Sport should be released from the burden of expectations that it will make us fitter, peace-loving and more prosperous and be promoted purely because of its fun value, according to a report released in advance of the Olympic Games.
Playing sport is dominated by a "Protestant work ethic" which demands it should have benefits beyond the joy of participation - such as improving health, job creation, promoting world peace and even making us better and more moral people, a report by the public theology think-tank Theos and the Sports Think Tank said.
Co-authors Paul Bickley and Sam Tomlin said claims about the ability of sport to act as a unifying force were "over-estimated" while no recent Olympic Games has produced proven significant economic benefits to the host city or country.
History has shown that international conflict is rarely controlled by sport - more often it is itself a fuse for conflict or even a key front in culture wars, the authors warned.
Their report Give Us Our Ball Back, reclaiming sport for the common good, added that there was a "growing body" of research suggesting that sport powerfully shapes behaviour - but often negatively.
In spite of the health benefits, only seven million adults - just 16.3% - in England were reportedly active in 2010/11, down marginally on 2008-09 figures, they said. While many people play sport in order to keep fit, most will only do things they enjoy, they argued.
"Releasing sport from the demands of public utility will allow it to occupy its rightful place in society - that of contributing to a full, happy and meaningful life," they said.
"External benefits will naturally come from playing, watching and engaging in sport, but should be seen primarily as by-products of something with specific worth already. We need to be able to value sport for itself - for its intrinsic goods - namely fun or, if you prefer, wellbeing. It is by recognising this that we will reclaim sport for the common good."
The report has been published as peers and MPs gather for the National Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast.
The theme of the breakfast will be the Olympic Truce - a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly that calls upon all signatories to pursue initiatives for peace and reconciliation in the spirit of the Ancient Games.