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Philosophy of Sport: Quotes

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There is a great deal of philosophical substance in sport. Any sport, really. From team sports such as football and basketball to individual sports such as tennis and car racing, it is easy to devise a plethora of philosophical issues that span across most philosophical branches. Here is a selection of the most poignant quotes related to sport that highlight its philosophical significance. If you have more to suggest, please do not hesitate to send them in!

Nelson Mandela on the power of sport to inspire people and to function as a catalyst for social change: "Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope, where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination."

George Orwell offering a gloomy perspective on the ethics of sport: "Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting."

Jacques Ellul reflects on the importance of sport in the development of techniques (and, perhaps, technology): "Sport is linked with the technical world because sport itself is a technique. The enormous contrast between the athletes of Greece and those of Rome is well known. For the Greeks, physical exercise was an ethic for developing freely and harmoniously the form and strength of the human body. For the Romans, it was a technique for increasing the legionnaire’s efficiency. The Roman conception prevails today."

Paul Maurer on the aesthetics and virtue of running: "Running isn't a sport for pretty boys...It's about the sweat in your hair and the blisters on your feet. Its the frozen spit on your chin and the nausea in your gut. It's about throbbing calves and cramps at midnight that are strong enough to wake the dead. It's about getting out the door and running when the rest of the world is only dreaming about having the passion that you need to live each and every day with. It's about being on a lonely road and running like a champion even when there's not a single soul in sight to cheer you on. Running is all about having the desire to train and persevere until every fiber in your legs, mind, and heart is turned to steel. And when you've finally forged hard enough, you will have become the best runner you can be. And that's all that you can ask for."

Erma Bombeck: "If a man watches three football games in a row, he should be declared legally dead."

Jack London on the pleasures of biking: "Ever bike? Now that's something that makes life worth living!...Oh, to just grip your handlebars and lay down to it, and go ripping and tearing through streets and road, over railroad tracks and bridges, threading crowds, avoiding collisions, at twenty miles or more an hour, and wondering all the time when you're going to smash up. Well, now, that's something! And then go home again after three hours of it...and then to think that tomorrow I can do it all over again!"

Further Online Sources


  • Recommended reading: Steven Connor, A Philosophy of Sport, Reaktion Books, 2011.
  • Recommended reading: Andrew Holowchack (ed.), Philosophy of Sport: Critical Readings, Crucial Issues, Prentice Hall, 2002.
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