' honor rolls, because publication of such rolls shows that everyone not on those lists are 'C' or below students.

      So someone who's even marginally good at sports get to see their name in the paper, and get talked about at school, while those who are good at academics might get a note from the teacher with an extra smiley face sticker. No wonder academic instruction in the US is going downhill.
  • Well... (Score:5, Funny)

    by sk6307 ( 797832 ) <> on Saturday July 17, 2004 @04:43PM (#9726549)
    If curling is a sport, anything is possible.
    • If synchronised swimming can make it to the olymics, then "The Run Way" maths test game in Takeshi's castle should be in the olympics (contestants slide down a ramp while trying to work th answer to a simple arithmetic calculation. Get it right and the contestant remains in the game. Get it wrong and they get dumped into the powder).
      • Re:Takeshi's Castle (Score:4, Informative)

        by wwest4 ( 183559 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @05:30PM (#9726865)
        Many people cite it as a "non-sport," but synchronized swimming is incredibly difficult, both athletically and otherwise. Here's a way for you to find out:

        swim 60 meters underwater.
        stay underwater 3 out of 5 minutes.
        train in a pool 7 days a week in addition to a periodized weight regimen and plyometrics.

        Those things are just auxiliary. As a prerequisite, you must to have incredible overall swimming skills, cardiovascular and muscular endurance, great strength, agility, balance, discipline and superbly-honed technique.

        • Re:Takeshi's Castle (Score:4, Interesting)

          by mikael ( 484 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @10:13PM (#9728261)
          I don't doubt synchronized swimming requires a lot of strength, endurance, training and practise, and deserve international competitions of their own.

          But they don't really seem to have the same goals as the other olympic sports; being first, the highest, furtherest, or the fastest (having been derived from ancient warfare from the Mediterranean).
  • Next on slashdot:

    - Pump up those fingers typing.
    - Eye-hand coordination.
    - Unix manual power lifting for biceps.
    - Thinking about using muscles grows them*

    Furthermore, I'm proposing new /. section, called 'heavy weight', and, as a first article:
    - New monitor installation, extra secion on protein intake for this activity.

    Jokes aside, more than half of the geeks in my company are really build up types (or lean girls). Once you spend 7 hours in front of the screen, you HAVE to do some king of
  • Absolutely (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 3l1za ( 770108 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @04:44PM (#9726555)
    No question about it -- they are.

    Here are some traits of a sport:

    (1) It's something that you can train for -- and, with training, improve in

    (2) It's something in which your progress and fitness and skill/talent can be measured

    (3) It's something in which some people are just naturally gifted and others can achieve at a level commensurate with their effort -- to a point. At some higher levels of mathematics, though -- just like at some levels of athletics (e.g. the Tour de France, the Olympics), no amount of training can overcome a genetic deficiency.

    Most of all, both (mathematics & sports) are fun!
    • Don't forget the performance enhancing drugs. Oh yeah, and the hot chicks!
    • I disagree... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by John Seminal ( 698722 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @04:56PM (#9726645) Journal
      Those criteria can make anything a sport. For example, by your criteria, masturbation can be a sport. I know people who have been training in masturbation for years. They do it every day. They progress and get better at it. No more of the right hand only, then use the left hand too, and upside down. They can even postpone ejaculation. And yes, some people are more naturally gifted at masturbating than others. But do we want to call it a sport?

      You are missing one of the main criteria for sports. You have to be able to stop someone else from scoring or getting what they want. In all games, there is a defense for the offense. What can you defensivly do to stop someone in math?

      • by Epistax ( 544591 ) <> on Saturday July 17, 2004 @05:01PM (#9726679) Journal
        I'd like to see you play defense in bowling. Or golf. I'll bring the camera, you bring the ambulance.
        • Re:I disagree... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by stoborrobots ( 577882 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @05:08PM (#9726725)
          Actually, rather than the existance of defence, the criterion should be the existance of competition...

          Tennis, basketball, swimming, cycling and track are not sports when they're not competitive - they are exercise.

          (And doing maths yourself, i.e. homework, is also called exercise...)

          • Re:I disagree... (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Epistax ( 544591 )
            I disagree.

            One thing in common between bowling, swimming, golf, etc, is that you can compare your score to someone who played a week, month or years ago and it can still be a valid comparison. You obviously can't compare your score in hockey to a different team's on a different day. I'll use this to say that swimming, cycling, track, bowling, golf (etc) are alike in that any competition that does exist is passive (except cheating). However since I don't consider bowling or golf a sport I don't consid
      • by dancingmad ( 128588 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @05:05PM (#9726711)
        You have to be able to stop someone else from scoring.

        Isn't that the definition of masturbation?
      • What can you defensivly do to stop someone in math?

        Same as what you do in hockey, check them when they're running for more paper.

        I see math as a team sport. You have the 2 people who do the calculations, 2 go-fors (pens, paper, research material), and 2 defense men. Anyone outside the crease (safe-zone) is fair game.

        You may also attempt distractions, so long as you do not enter their safe-zone.
      • by jjoyce ( 4103 )
        For example, by your criteria, masturbation can be a sport

        Maybe, but not a team sport, because you can win single-handedly.

      • Re:I disagree... (Score:3, Interesting)

        by FryGuy1013 ( 664126 )
        How do you play "defense" in any of the track and field games, swimming, gymnastics, figure skating, etc. Certainly these are sports.
        • Re:I disagree... (Score:3, Insightful)

          by FrYGuY101 ( 770432 )
          Certainly not.

          A sport is not any athletic competition. A sport is an athletic GAME. One in which opposing sides play against each other, attempting to complete an objective or objectives, and attempting to prevent the opposing side from completing theirs.

          Paintball is a sport. Bowling is not.
          Football is a sport. Track and field is not.
          Water Polo is a sport. Swimming is not.
          Fencing is a sport. Gymnastics is not.
          Hockey is a sport. Figure Skating is not.
          Basketball is a sport. Golf is not.

          Get the pict
      • There are only three true sports Fishing, Mountain climbing and Car racing, the rest are merely games.
      • I nominate you to play defense.
      • Re:I disagree... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Deadstick ( 535032 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @07:38PM (#9727563)
        What can you defensivly do to stop someone in math?

        Produce a counterexample.

        Prove his solution isn't unique.


    • Math is not a sport. Problem solving could be considered to be similar to a sport. You don't actually train on Math; you learn Math, and you train on solving problems. And you can show your progress and fitness (and speed) on solving a particular class of problems. I did, and I won the Olimpíada Matemática Argentina in 1989 and I would have gone to the International Mathematics Olympiad, if only the stupid government of Raúl Alfonsín (Argentina's president at the time) hadn't leaked all
    • Of course, in these criteria, truck driving, bacterial growth, and the ability to fill the bongwater close to the line without looking are all sports.

      Perhaps you shouldn't set the vaguest guidelines you can think of, assume that they're correct, and go on to pontificate about them? For example, 's definition of sport, which is of traditionally low quality, is as follows:

      1 a : a source of diversion : RECREATION b : sexual play c (1) : physical activity engaged in for pleasure (2) : a particular ac

      First two listed.

      1A) Physical activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively.
      2B) A particular form of this activity.

      2 - An activity involving physical exertion and skill that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often undertaken competitively.

      I don't believe math has any physical endurance at all. Mentally sure.

      I am not putting down people who are great at mathematics, but its not a sport.
    • Well, by those definitions anything could be a sport/game. Toenail clipping. Deck sanding. Dwarf throwing.

      The real issue is what sports/games are likely to be popular in the mainstream. Sorry, but I doubt that math will be one of them -- mostly because it is so esoteric.

    • The Pythian Games (Score:3, Interesting)

      No, it's not some kind of python coding competition. As it turns out, besides the ancient Olympic games there were three other large competitions []: The Pythian Games at Delphi (Apollo); The Isthmian Games (Poisedon); and the Nemean Games (Zeus).

      According to my tour guide in Delphi (I was recently there, really a very interesting site) the Pythian games [] were originally and primarily artistic in nature, with musical, dramatic, and poetic competitions, with athletic competitions added somewhat later. Delphi
  • Poker on ESPN (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ikea5 ( 608732 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @04:44PM (#9726558)
    Well, if World Series Of Poker can be broacasted on ESPN, then I guess math is a sport.
    • Missing the point (Score:3, Insightful)

      by AvantLegion ( 595806 )
      >> Well, if World Series Of Poker can be broacasted on ESPN, then I guess math is a sport.

      Nobody is claiming that poker is a sport, either. Which is where your logic fails - you equate "broadcast on ESPN" with "sport". Granted, ESPN is mainly about sports, but it also broadcasts other competitive activities that are questionable as "sports". Poker is by far the one furthest from athletic competition. But if you ask anyone on ESPN if poker is a "sport", you can bet the answer will be "no".


  • Sure! (Score:5, Funny)

    by natefanaro ( 304646 ) <> on Saturday July 17, 2004 @04:44PM (#9726560) Homepage Journal
    Math should be a sport as much as 0 equals 1.
    • Well... (Score:3, Funny)

      by MalleusEBHC ( 597600 )
      0 does equal 1, for very small values of 1.
    • Re:Sure! (Score:5, Funny)

      by betelgeuse-4 ( 745816 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @06:16PM (#9727110) Homepage Journal

      x = 1 - 1/2 - 1/4 + 1/3 - 1/6 - 1/8 + 1/5 - 1/10 - ... (i.e. the sum of an infinite series)

      Add some brackets:

      x = (1 - 1/2) - 1/4 + (1/3 - 1/6) - 1/8 + (1/5 - 1/10) - ...

      Resolve the brackets:

      x = (1/2) - 1/4 + (1/6) - 1/8 + (1/10) ...

      x = (1/2)[1 - 1/2 + 1/3 - 1/4 + 1/5 - ...]

      x = x/2

      Multiply by 2:

      2x = x

      Divide by x:

      2 = 1

      Subtract 1:

      1 = 0

      Therefore maths is a sport.

      Hopefully I haven't made any mistakes :)
      • Re:Sure! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Temporal ( 96070 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @06:38PM (#9727230) Journal
        Isn't it amazing what you can prove using clever divisions of zero?
      • Re:Sure! (Score:3, Informative)

        by Ghoser777 ( 113623 )
        Your deduction assumes that if

        x = 1 - 1/2 - 1/4 + 1/3 - 1/6 - 1/8 + 1/5 - 1/10


        x = 1 - 1/2 + 1/3 - 1/4 + 1/5 - ...

        as that's what you do in your substitution step. But those two infinite sums are totally different. Rearranging numbers in an infinite sum is not allowed without very careful consideration. It be like saying:

        1 + 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/4 + 1/5 + 1/6 + 1/7 - 1/2 + 1/8 + 1/9 + 1/10 + 1/11 + 1/12 + 1/13 + 1/14 - 1/3 + 1/15...

        was the same as 1 + 1/2 - 1/2 + 1/3 - 1/3 + 1/4 - 1/4....

        The idea is th
        • Re:Sure! (Score:3, Interesting)

          Funny you didn't get modded informative yet. I would however make the argument stronger by changing your example to something more obvious, like

          1+2+3-2 +4+5+6-3 +7+8+9-4 +...


          1 +2-2 +3-3 +...

          Moving divergent subseries around is a nicer trick than plain division by zero though, I'll give him that ^_^
  • I would like to see a mathematical proof written to support the claim.
  • Of course not (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Brave Guy ( 457657 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @04:46PM (#9726569)
    It's an art.
  • Math may not be a 'sport', but I like the idea of such a competition in an international setting like the Olympics. Let's trim some of the fluff sports that currently litter the Olympics and add math competitions.

  • Depends (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Apreche ( 239272 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @04:47PM (#9726578) Homepage Journal
    Just about every word in the english language has multiple definitions. You know, when you look in the dictionary and there are numbers 1,2,3, etc. Lets' take a look at one in the OED.

    I. 1. a. Pleasant pastime; entertainment or amusement; recreation, diversion.

    If you use that one, then yes, math can be a sport for some people.

    d. Participation in games or exercises, esp. those of an athletic character or pursued in the open air; such games or amusements collectively.

    That one depends on how you do the math.

    c. spec. Pastime afforded by the endeavour to take or kill wild animals, game, or fish. Freq. with adjs. referring to the result achieved.

    no, math is not a sport. Unless you can make a funny joke about how doing math kills wild animals. See replies to this post for witty comments.
    • See replies to this post for witty comments.

      I totally differentiated that zebra. Even if he somehow manages to integrate he'll never really know where he was before.
  • from []

    athlete PPronunciation Key(thlt) n. A person possessing the natural or acquired traits, such as strength, agility, and endurance, that are necessary for physical exercise or sports, especially those performed in competitive contexts.
  • First step (Score:2, Funny)

    by dewie ( 685736 )
    I think the first thing they have to do if they're looking for respect and recognition is to stop calling themselves "mathletes".

  • I don't think something is a sport unless there is some physical activity involved. Unless you are activly doing something with your body, and it is against someone else, then it is not a sport.

    That is why I would classify something like ping pong as a sport. You have an opponent and you have to use your body to win. You move your legs to get you in place to make a shot, and you use your hands to add touch to the shot.

    Math is not a sport. And you can't really have an oponent the way you can in real spor

    • I agree with you the Math isn't a sport, but not for the last reason you presented. Competition doesn't require rules that allow opponents to affect you - look at sprinting, shooting, ice skating (well, apart from Tonya Harding) etc etc. Math could just be presented as a competition based on whoever can do the problems fastest, or with the most accuracy, or with points for flair and style.

      I do agree that sports have to involve some kind of competitive physical activity though, which math lacks. If it's jus
    • Would you argue polevaulting is or is not a sport ?

      There is no opponent to thwart your moves.

      You could argue that there are opponents who can jump higher, thereby raising the bar (as a result, literally).

      But what if there were no others practicing polevaulting, would it no longer be a sport, merely because you are competing against.. well.. yourself ?

      I just don't think chess should be a sport ;)

      And I don't think elimination sports should be Olympic sports..
      e.g. Tennis.
      If you lose a game, your kicked ou
  • It's not a sport unless you can die.

    Everything else is a game.

    Not that there is anything wrong with that.
  • I have a hard time seeing fans cheering on their favourite mathlete. Could you imagine the 'math' highlights of the day on ESPN or something?

    "Today we witnessed the biggest upset in math history. Mr.Robert at the last minute pulled out a proof that he was working on during the half time break, and won it for the team! That's right Larry, what an exciting conclusion to the 2004 Math Bowl! I haven't seen proofs like that since my university years Dave. Now onto a word from our sponsors."

    ... I rest my case.
  • Another NO (Score:5, Funny)

    by pr0c ( 604875 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @04:55PM (#9726639)
    In all real sports you can reasonable expect someone to get injured.

    If someone isn't going to get hurt.. why bother!
    • That's why we need to make math more exciting.. Add some sorta penalty for not getting it right say a nice wedgy by the other team's bully.
  • The answer is no! (Score:3, Informative)

    by toetagger1 ( 795806 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @04:56PM (#9726644)
    Math [] by definition is not a Sport [].

    The study of the measurement, properties, and relationships of quantities and sets, using numbers and symbols.

    An activity involving physical exertion and skill that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often undertaken competitively.

    • And don't even think about saying that Chess [] is a sport!

      A board game for two players, each beginning with 16 pieces of six kinds that are moved according to individual rules, with the objective of checkmating the opposing king.

  • In a word? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Moofie ( 22272 )

    If Stephen Hawking can do it, it's not a sport.

    Geeks (like me) need to get over their inferiority complex (which I did). Intellectual pursuits are not more or less worthy than physical ones...they're just different.
  • I used to run cross-country in high school, and I did a lot more bike riding back then too. Both are fun activities to participate in.

    But are they fun to watch? Hell no! I'd rather watch NASCAR than the Tour de France or some random 5K; at least race cars explode when they crash.

    Call it a sport if you want, I don't care. I guess if they can show poker on ESPN, anything's possible. But don't expect me to watch.

    BTW, I did Academic Decathalon back in high school too; last I checked, I was the record-holder
  • Here is how to tell if something is a sport:

    You can buy shoes specifically designed to be worn while doing it.

    Otherwise it is not a sport.

    If someone starts making a pair of shoes with an integrated slide rule, then math will be a sport. Until then, it's just a hobby.
  • Some sports are included in the Olympics for their physical demands, some to popular interest and some for the spectacle (for example the aesthetics of the teams taking part in synchronised swimming are far more interesting than who actually wins). Math has absolutely no chance because

    (a) no physical requiments whatsoever beyond being alive
    (b) you basically want a tv audience to watch people think about something that 99% of them cant remotely comprehend
    (c) did I mention its boring and no one cares t
  • Beer test (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Do you want a beer when you sit down and watch it on TV? FAIL

    Are pros surrounded by eager young women in every city? FAIL

    Bob Costas can tell you more than everything you wanted to know about it? FAIL

    Participants use performance-enhancing drugs? PASS

    Therefore math is not a sport

  • "Ludwig Wittgenstein, who famously addressed the question we're discussing in his Philosophical Investigations:

    Consider for example the proceedings that we call "games." I mean board-games, card-games, ball-games, Olympic games, and so on. What is common to them all? Don't say: "There must be something common, or they would not be called 'games' "but look and see whether there is anything common to all.


    How should we explain to someone what a game is? I imagine that we should describe games to him
  • At what point does a game become a sport?
  • Math is interesting, math is fun, math is usefull, but math is not a sport.

    From WordNet (r) 2.0:
    n 1: an active diversion requiring physical exertion and
    competition [syn: athletics]
  • Jesus, man, baseball's barely a sport, it's more of a chess. Math doesn't even reach that level of athletic competition.
  • I can see an arguement for Math being a game. Games are basicly contests done for fun or competition where one side faces another side. So Math as a game, ie, who can do these the fastest, is possible.

    Sports, however, have a decent physical component. Even Curling, you need to skate and be able to sweep ice. Synchronized Swimmin, you need to have an entire team co-ordinated in their movements. Math? Sorry, pencil-scribbling and calculator-punching doesn't equal physical activity enough to qualify as a spor
  • wikipedia: []
    Sport is a major area of human interest and activity. A large part of our leisure, and newspaper and TV time is given over to it.

    A pragmatic approach to defining "sport" is to look at the common usage of the term.

    A sport can be operationally defined as an activity characteristically involving :

    * The exercise of a useful physical skill recreationally, i.e. for a purpose other than its practical application in daily life.

    * Conforming to a set of rules for the activity while ai
  • Citius, Altius, Fortius

    Swifter, higher, stronger - what could be a more straight forward definition than the motto of the olympics? Swimming is an olympic sport, diving is not. Sprinting and weight lifting are olympic sports, ice dancing and gymnastics are not. Throwing an item and measuring the distance is an olympic sport. Awarding marks for the manner in which an item is thrown is not.

  • by logicnazi ( 169418 ) <<logicnazi> <at> <>> on Saturday July 17, 2004 @05:24PM (#9726833) Homepage
    First of all I want to point out how absolutely ridiculous this question is. It is merely an invitation to petty linguistic bickering over whether the word 'sport' is broad enough to cover mathematics competitions. There is no real substance to this issue and I expect to see a bunch of pointless posts referencing differnt dictionaries. This is doubly pointless because the dictionary could say a sport is a type of lettuce and it wouldn't make any difference, the public at large is going to continue to use sport to refer primarily to athletic events and not mathematical competitions. Regardless of how you can twist dictionary definitions for all prctical purposes the word sport (by usage) will continue to not include mathematical competitions.

    There is however, a more important issue to be addressed. That is the inappropriate confusion of these math (or science) competitions with the actual subject itself. Now I realize that these competitions are run with the best intentions but in the long run they do a disservice to the communities they attempt to publisicise.

    While it *should* be entierly irrelevant who is making an argument unfortunatly it often is not. So perhaps it will clear up confusion if I point out that I am a math grad student who has competed in many of these type events (I even was in the physics olympiad camp) and I have quite positive regard for both these subjects and the competitions. The competitions are certainly a fun way for students interested in these activities to interact, meet others, and engage competitively. I'm not advocating they cease existing or anything of the kind.

    I am, however, deeply disturbed by the way these activities are presented. The math and physics olympiads (as well as numerous lesser high school competitions) are presented as representitives of actual math or science. While it might have some local benefit to get people excited about the competitive aspect of these competitions it will ultimately only hurt these communities if people confuse these rigged competitions with what mathematicians or scientists *really* do. Science and math *aren't* sports where people race to solve rigged problems and presenting them as such quite likely erodes public perception of their importance. The public might admire sports but when push comes to shove they will cut sports funding before other programs, we don't want them to consider math and science the same way. Even worse by emphasising only the competitive aspects and problem solving tricks of these disciplines many students who have slightly differnt interests are turned off. I don't have any evidence but it is quite possible that the mischarechterization of science/math as primarily competitive contributes to the underrepresentation of females in these fields.

    Unfortunatly this confusion between the competitions and the actual subject is quite real. At least in the mathematical world performing well on the putnam or IMO will get one into grad school or college respectively. There seems to be a widespread, and false, belief that these competitions bear a significant resembelance to their subjects.

    It is true that the putnam and IMO competitions do focus on proving various results and not on the brute calculations that unfortunatly comprise most of HS and undergrad mathematics education. However, solving cute little problems under time pressure is hardly an accurate description of mathematical enterprise. Many important fascets of mathematical investigation (developing new definitions/conceptual frameworks, collaboration etc..) are entierly absent and the competition favors quick studious thinkers who go through books of past competitions over deeper thinkers.

    The physics competitions (which I have more personal knowledge of having been a finalist in the physics olympiad) are even worse. Physics is the search for *new* laws and rules about the universe (not necessarily fundamental...for instance laws about liquid flow) while the competitions merely measure application o
  • They are about keeping the least of the street. If a person is any good in math they will be far to busy to bother with a non-paying event like the olympics. Only "special" members of our society needed sponsored jobs.

    Well until the b-ark is finished.

    What the olympics bringing peace and understanding? HA, you must never have watched the reports in them. The olympics have lost all value if they ever had one with them being hosted by the nazi's 2x, at least hitler waited with killing jews until after the ol

  • We're arguing about the olympics here, anyone bothered to look up the IOC's definition of a sport? Maybe it would be a lot more productive than picking each dictionary's definition, since dictionaries have to follow usage, and don't necessarily carry formal distinctions.

    according to d f []
    Math and Chess could theoretically be accepted as disciplines, since events mention performance, as ranked between individuals, and discriminate against mechanical propulsi
  • by B2K3 ( 669124 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @05:46PM (#9726956)

    Step 1: Assume Math is a sport.

    Step 2: If Math is a sport, all Math nerds are athletes.

    Step 3: All atheletes are jocks (remember high school?).

    Step 4: All jocks beat up math nerds (again, re: high school).

    Conclusion: All Math nerds beat up math nerds.

    But: I am a math nerd, and have never beaten anyone up (including myself or any another math nerd).

    This is a contradiction.

    Ergo, Math isn't a sport.


  • by drfireman ( 101623 ) <(dan) (at) (> on Saturday July 17, 2004 @05:49PM (#9726974) Homepage
    People ask this kind of question about all sorts of things, as though there is some kind of natural law that dictates what is or isn't a sport (or game, or whatever we're arguing about today). Alas, "sport" isn't some natural feature of the structure of the universe, it's a word that's reasonably useful in communicating an ill-defined concept. Asking questions about the precise boundaries of an ill-defined word is pointless.

    Fortunately, nothing depends on it! Nobody's all that confused about which features math shares with track and field (sweating, no; competition, yes). And if the organizers of the Olympics declared that math (or poker, or cooking) would be admitted if it were a sport, the right step would not be to try to determine whether or not it's a sport. The right step would be to find out exactly what the organizing committee meant by "sport." After some run-around, we would find out they didn't have anything in mind, and were just speaking loosely in the hope that it wouldn't cause any problems.
  • by Saeger ( 456549 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (jllerraf)> on Saturday July 17, 2004 @05:52PM (#9726993) Homepage
    Sure, math could be considered a 'sport', but only up until we have the technology to augment our intelligence [] to make math, and other fuzzier modes of thought, trivial. Our brains really aren't optimized for that kind of thing, unless you happen to be autistic.

    Even if there were a "natural brain" competition class, it would be more like the Special Olympics once most everyone else was augmented. I'd be thinking, "Look at those pathetic meat-brains! They can't even do simple calculus in under 1 millisecond like the X30-implant can! Haha. Amusing luddites."

    (the steroid analogy doesn't really apply here because most people aren't on them themselves, but when athletes *DO* use stealthy enhancement drugs, and the latest in training/materials, it makes for a more interesting spectacle despite the 'cheating' hypocrisy. If most people were also physically improved cyborgs, that attitude would change, and it would the 'aided-human' class that got the spotlight.)


  • by servognome ( 738846 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @05:54PM (#9727009)
    The philosopher Bernard Suits defines a sport as a game that meets the following four criteria: "(1) that the game be a game of skill; (2) that the skill be physical; (3) that the game have a wide following; and (4) that the following achieve a certain level of stability."
    "Maybe one should take 2) to mean "at least one of the skills relevant to the game is physical."

    I think that falls short of the definition of sports, it should be the skills are primarily physical. Which includes things such as ballroom dancing, figure skating, but rules out math, bridge, or just adding a short running component to solving math problems.
    Boxing columnist R. Michael Onello says "boxing is 70 percent mental"
    I disagree with this, the difference between Boxer A and Boxer B can be 70% mental, but that doesn't mean the sport is 70% mental. Once you push the human body to its physical limits (which all top athletes do) the difference from athlete to athlete is mostly mental.
    For example if you look at 40m times for football wide receivers there isn't much differece, like .1 or .2 seconds. That is one of the primary physical requirement, if you are too slow, no amount of mental skill can help you. So if everybody is running a 4.5s 40m, what makes one much better than another? The mental part, reading defenses, knowing their route against a given defense, running precise routes. The game is physical, the difference maker is mental.
  • No cheerleaders (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jim Hall ( 2985 ) on Sunday July 18, 2004 @10:18AM (#9730666) Homepage

    I was on the Math Team in high school ... and I was Team Captain my senior year. That year, I came to the conclusion that since Math Team got the same letter jacket patches as the athletic activities, and since we were representing our team competitively against other schools just like the athletic teams, we should get the same "benefits" as the athletic teams. The first benefit we asked for - we needed to have cheerleaders.

    Request was denied. :-(

    We decided not to ask for the pep rally. :-)

"How many teamsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?" "FIFTEEN!! YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?"