Since medieval times, the term “sports” has been primarily associated with physical exertion quantified by performance.
However, trends, civilization, technology, organizational structure, participation, concepts, individual perspectives, and societal norms have modified the definition of what we perceive as sports.
Athletics have been considered the foremost attribute of sports for several years.
Still, elements of competition and social participation with behavioral patterns of play and governing rules now seem to be the leading constituents.
Former United States Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) player Julie Foudy described sports as an activity that builds better athletes and better people.
While Foudy’s quote might have a more profound societal meaning, the metamorphosis of various non-physical sports has proven that sports might not always be associated with athleticism.
We’ll now consider fifteen non-athletic or non-physical sports you can participate in either due to pure interest or restrictions from health and other unfortunate conditions.
Top 15 Non-Physical Sports
Despite being in its relatively formative stages, an industry’s $1.08 billion global market value is what happens when online gaming becomes a spectator sport.
eSports has just become mainstream, primarily contested amongst professional gamers.
While the eSports industry experienced a $1.084 billion revenue in 2021, it is expected to continue its remarkable growth for the foreseeable future, exceeding 1.60 billion U.S. dollars by 2024, according to Statista.
Contestants join the industry by registering in a league and entering competitions with winning as the primary aim.
As such, they’re rewarded with prizes, usually paid in cash. 2019 Fortnite World Championship’s winner Bugha readily comes to mind regarding prizes.
The 19-year-old American pro gamer walked away with $3 million after becoming the Fortnite World Cup champion that year.
As stated earlier, the eSports industry, like many other non-athletic-sport industries, is still in its formative stages.
It is primarily dominated by team-based games, unlike established physical sports clearly defined as solo, duo, or team sports.
Nevertheless, some popular eSports teams are recognized for their participation in various games and their total earnings across all games.
Team Liquid ($33.8 million in 1622 tournaments), Invictus Gaming ($10.7 million, 432 tournaments), and Virtus.pro ($13.7 million in 470 tournaments) are notable examples of eSports teams.
eSports bodies generate revenues primarily from sponsorship and advertising, betting, prize pools, and tournaments.
Optimistically, eSports is tipped to have more engagement in coming years after recording 240 million total spectators in 2021 with 234 million enthusiasts.
2. Fantasy Sports
As the name implies, fantasy sports are a game of our imagination.
You test your prediction skills by predicting what will happen in your favorite sport.
Unlike eSports contested by professional gamers, fantasy sports are available to a broader audience using virtual items representing players of a particular sport to predict their statistical performance in actual games.
Players earn by winning, which requires research, knowledge of the sport, and a smile from lady luck.
As such, the prediction of results has evolved from just a hobby to a competitive game.
Fantasy sports is currently valued as a billion-dollar industry with about 56.8 million players worldwide.
According to GlobeNewswire, the sector was valued at $20.36 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $38.60 billion in 2025.
According to Yahoo Sports, the median win rate of fantasy sports players over the past six seasons is only 7.5%.
While unpopular sites offer lower winnings and no huge payouts, they help newbies get comfortable with fantasy sports.
However, top sites like DraftKings and FanDuel offer huge payouts, including Guaranteed Prize Pools (GPPs).
The winner is legally entitled to a tagged prize regardless of how many players show up with the stipulated buy-in.
The industry’s expected growth is predicted based on:
- Increasing youth participation
- Internet access
- Digital infrastructural development
- Growing releases of fantasy sports applications
- The increasing popularity of players in various sports
3. Magic: The Gathering
Since its inception by Richard Garfield in the early 1990s, Magic: The Gathering has amassed over 40 million players.
Who must have thought that a niche hubby such as a card game would gain much popularity and become a competitive sport?
Magic: The Gathering has proven not to be a regular card game with more cards, strategy, and complex rules than most card games.
Statistics show that over twenty billion MTG cards were produced between 2008 and 2016, during which the game gained popularity to become regarded as one of the non-athletic sports.
MTG was designed to be a card-game masterpiece, becoming the world’s first trading card game, and is currently revered as the oldest modern collectible card game.
With millions of players worldwide, it’s expected that a notable amount of people will be willing to give the game an audience.
True to that claim, the Las Vegas Grand Prix (one of the game’s most organized events) usually boasts around 11,000 participants.
What about the game’s spectator audience? MTG has remained relevant for nearly thirty years, becoming one of the first non-athletic sports to be broadcasted on the Worldwide Leader.
There are likely tubular flowers with lots of pollen and nectar where there is a hive of bees.
As such, MTG would have suffered from relevance and lack of audience if it wasn’t profitable.
In 2021, MTG recorded over 4,000 arena tournaments, with a $48,500 prize pool average per tournament, implying that the total prize money crossed the $200 million mark.
Putting these figures into perspective, the average earnings per MTG player falls around $9,300, about $4,300 above professional eSports players.
The growth of the MTG industry is assured, comparing previous numbers with the current ones.
In 2019, the total prize money for MTG was around $10 million; however, it was estimated to have totaled over $200 million in 2021.
In 2018, approximately thirty-five million people were playing MTG, but about five million more people had joined the train by 2021.
Magic: The Gathering is not to be underestimated; it is, in fact, doing better than ever in the grand scheme of things.
Since the 1800s, poker’s gameplay has evolved to fit its popularity, economic relevance, and trends.
Arguably, it has never been a family game or a hubby as its core principles were found in betting.
Regardless of the game’s card configuration and style of play, rules that involve one or more rounds of betting are constant.
The International Federation of Match Poker (IFMP) is the sport’s highest governing body, which organizes the IFMP World Poker Championship and IFMP Match Poker Nations Cup.
However, there are other recognized poker tournaments, including the Golden Poker Championship to be held in Casino Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain, on April 25th, 2022, and the Elite Poker League (EPL), amongst others.
However, we can’t talk about poker without mentioning the World Series of Poker (WSOP), established in 1970.
The WSOP is recognized for holding the largest prize pools in poker history, currently fourteen of fifteen of the largest prize pools in the game’s history.
The 2006 WSOP Main Event holds the record for the highest Guaranteed Prize Pool ($82,512,162).
However, the 2019 Triton Super High Roller Series’ $65,660,000 prize pool featured the highest first prize ($20,563,324).
You can play poker in person and virtually. The World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) has been the leading online poker tournament series since the internet poker revolution.
Sites like Official 888Poker host over 10 million players.
You keep wondering why bowling isn’t called an athletic sport but controversially regarded as a non-athletic.
Players have to be strong enough to lift a twelve-pound ball and throw it against a target, yet it’s considered a hobby.
The long-time recreational pastime has been passed on for centuries since 5,000 BC.
While it started with stones being rolled over other objects, it has evolved into a ball and target game where a ball is rolled toward pins or other targets.
Like a sequential art narrative, bowling (revered as a non-athletic sport) is a mainstream showing on the NFL Season weekends.
The reason isn’t far-fetched as this sport generates billions of dollars as a total industry revenue.
In 2017, the bowling industry generated over $3.8 billion in revenue and was tipped to generate more than $4.4 billion in 2024.
BowlersJournal International says bowling is a billion-dollar industry with millions of recreational and competitive players globally.
The industry boasts of a $71,200 household per capita income average from merchandise, bowling centers, tournaments, sponsorships, and endorsements.
6. Auto Racing
The auto racing industry is currently worth billions of dollars, experiencing transformation in several ways over the years.
However, it’d be best if we have an overview of the sport before deliberating on the numbers.
Without a shadow of a doubt, auto racing is an activity that requires nerve, excellent reflexes, and top-level coordination, but the sport’s demands are not fit for it to be considered a physical sport.
As expected, participants sit behind the wheels, charging at lightning speeds to victory.
Auto racing is mostly used as a common term to describe several Motorsport racing categories, including, but not limited to:
- Open-wheel racing (Formula 1, Formula 2, Formula 3)
- Touring car racing
- Sportscar racing
- Production car racing
- Stock car racing
- Drag racing
- Off-road racing
The sport’s highest governing body is the International Automobile Federation or Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), responsible for licensing, sanctioning, and overseeing Formula One and other auto racing categories and events.
“Auto racing must be pretty attractive,” you might think. Well, you aren’t far away from being right.
The industry’s current global market value is estimated at over $4.8 billion in 2021 and is expected to increase by about 63% in the next five years.
The auto racing audience is also impressive, totaling about 445 million global T.V. audience in 2021, with about 351,000 in attendance at The Great British Grand Prix.
The industry is tipped to continue its growth, considering its consistent progress in previous years.
The Formula One Group’s revenue rose from the billion-dollar mark to over two billion dollars between 2017 and 2019.
Call hunting whatever you please — a recreational pastime, a job, or a bounty activity; you can’t deny that it’s a sport.
The best thing about hunting as a sport is that it doesn’t require you to become an athlete.
While hunting has been brought under scrutiny by animal rights activists worldwide, there are notable and reasonable arguments in favor of the sport.
The scope of the sport and its objectives are toward preserving the tradition of surviving in the wild, allowing participants to test their skills and abilities.
This claim is obvious in how those who hunt for sports study their prey and learn how to use their equipment effectively.
Some notable hunting competitions include World Coyote Hunting Championship, World Turkey Hunting Championship, and Roosevelt Elk Competition.
Oftentimes, hunters kill their prey for trophies. Antlers, pelts, heads, hoofs, and other body parts from hunted animals are sent to taxidermists for cleaning, preserving, and processing into trophies.
According to Statista, the hunting industry is currently valued at over $890 million, $63 million above 2019.
The industry has averaged about 15 million participants since 2015, with about 15.2 million licenses in the past year.
8. Sports Betting
Enjoy the thrills, and celebrate the victories! What could be more exciting? Winning from the victories! You do not need to overthink how to do that.
Sports Betting — a multi-billion sports industry provides you with the thrills of victories without being an athlete or even directly engaging in sports.
Let’s see how by taking a look at the figures.
While the industry suffered a decline during the COVID-19-ravaged 2020, it had been on an upward trend.
In 2019, the sports betting industry was estimated at over 200 billion U.S. dollars, with the online market reaching nearly $60 billion US The industry has suffered its fair share of criticism and legal controversies but has managed to remain relevant regardless.
It currently hosts about 31,009 businesses in its market and retains its worth of over $200 billion in total market value.
The U.S., U.K., and Italy lead the sports betting market due to encouraging betting policies and sports participation.
While sports betting is legal in many states, policies differ regionally, influencing participation and market size.
You don’t have to do push-ups, lift weights, engage in flexibility training, or do other things athletes do to become a fisher.
That’s why we can’t regard it as a sport that requires athleticism even though it demands a level of strength to wrestle certain fishes aboard.
Years ago, fishing was a necessity, and a means to get food. However, it soon evolved into recreational activity and a bonding pastime as other food alternatives emerged.
Fishing now seems to be a multipurpose industry, accommodating participants fishing for food, recreation, or competitive sport.
Most people who fish competitively engage in Bass Fishing — a sporting tournament widely considered the foremost freshwater sport.
Bass Fishing involves angling for game fish. Some notable fishing tournaments include:
- Bass Pro Tour (Major League Fishing)
- Fishing League Worldwide Pro Circuit
- Anglers in Action
- Bassmaster Opens
- Bassmaster BASS Nation Series
Professional bass fishers have a median salary of $62,796. Some fishers have earned between $2 million and $6 million in cumulative earnings.
American fisherman Kevin VanDam harkens back to mind; the 54-year-old from Otsego, Michigan, has amassed over $6.2 million since he began his bass fishing career in 1990.
Little athleticism, but enough competitiveness to be called a sport. Hunting targets instead of animals is what shooting is about.
Shooting requires precision, accuracy, proficiency, and speed to perform top-level.
Shooters primarily use firearms, including rifles, shotguns, and handguns, against a target.
However, archery is usually classified as a sport incorporated into shooting.
As you might have thought, shooting is performed at designated sites away from settlements due to the noise and risks of firearms.
Shooting is a sport contested in World Championships, the Olympics, and Paralympics; and could be played as a solo or team sport, indoor or outdoor sport, or a mixed-sex sport, depending on the discipline.
Unlike many established physical and non-physical sports, shooting has no main governing body.
However, there are several international shooting sports organizations like the World Forum on Shooting Activities (WFSA) and World Shooting Para Sport.
11. Competitive Eating
Food is essential for survival; American entrepreneur Malcolm Forbes admitted this claim and added that it is a fuel for the soul.
Imagine how much fuel some people take in when they eat competitively; that’s incredible, isn’t it?
Competitive eating has been around since the 19th century, dating back to a fundraising event in Toronto, Canada, in 1878.
However, the sport came into the limelight after the first Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest held on July 4th, 1916. Since then, the competition has become an annual tradition.
The Major League Eating (MLE), All-Pro Eating, and International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE) are notable organizations in competitive eating.
The Major League Eating, established in 1997, is lauded for being crucial in boosting the sport’s popularity.
It organizes the famous July 4th’s Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest along with 70-80 eating contests annually across North America.
The International Federation of Competitive Eating is responsible for about fifty MLE events.
While eating doesn’t involve athletic training activities, professional competitive eaters train personally on eating speed and stomach capacity expansion even months before a competition.
Some notable competitive eaters include:
- Joey “Jaws” Chestnut (fourteen-time Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest Champion)
- Peter “Furious Pete” Czerwinski
- Takeru Kobayashi (six-time Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest Champion)
It is not just a game; it’s also a sport! Pool is a billiard sport played by using a cue stick to strike billiard balls.
This non-physical sport is considered one of the games likely to have been developed in the 18th century.
However, it wasn’t until the 19th century that the game was imported into the U.S.
Pool is one of the world’s most established and organized non-athletic sports. It is governed supremely by several organizations and governing bodies under the World Pool-Billiard Association (WPA), which includes:
- Billiard Congress of America, European Pocket Billiard Federation
- Asian Pocket Billiard Union (A.P.B.U.)
- All Africa Pool Association (A.A.P.A.)
- Oceania Pocket Billiard Association (O.P.B.A.)
- Confederación Panamericana de Billar (C.P.B.)
Professional pool players earn thousands of dollars every year. AzBillards Forums estimates a mid-level pool player’s expected yearly wage to be around $50,000.
Compared to other athletic sports like soccer, basketball, and golf, this figure is undoubtedly insignificant but fits well enough when compared with an average American’s mean annual wage.
You aren’t paddling a canoe, wrestling a fish into the boat, or battling storms in the Mediterranean.
Of what use will athleticism be? Perhaps no benefit, or little, if any.
Here’s why we can’t describe yachting as a physical sport; it’s a competition of technology and tactics, rather than physical prowess.
Racing on water dates back to the 17th century, but yacht racing began in the 19th century.
Fortunately, the evolution of racing yachts has boosted the development and popularity of yacht racing.
Yachting competitions are usually organized by sailing group bodies, including, but not limited to:
- World Sailing (recognized by the International Olympic Committee)
- Argentine Yachting Federation
- German Sailing Federation
- Royal Yachting Association
Some notable yachting competitions include
- Cowes Week
- Newport Bermuda Race
- Antigua Sailing Week
- Vendée Globe
- Sydney Hobart
14. Horse Racing
“Horse racing is so much work,” you might think. The horses, not the riders, mostly do the work. A rider’s primary job is to hold on and occasionally hit the horse.
Horse racing is a general term that involves several disciplines, including under saddle, in harness, and distance racing.
Other international, Olympic, and Paralympic disciplines include show jumping, eventing, dressage, and para-equestrian dressage.
The International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) is the international governing body for horse riding.
In 2020, the horse racing industry was estimated at $3.44 billion.
Being a billion-dollar non-athletic sports industry seems impressive. However, the industry has sadly experienced a decline over the last few years.
It might be controversial, but trampolining manages to find itself on the list of non-athletic.
Why? Trampolining is gymnastics with a lot of assistance from a trampoline.
Indisputably, gymnastics is an athletic sport, requiring speed, strength, agility, power, and flexibility, but trampolining requires these skills in lesser proportions.
Trampolining is a non-contact sport that accommodates both genders.
It’s contested worldwide and has been present in the Olympics since the first year of the 21st century.
Trampolining dates back to the 1930s, when it was first contested in the United States.
However, it’s a subordinate sport under gymnastics governed by the Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique.
Non-Athletic Sports FAQs
What sports are good for non-athletic people?
Sports and athleticism are related, but athleticism isn’t a prerequisite for certain sports.
Sports like swimming, horse riding, billiards, fishing, and hunting are some examples of sports that do not require athleticism.
What are non-physical sports included in the Olympics?
Some physical sports have been established for years and have secured their spots in the Olympics or Paralympics.
However, some of these sports have just started gaining popularity and have earned an Olympic shout.
These sports include eSports, fantasy sports, competitive eating, polo, and bowling.
Is yoga a non-physical sport?
While you might not find yoga participants very muscular, their training and performances can be very physically challenging.
They must display their flexibility and finesse with effort and ease.
If you wonder if yoga is a sport, you might be glad to know that yoga is viewed as a competitive activity in many countries, implying that it’s a sport.
Are dancers considered athletes?
Dancers are usually regarded as artists. However, they’re not artistic athletes but athletic artists.
Their art demands strength, endurance, durability, power, flexibility, and agility.
Non-physical sports couldn’t earn a shout decades ago if we trip down memory lane.
Still, trends, technology, and perspectives have seen the global sports industry accommodate these inclusions.
Some of these sports have generated billions of dollars and will continue to expand in participation and revenue generation.
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