Mel Johnson, on Apr 8 2009, 11:37 AM, said:
Sport portrayed in ballet is nothing new. Nijinsky did it with "Jeux", although it was the socialization in tennis that was depicted instead of the game....
And Asaf Messerer made a solo for himself as a soccer player, in his early days as a performer.
One of the fundamental things about dance is its malleability -- it is used in many ways, and fills many needs for human beings. It can be worship, it can be instruction, it can be art and it can be a form of competition (thanks Helene for pointing out that distinction) It's used as a metaphor for change, for compatibility, for negotiation, and for contest. It doesn't surprise me at all to find dance used in sports writing, and that the term ballet is used interchangeably with it.
Paul makes a good point about the rise of sport metaphors in post-modern dance. Steve Paxton, one of the developers of Contact Improvisation and a central person at the beginning of post-modernism, often talks about CI being similar to basketball (a sport he played) -- that a good player or a good dancer would work to internalize certain movements, would practice skills methodically, but that in the actual performing or playing, the goal was to do the dance or play the game, and the skills came into use unconsciously. Technique is a tool, whatever the context. This is as true in ballet as it is for any other physical practice.
Tangentially, at one point applicants for Rhodes Scholarships were advised to list a sport or some other kind of activity as proof of their physical fitness (a criterion for the award) -- one of the first women to get a scholarship in the 1970s was Rachel Klevit (from my college!), and her "sport" was ballet.