John McEnroe, with masterly disdain, proclaims what he thinks of golf: “If you don’t run, it ain’t a sport.”
What does that make golf, then? A pastime? A recreation? For professionals, it’s an occupation. I do like McEnroe’s dichotomy – applying it would chop lots of stuff out of the sports sections. (Sadly not the football. But “if you kick a ball, it’s not sport” would seem rather obtuse.)
The thing the unites all the “sports” that you read in the papers? Two things – they have a schedule: they’re regular, so newspapers can plan themselves around them; and they have spectators.
Consider: what’s the most common way people spend their time? Fishing. You’ll see no fishing coverage in the papers. (Well, apart maybe from time to time.)
If a “sport” doesn’t have a diary, then it can’t be in the papers, because the papers need to know that they’ll have something regular to fill the blank pages the next day. So fishing’s out. Where’s the organisation? You don’t get enough people together in the same place, and more importantly you don’t get people watching them.
Same with climbing. Completely spontaneous, no organisation, no schedule for when someone will do something amazing. (Yes, there are organised competitions, which do get spectators; but they’re infrequent.)
Pity though that it’s not done by popularity. OK, so there’d still be football. But all those pages of fishing. Now that would challenge the photographers.