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Pure Sports: Sorting the beautiful from the frustrating

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Roar Rookie
12th July, 2019

So what goes into a Pure Sport?

Does sport have some sort of ideal Platonic form? Not sure. What I will call ‘Pure Sports’ (as defined by me) definitely have some common principles.

It should be conceivable as to how a Pure Sport could naturally evolve in the world. If we were reduced by some nuclear holocaust to a world with no knowledge of sport, soccer is going to be reinvented probably in every country with any survivors.

Similarly, a Pure Sport should be relatively accessible to anyone, even if it’s only in a stripped back form. This is where we sort the wheat from the chaff with dumb sports like pole vaulting, bobsledding, curling and ten-pin bowling, where overly specialised equipment or settings are required to play.

There is also no meaningful analogue for casual play of these sports away from those settings.

A Pure Sport’s rules should also make sense in that they improve the game and prevent behaviours or strategies in the sport that seem trite or silly or take away from the element of skill required in a game. Sports that are overly legalistic and penalise micro-errors are frustrating to play and watch.


Sports like American football, basketball, netball, hockey and both rugby codes demand particular, trivial, arbitrary behaviours.

Scrums and strict playing the ball rules in league, double dribble in basketball and basically all of American football. If you want to read some incredibly boring, inconsequential, legalistic sports laws, go look at the history and rules for a permissible field hockey stick.

Finally and perhaps most essentially, a Pure Sport should be simple at its core. So what exactly makes it through in my eyes as great sports?

Even the following sports will be accused of falling at some of the listed hurdles, however, at their heart, they are simple games with rules that largely make sense.

Soccer: get the ball in there – but don’t use your hands. Rules for fouling are essentially about aggression and protection from violence and, obviously, if you use your hands. Seems pretty fair?

I’ll concede there are overly legalistic rules around throw-ins and when the goalkeeper can use their hands. I’ll also concede that the simulation epidemic in soccer detracts from the essence and skill of the game. Nonetheless, I’m giving it Pure Sport Status.

Aussie rules is another sport where it is all about getting a ball to where it needs to be with the simple restriction of no throwing. It isn’t weighed down by strange rules like only passing backwards to go forwards.

Once again, penalties are for player protection rather than arbitrary behaviours.


Tennis is very simple: don’t let it bounce twice. That’s really it. The rules that evolved around that principle are clear. You can’t just hit it in any direction – that would be ridiculous – so it has to bounce once in my big square. It’s just dumb if you make it roll into my square so we’ll put a net in so it’s a least this high.

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Totally reasonable! It may look like the serving motion is particularly prescript but just ask Nick Kyrgios if that’s really the case. Obviously, the silly thing about tennis is the scoring system – I’ll give you that. Aside from that, Pure Sport Status.

Cricket. That may seem crazy on the face of it – but stick with me. The heart of Cricket? Hit the ball.


It is an accessible game that can be played at the elite level, inside or outside, in a cul-de-sac in Australia or in an alley in India.

Once again we have a whole host of rules that just make sense.

For batsmen:
– If you miss the ball when it was going right at you, you’re out.
– If you just let the ball hit you instead of trying to hit it, you’re out.

For bowlers:
– There is a disincentive to ensure that it goes in the vague vicinity of the batsmen.
– You can’t get too close to the batsmen for safety reasons. So there is a disincentive for that.

On top of all of that, the strategy and nuance in the game have simply evolved naturally over time. Fielding positions aren’t prescribed but have been chiselled out over a centenary of experience.

In the same way, effective ways of using spin, swing and batting technique have been discovered and in some cases improved upon over time.

Cricket is a sport of fine margins and details which many mistake for messy and arbitrary complexity, but I’ll defend her Pure Sport Status to my death.

So there it is. Feel free to make a case below for your favourite sports but you are unlikely to change my mind, like I probably didn’t change yours.


There is no doubt that the more you know about a sport, the more you see the genius in it. If I trashed your favourite sport it’s probably because I’ll have to spend more time playing and watching it.

At the end of the day, we like sports for different reasons – and this is a summary of what I’m looking for.