For most bowlers, the answer to “Is Bowling A Sport?” is simple: of course bowling is a sport! Although this seems obvious to bowlers, the issue is far from settled in the public consciousness. What are the reasons that bowling is, or may not be, a sport?
What Is A Sport?
Well, it’s complicated. To the Romans, sports were more like hobbies and pastimes. If the point of an activity was to have fun, that activity was a sport (“ludis” in Latin). Going to a play was a sport, and so was horse racing.
However, the Greek idea of sport was strongly tied to athleticism. Of course, the Greeks were the creators of the Olympic Games.
What Is A Game?
The English language is not good for discussing sports and games!
Monopoly is a game. No one would mistake monopoly for a sport. But what about a baseball game? Or a football game? Those are clearly sports; but we call them games.
For added confusion, we “play” basketball. We “play” racquetball. But we “go” bowling.
If Bowling Is A Sport, What Kind Of Sport Is It?
Bowling is considered to be a Target Sport, just like archery, golf, croquet, and shotgun trap shooting. Target sports with weapons, like archery, trap shooting, and the 50 meter rifle competition at the Olympics, are a sub-category of Target Sports known as Shooting Sports. Bowling, golf, and croquet are Target Sports but not Shooting Sports.
Is An Activity A Sport Simply Because It Is Athletic?
For many people, the requirement that a sport be athletic is the critical element to separate sports from games. Break Dancing was neither a sport nor a game when I was young – it was simply dancing! Now, starting in Paris in 2024, it is an Olympic Sport! The Olympics calls it Breaking. For sure Breaking is an athletic activity, but is it even a competition? Is there scoring? While it seems like a very athletic undertaking that is neither a game nor a sport to me, the Olympics have decided that it is both a game and a sport.
Of course, this focus on athletic ability can also be used to rule out an activity from being a sport. The game Ants In The Pants could, in some strange way, be a Target Sport, right? But since there is no athletic ability required, and you can play with Cheetos dust all over your hands, no one is clamoring to get it classified as a sport.
But the same reasoning is used to exclude activities from being considered as sports as well. Bowling has never been in the Olympics. Golf was expelled from the Olympics for over 100 years and only recently was reinstated. The problem is that people imagine themselves at the bowling alley having a cold brew and playing Galaga between frames and it seems light years away from a sporting event.
Of course, good bowling requires skill, but that is not the same as athleticism. The same problem goes for golf. It is so easy to picture a golfer ordering a bourbon from the drink cart and then hopping on a golf cart to ride to the next hole, that it can be hard to think of golf as a sport.
An Objective Scoring System
Bowling has a clear cut, easily understood scoring system. Any observer can tell who is winning a bowling competition with ease. This is also true for all of the competitions that are obviously sports, from handball to Jai alai.
Many events that are now considered to be sports, especially at the Olympics, are certainly athletic but lack any kind of scoring system inherent to the activity. When they are “scored” the scoring is completely subjective and literally at the whim of a set of extremely biased judges. Think of figure skating and synchronized swimming.
The presence of an objective scoring system helps to bolster bowling as a sport.
What About The Lack Of A Defender / Defense?
In most sports, your opponent actively tries to thwart your plans. In basketball, soccer, handball, and hockey, defense is a critical part of the sport.
In bowling, golf, and many of the demonstration sports in the Olympics like figure skating and breaking, your opponent cannot interfere with you in any way. In American football, players have to deal with defenders hitting them while they play. Baseball batters tolerate abuse from the fans that I can’t actually put in this article, plus they have to avoid human defenders with the batted ball. But golfers? They require absolute silence while they strike a ball that isn’t even moving! The lack of a defense in both golf and bowling help to make whether or not they are sports quite murky.
Is Bowling A Sport?
It’s a tough call. It’s not in the Olympics. It’s more athletic than a clearly non-sport game like Ants In The Pants. Then again, it is not similar to an obvious sport like soccer or basketball. You can make a case for both sides.
I think that the perceived lack of athleticism is the single biggest issue causing bowling to not be considered as a sport by many people. I also think that this perception is why bowling is not in the Olympics. Can you think of any Olympic event that is less athletic than bowling? I can’t either. But I still think that bowling is more deserving of being in the Olympics than many or most of the “demonstration” events that are in the Olympics.
I come down on the side that bowling is a sport. There is power and accuracy involved, as well as an entire set of skills from reading the alley to putting spin on the ball. While bowling requires less athleticism than the Olympic Sport of figure skating, at least bowling has an objective scoring system and was intended to be a competition from its beginnings.
Video: Bowling Champion Osku Palermaa Is Quite Athletic!
Osku Palermaa bowls like no one else! Watch and hear some of the hardest, fastest bowling you will ever see in this compilation video from Osku Palermaa’s YouTube channel.