Saturday, February 27, 2010

Yahoo Sports Writer Says Figure Skating Is Not a Sport

Dan Wetzel -- a sports writer for Yahoo -- says that figure skating is not a sport. Wetzel concedes that figure skaters are athletes and that their craft requires "speed, strength, agility, dexterity, balance and conditioning." Wetzel, however, argues that figure skating cannot qualify as a sport because picking the winner involves subjectivity:
A sport requires a quantifiable way to determine a winner and a loser. There can be no debate about the scoring system. A puck must go into a net. A skier must get down the hill fastest. A short-track speedskater must finish ahead of the pack.

For safety reasons – you can’t have all the bobsleds go down at once – a clock is used to determine the winner in some sports. The clock is not subjective, though.

Figure skating is about what a human judge interprets as success. They bring their own biases, beliefs and preferences. It’s abstract. As such, it should be properly defined as a competition, not a sport.
I agree that figure skating involves subjective judging -- especially the artistic impression marks -- but there are established rules and required elements in figure skating. Failure to include these elements results in a designated point reduction. A 2-foot landing on a jump or a fall also results in a specific reduction.

Furthermore, having numerous judges -- rather than one -- allows for the results to get very close to an objective outcome. Kim Yu Na won by a mile. No one came close.

Furthermore, by Wetzel's definition, a lot of things that he would probably consider "sports" are not sports. In particular, sports that involve referees making decisions about player infractions -- i.e., football, hockey, and basketball -- involve a lot of subjectivity. A "bad" call can determine the outcome of a game.

Referees can also judge a player's progress, and this involves subjectivity as well. Was the player "out of bounds," where was the end of "forward progress," did the player's knee "touch the ground" before catching the ball? These questions involve subjective decision making. It is not scientific.

The situation with referee errors became so bad in the NFL one year, that the league made penalty review available; still, controversies exist. Numerous referees help weed out erroneous calls, but this is exactly what helps make figure skating more objective.

Finally: who cares? An Olympic sport is whatever the Olympics Organization accepts as a sport. From the very inception of the modern Olympics, sports that combine artistry and athleticism (like gymnastics and figure skating) have always been a part of the games. So, I am going to sit back and enjoy all of the games before they end. I advise Wetzel to do the same!

Edited: This article was updated to include examples of a quantifiable merit in figure skating.

10 comments:

Aspasia said...

I found that a lot of people, almost exclusively (insecure, immature) men, criticize figure skating with a heavy tinge of sexism and homophobia. Since figure skating is seen as beautiful and artistic, that makes it inherently feminine and nothing that is feminine could possibly be as masculine as Real Sports (TM). Following on that line, any man who participates in said activities MUST be gay and, you know, that's bad.

I've made the same argument you did, Darren, about the subjectivity of those Real Sports (TM) whenever said men start ripping on figure skating, I bring that up. Of course their only response, "well that's different" is weak.

Any sport that incorporates artistry with athleticism is extremely hard since you can't perform the requirements any old way you want. You can't land an axel on two feet and expect it to count just because you landed. Pfft. Grace requires a ridiculous amount of muscular discipline.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Aspasia: Great point about sexism and homphobia -- which is always close by in these arguments. Wetzel, for example, mentioned Johnny Weir's outfits, as if that had anything to do with his "argument" except to conjure up images appropriate manhood, etc.

liberal dissent said...

Doesn't sound like he's condemning figure skating; I think (as a heterosexual male) that figure skating is more of an art form, which makes it more valuable than just a sport.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

I didn't say he condemned it, but he believes that subjectivity excludes it from sports. But this just shows his ignorance of figure skating. There are rules. Skaters must include certain elements in their programs, for example. And certain mistakes (like a fall) result in a quantifiable point reduction. It's not all up in the air as he argues.

Furthermore, as I argued, the numerous judges help to eliminate objectivity. Wetzel, however, dichotomizes the world into "sports" and boundless, rules-free artistry. He is wrong.

Here's another way he is wrong. Sports involve artistry. Watching Dan Marino throw a football was absolutely beautiful. Watching the great receivers catch the ball is extraordinary. I am a football maniac, and that game is subjective and artistic as well. I just think he is absolutely wrong -- whether or not he is condemning figure skating.

Finally: His comment on Weir is made in a context of social homophobia. I would not discount that.

barkerc said...

His rationale for excluding boxing and MMA from his non-sport designation seems weak to me.

"The only time judging can be allowed is in combat pursuits such as boxing or mixed martial arts. Competitors have the opportunity to end the match themselves (via knock out). At some point, though, a decision is needed to ensure safety. Not surprisingly, the presence of those judges is why boxing is considered so corrupt.

Other than that, a sport can’t have a judge to determine the winner. "

By this logic, figure skating would become a sport if it was somehow made dangerous enough, with increasing danger as time progresses.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Barkerc: Interesting take.

liberal dissent said...

Simplest way to do that would be to make the ice a lot thinner. And turn the thermostat up at the beginning of the event...

FLRN said...

Darren said: " he[Dan Wetzel] believes that subjectivity excludes it from sports. But this just shows his ignorance of figure skating. There are rules!"

So according to Dan Wetzel "Subjectivity" is the crux here? Hmmmm.

Perhaps we need to look at this another way - I would speculate that as a writer Mr. Wetzel may not be an appropriate judge as to whether or not Ice Skating is a sport? After all many would argue sports writers largely lack "intellectual curiosity!" They contain themselves to reporting scores and match measures such as hits, runs and goals and seldom reach beyond an athlete's performance within the limits of a period, an inning or a quarter. The writer's own analysis is often subjective and opinionated...making them less than objective journalists where the facts and supporting evidence should add depth and breadth to a subject yet with sports writers these components seem to have little impact on the final written product.

Or maybe as you said Darren it is simply decisive ignorance of the rules! Figure skating training is a sport predicated on strength, agility and multifaceted skills when taken together and honed will yield a highly individualized athletic competitor where judges, clocks, angles, resilience (insert Joannie here), form, concentration, discipline, courage, endurance and flexibility dictate success through a narrow margin.

Other sports in this margin would include diving, distance running, golf, swimming, mountain climbing, skiing, and on and on

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

FLRN: I like this: "Or maybe as you said Darren it is simply decisive ignorance of the rules! Figure skating training is a sport predicated on strength, agility and multifaceted skills when taken together and honed will yield a highly individualized athletic competitor where judges, clocks, angles, resilience (insert Joannie here), form, concentration, discipline, courage, endurance and flexibility dictate success through a narrow margin."

Elizabeth said...

Wetzel is being silly.

And, indeed, who cares? I'll watch figure skating any time; luge, not so much. Kim Yu Na, and Virtue and Moir were exquisite. I'd like to see Wetzel try to do what any of them did. ;)

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