What is sport?

There are people who do not believe darts and snooker are sports. There are some who believe that chess and bridge are.

My Collins Modern English Dicitionary informs me that 'sport' is "an individual or group activity pursued for exercise or pleasure, often taking a competitive form" but it seems to me that second 'or' is a bit of a cop-out, and surely would just about qualify any 'game' as a sport.

Whichever other dictionary you might consult will almost certainly supply an equally vague definition of the word.

When I first began working on the introduction of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year almost 30 years ago it didn't take long before my co-founder, John Gaustad, then running the much loved and missed Sports Pages bookshop just off of London's Tottenham Court Road, decided that for the purposes of our new prize, if the judging panel said it was a sport, then sport it would be.

Which was, and still is, fine - but does lead to the occasional clash when one judge believes it is and another believes it isn't!

This year, for example, saw the presence on our longlist for the first time, of books about chess, bobsleigh (or bobsled) and MMA, mixed martial arts.

I am surprised that we have yet to see any books about gaming 'sports' which are now beginning to make an impact, being entered. I suspect it will not be long before that occurs.

The question first raised its head significantly for us when in 1998, Robert Twigger's book, Angry White Pyjamas was our winner. The sub-title of the book, 'An Oxford poet trains with the Tokyo riot police' indicates the unusual nature of the subject matter, and along with the fact that the closest Twigger would ever again come to sport was a book about hunting for a giant snake, shows how difficult a decision it was to decide that it was a worthy winner.

Anyone still disagreeing with that choice should check the book out - it remains a rattling good sporting read.

Once having determined that a book is indeed about sport, I believe that our prize has gradually succeeded in widening the subject options for the author to delve into, and encouraging them to use the sport itself as a jumping off point to address the wider questions posed by and about those disciplines.

Analysis, investigation, confrontation, abuse, social issues, are all amongst the areas confronted by authors writing about sport and they attract readers who would be unlikely to want to read the more traditional rags to riches stories of pampered superstar players with little experience of the real world. Or the sixth insightful autobiography of recently retired sportspeople who haven't even written the books themselves - like the one who I heard interviewed on national radio a few years ago being asked by the presenter: "Tell me about your relationship with your brother?"

"No," came the reply. "That's private, I don't talk about it."

"But it's in the book, in chapter four."

"Really? Oh, I haven't actually read the thing."

Sudden end of interview.

Graham Sharpe is co-founder of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award and media relations director at William Hill.