My friend and occasional walking companion Kevin, in almost all other respects a solid citizen, doesn't really do sport – in either the conventional, active sense or the even more conventional passive mode.
He doesn't make too much of a deal about it (though, in the male world, it really is quite a huge deal), simply throwing the odd 'I wouldn't know' into conversation when things get too blokey.
The effect is like a hand grenade in a fireworks factory; it's not just that the immediate (pub) conversation is stymied, but that the assumed foundation of shared culture is challenged.
Entire vocabularies of shorthand allusion (hairdryers, Eau Rouge, silly point) become redundant or even cryptic, because Kevin usually doesn't even have the decency to pretend he understands what you've just said. It's a pain, but we like him and we're reasonable people.
But the moment last week when Kevin deflated a discussion by asking, from the blue as it were, "is walking really a sport?" was akin to the shot that was heard around the world.
Actually, Kevin's loaded question, intended as subversion, provoked a groan because that whole 'what's the deal with synchronised swimming?' debate rarely goes anywhere. Resolution, if any, comes only with the unsatisfying resort to semantics; what's the definition of sport?
Googling sport doesn't help much; at least one dictionary definition strikes me as downright peculiar; an individual or group activity pursued for exercise or pleasure. Which works as well for orgies as for rugby union, not that Kevin would know the difference.
Does it matter? I think so; if only because the true nature and significance of sport is fundamental to our culture and possibly even to our self-understanding as a species.
Whether or not we are the only creature to engage in sport; whether or not sport really can be an effective vehicle for lofty purposes like anti-racism, the betterment of international relations etc, or conversely the pursuit of political objectives, it has shown itself to be powerful, and the narrowing of its remit to codified, competitive activity is a recent distortion.
For much of its history, after all, the modern Olympic movement embraced poetry. Rudolf Binding, for instance, took gold at Amsterdam in 1928 with Rider's Instructions to His Lover, which sounds at least as endurable as BMX in my book.
It doesn't matter if a few questionable pursuits such as horse racing shelter under the sports umbrella; the broad church is best. Even without the inclusion of the obviously sporty race walking, walking in any recreational or exercise-oriented form is sport simply because it entails movement without external purpose.
But more importantly because, regardless of definitions and prejudices, it comes from the same place. Not very scientific, but that's culture for you.
As walkers, be it for exercise, challenge, aesthetic reward or social congress, I urge you to resist the containment of sport within artificial boundaries. Acknowledge and affirm your walking as sport, and know that as sports go, yours is the original and best. Not much to celebrate on the spectator front; best experienced from the inside.
Conor O'Hagan is editor of the bi-monthly Walking World Ireland magazine. www.walkingworldireland.com