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Debate: Benefits of sports

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Are sports beneficial?

Background and context

Sport is a reliable topic for good debates. There is always something in the news to make the issues topical, and even people who don’t usually like debate will want to give their opinion. The arguments below look at the general case for and against sport as a worthwhile activity. More specific debates could be also run on particular sporting issues (for example; drugs in sport, physical education in schools, government funding, amateur versus professional sport, and sports violence). It may be helpful to start with a few definitions: A sport could be defined as a physical competition played for pleasure. Those playing amateur (not for pay) sport do so because they enjoy it. Professional sportsmen and women get paid to compete, but do so because other people enjoy watching them play and pay to see them. Sport is not the same as a game, which may be competitive but lacks the physical element. Chess is a good example of a game (perhaps debating is too?). Sport is also not the same as exercise, which might be done for medical reasons rather than for pleasure. Exercise is also not usually competitive. Jogging or aerobics are good examples of this. There are many sports in which two individuals can test their skill, strength and speed against each other (e.g. tennis, squash, sculling, boxing or judo), but most sports are between two teams.

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Argument #1

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Yes

Sport is a great way to stay fit and healthy. This is very important today as few people have jobs with physical labour and most of us travel everywhere by car. As a result many people are overweight and suffer poor health. Sport may not be the only way to keep fit, but the competition and teamwork in sport give people a lot of motivation to keep going and to push themselves hard.

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No

It is important to keep fit, but sport is not the only way to do this. Eating well is a big part of a healthy life, and many people prefer to exercise in other ways, for example jogging, working out in a gym, dancing, or even gardening. On the other hand, sport can actually be dangerous. Millions of people are hurt playing sport each year, some of them very seriously. Professional athletes spend much of their time getting over injury. Being hurt by another player is common in contact sports, such as boxing, soccer, football, rugby or hockey. Other injuries often happen because players are pushing their bodies too hard or for too long, in training or competition.

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Argument #2

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Yes

Sport teaches us big lessons for life. Most sports involve teamwork and teach us how to get along with others, how to work together to achieve a common goal, and about trust and responsibility. All sports teach us about dealing with success and failure. They also help people learn about coping with pressure and the need to stick with training in order to improve yourself. True, some sports do not suit some people, but there are so many possible choices that everyone can find a sport to enjoy.

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No

Sport does teach children lessons, but not always good ones. Many children are not naturally talented and only come across failure and embarrassment on the sports field. This hurts their confidence and may put them off any sort of exercise for life. Plenty of other activities can teach teamwork and other life skills, for example hiking and camping, playing in a band, or raising money for charity.

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Argument #3

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Yes

Sport is competitive because life is competitive. In the past humans were hunters and fighters and that spirit is still in us. There is nothing wrong with being ambitious and working hard to achieve the aims you set yourself. Nor is there anything wrong with wanting to do better than someone else. By playing sport children learn about competition and adults have a controlled outlet for aggression. But sport teaches us to compete fairly, within the rules. It balances competitiveness with teamwork and the need to respect the other side.

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No

Sport makes people too competitive and encourages the worst sides of human nature. Sport is far from fair - the urge to compete leads many people to go too far to gain an unfair edge. Even amateur sports have plenty of cheats, a lack of respect for referees and drugs problems. These problems are worse in professional sport where the need to make money adds further pressure to win by any means. Too much competition can also be bad for you - doctors find that sports fans often feel stress and depression as a result of following their team.

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Argument #4

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Yes

Sport encourages a sense of belonging and identity, bringing people together in our fragmented society. This is true of playing sport, and also of watching sport and following a team. When cheering your side on, you can forget about your everyday worries and enjoy sharing in a group experience. It also brings people from different classes and backgrounds together - after all, sport is a universal language. At national level, it can bring unity and pride to a whole country and help overcome differences.

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No

Sport also encourages tribalism and an us-against-them attitude. The unity of the group depends on feelings of aggression and hostility towards other groups. This is true for fans of club teams and can be seen in football violence (hooliganism) in England, Holland and Italy. It happens at boxing matches and even in college sports in America. Hooliganism also happens between countries - every time England play Germany it renews memories of the Second World War. Violent fans have also been a problem at the African Cup of Nations and even at cricket matches.

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Argument #5

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Yes

Sport gives us role models to look up to and try to copy. This is very important for young people from poor backgrounds who may have little hope. They can see how sports stars have made it out of bad situations through hard work and their own abilities. For those from minorities, athletes may be the only positive role models from their ethnic group they see on the television.

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No

Sports stars are bad role models for young people to follow. Many behave badly, on the field and off, and so set a bad example to children. But even those who behave well are not good examples to follow. This is because top athletes don’t need a good education. Children who hero-worship them could easily come to think that sport is more important than working hard in school. It is also bad that sport is seen as the best way for people from ethnic minorities to become well known. Shouldn’t they be celebrated for their work as scientists, doctors, and teachers, or in business?

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Argument #6

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Yes

Sport has lots of social benefits. Sports programmes can give people a positive purpose and something to do. Small amounts of money spent on supporting sports have been shown to reduce crime a lot. In schools periods of activity doing sports send children back to their desks with better focus on their work. On a larger scale, sport can also be at the centre of efforts at urban renewal. Many cities have used a new sports stadium to draw people back to run down areas. Other businesses have followed the sports fans. Over time this investment pays off in higher tax revenues for the city.

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No

Sport today is about money rather than taking part. Greed has ruined any good that was once in sport. Success for professional teams now depends upon having a rich owner who can buy up talented players. Players have no loyalty to the club which trained them from childhood, but go wherever the money is. Some athletes have even changed nationality for money. Advertising is everywhere, including on the pitch and the players shirts. Fans are seen as consumers, willing to overpay for any item with the team logo on it. Even the Olympics has become one great marketing exercise, rather than a celebration of sport.

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