A sport consists of a normal physical activity or skill carried out under a publicly agreed set of rules, and with a recreational purpose: for competition, for self-enjoyment, to attain excellence, for the development of skill, or some combination of these. The difference of purpose is what characterises sport, combined with the notion of individual (or team) skill or prowess.
Therefore swimming competitively in front of thousands in an indoor arena is considered a sport, whereas swimming in a pool or in the sea by oneself is seen simply as a recreation.
There are many kinds of sports, and they take up a substantial proportion of people's time, money and interest, if not as participants then as spectators.
The line between sports, games, exercise and play is certainly not clear; games are often redefined as sports when they involve particularly skilled participants, which gives them appeal to non-participants. This is especially true in the modern age, which gives much weight to the spectator aspect of sports. Similarly, play is usually understood as less purposeful activity, but can become more like a game or sport as it conforms more to external rules or patterns of behaviour. Exercise is action to develop skill or ability, and may be a forerunner of both sport and games.
Stone-age drawings were discovered in the Libyan desert depicting among other activities, swimming and archery..
The art itself is an example of interest in skills unrelated to the functional tasks of staying alive, and is evidence of there being leisure time available. It depicts other non-functional activities such as ritual etc..
Therefore, although there is scant direct evidence of sport from these sources, it is reasonable to extrapolate that there was some activity at these times resembling sport.
It is reasonable to assume from these and other historical sources that sport has origins which lie in the beginnings of mankind itself.
The successful execution of a sport requires the consensus agreement of the participants on a set of rules for fair competition. This has led to the control of each sport through a regulatory body to define what methods of competition are acceptable and what are considered cheating.
When apartheid was the official policy in South Africa, many sportspeople adopted the conscientious approach that they should not appear in competitive sports there. Some feel this was an effective contribution to the eventual demolition of the policy of apartheid, others feel that it may have prolonged and reinforced its worst effects.
The 1936 Summer Olympics held in Berlin was an illustration, perhaps best recognised in retrospect, where an ideology was developing which used the event to strengthen its spread through propaganda.
In the history of Ireland, Gaelic sports were clearly carried on with nationalistic overtones: for example, in the mid 20th century a person could have been banned from playing professional Gaelic football, hurley, or other sport if the person played soccer, or other game which was seen to be of British origin.
Nationalism in general is often evident in the pursuit of sport, or in its reporting: people compete in national teams, or commentators and audiences can adopt a partisan view. These trends are seen by some as contrary to the fundamental ethos of sport being carried on for its own sake, for the enjoyment of its participants.
The fact that art is so close to sport in some situations is probably related to the nature of sport. The definition of "sport" above put forward the idea of an activity pursued not just for the usual purposes, e.g. running not simply to get places, but running for its own sake, running as well as we can.
This is similar to a common view of aesthetic value, which is seen as something over and above the strictly functional value coming from an object's normal use. So an aesthetically pleasing car is one which doesn't just get from A to B, but which impresses us with its grace, poise and charisma.
In the same way, a sporting performance such as jumping doesn't just impress us as being an effective way to avoid obstacles or to get across streams. It impresses us because of the ability, skill and style which is shown.
Art and sport were probably more clearly linked at the time of Ancient Greece, when gymnastics and callesthenics invoked admiration and aesthetic appreciation for the physical build, prowess and 'arete' displayed by participants. The modern term 'art' as skill, is related to this ancient Greek term 'arete'. The closeness of art and sport in these times was revealed by the nature of the Olympic Games which, as we have seen, were celebrations of both sporting and artistic achievements, poetry scupture and architecture.