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Questions about Sport.

For me it was fun to play when I was young. Later, it was fun to watch my kids playing. Now it leaves me cold. When the Olympics is on I guiltily hunt for a movie channel. I enjoy none of the vicarious pleasure from watching sport that others seem to get, and in a small way I am worried about this.

I just don’t get why sport is important in our society, and so I ask myself lots of questions about it. Perhaps you can help me find some answers.

Which is the best Sporting Nation?
This is a regular bar topic, but can we really be objective?
We don’t need to be objective if we can rely on statistics. Tarik’s ??? rates USA the best by a good margin across a broad range of sporting events. We get a score of 134
Next in line is Australia with a score of 92.
These scores are based on achievement in 2007, and are bound to fluctuate over the years. However, these two rankings are also found here dubiously based only on opinions of a volunteer sample.
So the question should really be addressed as an average over time.

If Australia can come second in a global medal tally, even though it has only one tenth of the population of the USA, ( By population USA is 3rd and Australia is 53 rd) does that not indicate that they may be on average better at sports than Americans? Does that make their country better at sport? I think they could only achieve that result if they had a higher participation rate.

What does all this say about the country itself. Excellence in sport across the whole spectrum of events can only be achieved (in the absence of unfair government assistance) if the people have sufficient affluence and spare time to spend on elite sporting activity. So it is probably a good indicator of the quality of life in the country.

But then it appears that African Americans are higher achievers than white Americans, so what happened to the correlation with affluence? Is it all about genes? There are no African genes in Australian sport, and no significant genetic differences with Europeans or white Americans.

Then there is the opportunity cost. If the people spent their time doing something more productive, say science, then perhaps their country could be top ranking in another field, That might make them smarter, but would it make them happier?

Perhaps it all has more to do with the weather. Both Australia and the USA have plenty of good weather for sports training. This conclusion is reinforced by the fact that Australia has little cold weather and it achieves poorly at the Winter Olympics.

Does elite sport have any intrinsic value at all for the individual or the nation. The health benefits of participation are obvious, but at the elite level it probably does more harm than good to the body.

Is it good for the nation?
Is it good for the mentality of the player?
Because sporting achievers are looked up to, should they have to live up to the role model image for the sake of children?
Is sporting achievement a reliable indicator of the quality of an American college?
Is sport in any way a model for life? Does it build “character” that makes players more able to cope with adversity, pain, competition, studies, or business?
Should we also consider the mental impact on those who lose at sport continually?
If playing sport is virtuous, is there any virtue in being only a spectator?
Does any particular sport stand out as being better for the player or for the nation?

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Forced vs Choice by VnutZ

You also have to consider how communist nations have put a lifetime of training emphasis onto their athletes. Would that skew the calculations and perception? I would imagine you’d have to truly look at people that opted to play sports as opposed to people that were forced into sports to identify that innate skill.

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Ill-posed questions by scottb

I think a lot of these questions are ill-posed. There’s no way to answer the question, “Which is the best sporting nation?”, without building some fairly complicated operational definitions that a fair number of people would consider to have changed the question into something else.

So, to answer your second question — no, we cannot be objective. In order to introduce statistics, we end up with several “facets” to the same question, none of which are especially likely to agree.

But then it appears that African Americans are higher achievers than white Americans, so what happened to the correlation with affluence?

I think it’s possible to hypothesize a mechanism here that has little to do with genetics.

In the US, athletes are celebrities even more than in most other places. We spend an absurd amount of disposable income on professional sports — not as participants, but as observers.

This makes success in sports a visible goal for impoverished youth to better their situation — “I wanna be like Mike”. It has little to do with the attainability of the goal, though. What it means, though, is that you get higher participation — even more motivated participation — among the poor.

Of course, this all probably becomes ridiculously obvious if you look at a sport like boxing, where poverty correlates with future success. Damn few boxers start out even in the lower middle class, economically. The effect is just stronger in other sports.

Is it good for the nation?

Compared to what? Personally, I think it’s a colossal waste of effort. Smith and Street’s Sports Business Journal estimated that in 2005, we spent $215 billion on sports. At the time, the entire national debt was only about 30 times that.

It’s twice as big as the auto industry, it’s seven times as big as the movie industry, and it produces nothing.

So, toning back our interest in sports leaves us with billions of dollars in assets to be spent elsewhere — personally, I think it’d be easy to come up with more useful ways of spending that. But, realistically, that’s just my preference — I don’t perceive any value in it, but obviously some do.

So, I guess the question is, what is it that the people who are spending all this money think they’re getting for it, and why do they think that’s more valuable than other ways it could be spent? (Say, medicine, or education.)

Because sporting achievers are looked up to, should they have to live up to the role model image for the sake of children?

I think it depends. People who are in professional sports should live up to their role-model status, because it’s built into the job. Professional athletes are looked at as role models, and it’s something that should be obvious to the player as he signs his contract.

It’s a little different for non-professionals, like college, or Olympic athletes, for whom fame and role-model status is more of an accidental side-effect of success.

Is sporting achievement a reliable indicator of the quality of an American college?

Clearly, not. I’d say it often detracts from the quality of the college.

Is sport in any way a model for life? Does it build “character” that makes players more able to cope with adversity, pain, competition, studies, or business?

Yes, though it’s not a “more is better” kind of thing. Elite-level sport is no better at doing so.

Does any particular sport stand out as being better for the player or for the nation?

Interesting question… the Jamaican bobsledding team comes to mind.

I just don’t get why sport is important in our society, and so I ask myself lots of questions about it.

You would like my grandfather who for as long as I can remember would exclaim, “I can’t understand why all these guys waste so much time talking and talking about how some guy threw the ball and how fast he ran… &%^$&**. (etc.) They should be doing something productive.!”

Having been raised in an atmosphere that showed a general disdain for organized sports, it follows that I never developed any interest whatsoever in following a team or individual who excels in a particular sport. But, we have to recognize that you and I are somewhat in the minority. In my neighborhood I’m surrounded by people, where on any given summer night, you can hear the hoots and howls through the open windows as the drama of some baseball game plays out. (Did I just use drama and baseball in the same sentence?)

The guys down the street live eat and breathe organized sports. It seems to be the only substantial conversation they have with each other, and I’m not sure what would happen if it were taken away somehow. (I’m picturing some sort of lost zombie scenario right now.)

A person I work with went to a Red Sox game at Fenway in Boston. He talked about nothing else for two days afterwards.

If the people spent their time doing something more productive, say science, then perhaps their country could be top ranking in another field, That might make them smarter, but would it make them happier?

Let’s face it. If the guys down the street were to suddenly take up science, I don’t think you would want to be anywhere near the place. (Although it’s possible some of them make their own beer, I don’t know.)

If playing sport is virtuous, is there any virtue in being only a spectator?

I don’t think questions of virtue have anything to do with it. It’s more of a mutual hero/fan or a villain/detractor relationship between the spectator and the athlete. It’s simply a distraction for the spectator and a deeply ingrained means of socialization for them also.
Over the years, I think the business side of professional sports has overshadowed the hero/fan relationship in a big way. There seems to be no loyalty between the player and a team when they are able to switch teams at the drop of a dime, or when an entire team switches states (like in the case of the “Utah Jazz”). What are you being a fan of in those cases?

My daughter was involved in gymnastics for many years. I agree with scubasteve when he says “I sincerely believe that I would not be the person I am today without having played sports..”. That definitely was the case for her. If you can do gymnastics, you can do anything. (You’ll be happy she has since given it up for academic pursuits, but joined her school’s volleyball team just for fun.)

The Guys down the street are not going to give up their life’s distraction for anything. If it weren’t for sports it might be something worse, not better.

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