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Essay

Why we play sports

By Kip A. Cates

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Humans are mad about sports! Everywhere you look, you find people watching, playing or betting on sports. Newspapers and TV are full of sports events, scores and gossip. Countries worldwide invest fortunes in sports training, equipment and facilities.

Whether it's sumo or soccer, bowling or badminton, baseball or the Olympics, humans are obsessed with sports. But why? Here are four different theories.

The first theory, proposed by the scholar Johan Huizinga, argues that sports developed from our instinct for play. Humans, he said, are playful animals. Left on their own, they create games, agree on rules, then spend hours having fun.

One example is golf. According to some accounts, this was invented by bored shepherds who passed the time by hitting stones into rabbit holes while tending their sheep.

The second theory argues that sports developed from hunting. Thousands of years ago, our ancestors depended on hunting to survive. To do this, they set off alone or in groups with spears and stones to kill their prey.

When hunting, the most important thing is to hit the target. No hit, no dinner! To hone their skills, ancient humans practiced.

That's why, even today, many sports consist of contests to see who can hit a target. The only difference between our ancestors and us is that they aimed at animals while we aim at baskets, strike zones and bowling pins.

The third theory argues that sports is a substitute for war. The evidence for this lies in the language we use for sports. Military metaphors are everywhere!

Football matches are "battles." Rival teams are "the enemy." Lopsided victories are "massacres."

Throughout history, armies have clashed and soldiers have fought to the death. Sports evolved as a peaceful way to channel our violent instincts and expend them in friendly competition. The only difference is that today's weapons are tennis rackets and soccer balls rather than swords and arrows.

The fourth theory argues that sports developed as a way for men to gain sex and status. Like other animals, humans are a species in which males compete for the attention of females. Nature provides many examples of this. Whether gorillas, sea lions or kangaroos, the typical pattern is that males fight while females watch. The victor gains social status and the chance to mate with his admirers.

Sports are no different. Just look at today's superstar athletes, their global fame, the million-dollar salaries and the sex appeal they gain as the benefits of victory. As attitudes have changed, these rewards are now being enjoyed by female athletes.

So there you have four theories about why humans do sports: for play, as practice for hunting, as a substitute for war, and as a way to gain sex and status. All of these are true to some extent. But which is most persuasive? You decide!

スポーツをする理由

人間はなぜスポーツをするのだろうか? どこの国でも人々はスポーツをプレーしたり観戦したりするのに夢中になっているし、政府も巨額の投資をしている。この問いに答える4つの説を紹介しよう。



※2017年3月31日11時一部訂正しました。

The Japan Times ST: March 3, 2017

The Japan Times ST 読者アンケート

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