Chess snubbed in Jamaican Awards

Jamaica Jamaica Jamaica

Jamaican Chess Don, Ian Wilkinson has protested the recent ruling by the Jamaican Olympic Association’s (JOA) selection committee. The committee decided to reject Jomo Pitterson’s candidacy for the “Sportsman of the Year”. Michael Fennell the JOA’s President stated,

“I have explained to him and Mr (Gary) Allen, chairman of the foundation, has explained to him (Wilkinson) that the definition for sports that we are using does not include mind games such as chess and that is the position of the foundation. The foundation has not used that definition for sports up to now and Mr Allen says that the matter can be and will be reviewed.The foundation has not used that definition for sports up to now and Mr Allen says that the matter can be and will be reviewed.”

Ian Wilkinson
President of Jamaican Chess Federation.

The question boils down to whether chess is considered a sport… an age-old debate. The definition of “sport” varies from country to country and you will find activities like rope-skipping, baton-twirling and life-saving making the grade in England and race-car driving and golf in the U.S. In a country that has produced a famous Olympic bob-sledding team, one would feel that there would be some flexibility in the categories.

This selection does have a precedent as several chess players have won the top sportsman award including World Champion Viswanathan Anand of India. An example closer to home would be Barbados Kevin Denny who bagged the honor back in 2002. According to Jamaican chess legend Shane Matthews, Trinidadian Shawn Tavares won the honor in 80s. Zambian Grandmaster Amon Simutowe has won the nation’s honor as well.

The debate will continue on chess. Some say chess it is a “game” like dominoes or poker, but chess is neither a game of chance, nor one in which guesswork is involved. The hurdle may be the hardened misconceptions of chess as a game of the elite and the idea that is purely an intellectual exercise. In the meantime, Jamaica will continue to move chess into the public mainstream.



  1. Just curious,

    Basketball requires the movement and coordination of a ball by a group of athletes to score a basket, Golf requires the movement and precise concentration by an individual to get a ball in a hole, Hockey requires the movement and coordination of a puck by a group of athletes to score a goalie, same with soccer etc. Chess requires the movement and coordination of chess pieces to ultimately force checkmate (surrender of a king.). It would seems to me that the main distinction here is that in chess, the end result and the coordination of the pieces are accomplished by just one individual. That’s no different than in Golf. Some of the key elements that are integral in most sports, such as: movement, coordination, opponent, tension, winner(s) and loser(s) are all there. It almost seems as if all sports are games and therefore several games falls into the category of a sport, chess is a good example. It’s my unsophisticated view, but I am interested in hearing what others think might be absent from chess that causes some to think it is not a sport. Please feel free to instruct, it’s satisfying to learn from others!

  2. I think the main debate may center around the lack of physical strain as viewed by the general public. But any professional chess player will tell you the physical rigorousness involved in preparation and actual playing!

  3. The uninitiated only see the physical aspect of chess as moving the pieces with one’s hand. They don’t see the physical vigor needed to train the mind to play chess. Of course, it is a different type of activity and chess is not to be directly compared to basketball in its physical emphasis. I believe that is the mistake these committees make. In addition, they may not have anyone on the committee who understands chess.

  4. When I go to the Gym, it’s all about physical strain, but I definitely wouldn’t exemplify it as a sport. So I think it’s more of a question in the line of whether you see the glass as half-full or half-empty. So, it may boil down to experience vs. perception. That is, chess players will agree that chess is a sport based on their familiarity of having played chess and those who don’t will base their choice on visual observation.. In short, I think both viewpoints only provoke additional questions. Perhaps this is an appealing area for a thesis.

  5. So if chess is a game instead of a sport then, basketball is NOT a game? I believe basketball is a both a game and a sport just as chess is. I believe people are getting confused on which is which. There is no reason you cannot have both. Chess is both a game and sport.

  6. I think that while there are many definitions of sport, the one most commonly used is this one that I got online from, referencing the American Heritage Dictionary:

    Sport: An activity involving physical exertion and skill that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often undertaken competitively.

    I think the twist is actually on the word skill and whether it is being modified by the word physical in the sentence. My point is that most people look on a sport as something that requires physical skill in its execution. That’s why golf, baton-twirling, rope skipping and all those other activities get the nod even though we know chess is as competitive an activity as any of them. The layperson won’t likely see the physical act of moving a chess piece as a challenge that others find hard to do. In the same way, games like Go, checkers, dominoes, and bridge, all played competitively, would not qualify.

    That said, poker is on ESPN! And we all know that chess is brutal! I long ago gave up trying to convince folks who have no clue how demanding and intense chess is that it’s a sport. Why bother having others define you? A lot of today’s professional sports were invented around the 19th century. Chess has been around in some form or another for over 1400 years! We all get to play one of the greatest, most competitive games in the history of humankind. How cool is that?

    1. Its important to define chess as a sport because it must fall under that category to get funding and to get it on a bigger platform. For example, our funding from the Sports Development Foundation could be in danger if they dont see it as a sport 🙂 Also, if chess were an Olympic sport it would have a bigger audience, meaning a bigger market for potential sponsors. The same could have happened with getting the attention of sponsors if Jomo had been nominated for the award. The reasons go on and on, but its very important to get the appropriate recognition.

  7. Yes, there is quite a bit of physical exertion, but what they don’t see is the part of the body that is being used for this exertion is the mind (not the hands). If someone says that watching chess is boring, they would be right if you focused on the physical movements. The battle of chess is what the mind is able to accomplishment.

    The mind is something many people don’t find tangible enough since we cannot see it. Of course, a paralyzed person can play chess. I remember seeing Joe Kennedy at tournaments. He was blind AND and quadriplegic, but was an Expert (rated about 2100). I’ve seen a man with no arms play chess in a tournament (about 1700 ELO). However, I believe the key is that one is in competition and there is physical exertion. The exertion is caused by something other than strenuous physical movements.

    We know that very little physical exertion is spent in golf and some have even argued that it is not a sport. I presented a piece here three years ago on this argument.


    However, I agree with Maurice that it may be an exercise in futility to get others to understand what chess is. We understand what chess is. It is a sport, game, art and science. It is very rich. When people try to compare with tic-tac-toe and other child board games, you know they are clueless. We have to educate as best we can. If they don’t see it, so be it! Keep moving.

  8. Interesting topic,
    For the sake of argument, I ask this question: If one argues that chess is a sport solely base on the fact that it requires a great deal of mental exercise and preparation, than what would not be considered a sport? Everyone can start arguing to be great at what they do requires great level of mental focus, exercise, etc. Off course, I’m playing devil’s advocate here.

  9. Rosevelt,

    Chess is not only based solely on mental exercise and preparation. It involves so many things including physical stamina. However, we’re only talking about sports and not what “everyone” does or can do. To me competitive intensity is something chess has that most other games do not have. Chess also has an organized sporting body with over 150 national teams, a professional circuit and a world championship cycle. It is also recognized by the International Olympic Committee. However I would not call chess players “athletes” in the strictest sense, but they are competitors as you’d find curling, shooting, angling, archery, golf, equestrian or stock car racing… none of which require strenuous physical movements. Yet, they are all sports.

  10. Yes Daaim,
    I agree 100%. Like I said, I was playing devil’s advocate here. I don’t think chess players express the physical strain of chess enough. I believe the body feeds off the mind and vice versa. I don’t know if people notice, most successful chess players don’t appear to be people who don’t take care of their physical condition.

  11. Good topic ! I agree with you Maurice and Daaim, chess is a sport 🙂

    Daaim, you still selling shirts ?


    1. Quentin,

      I have to get more t-shirts made, but it’s quite a chore to manage the t-shirt business. When I get more made, you will see an announcement on the site.

      Thanks for the support!

  12. Ian Wilkinson did a wonderful job in the discussion about the football contracts tendered by the Jamaican Football Federation. It was an interesting dialogue and I learned quite a bit. The length of the contracts were a bit strange to me… four years is a long time.

    Ian also got a chance to make a case for chess being a sport. He cited that over 100 countries recognize chess as a sport and many have selected a top chess personality as their “Sportsman of the Year”. Each of the sports associations in Jamaica were asked to submit names for their “Sportsman of the Year” candidate. Jamaica selected IM Jomo Pitterson and WFM Deborah Richards. While the International Olympic Committee recognized chess as a sport, the Jamaican branch of the IOC does not.


  13. By available definitions, anything in the world that is a competitive, leisure activity that requires physical activity can be a sport, – poker, chess, checkers, video games (there are large well organized tournaments), skip rope, Math competitions!….

    With such technical definitions, what we know is- everyone won’t agree on whether chess is a sport, but it certainly cannot be said that it is not one!

    We just have to continue to make the necessary steps forward. Kirsan has been pushing this for years, and has been trying to get chess as a sport in the Olympics. In fact, the World Champion match in 2012 will happen along side the Olympics, so that is a start.

  14. Zachary,

    I’m not sure about games of chance where dice, cards and and lots are involved. Chess used to involve dice and it was forbidden in ancient societies because it was associated with gambling. Unlike games of chance, chess is currently based on pure skill where the body meets the mind. Chess is every bit of a metaphysical activity. Unfortunately, most don’t see the mind as part of the body or mind activities as physical activities. This shows very limited thinking.

    I believe there will be a revisiting of what qualifies as a sport. FIDE will have to do a better job in helping federations to build the credibility. Many federations are left with few resources both financially and in terms of technical assistance. Some of the local government agencies have little contact with FIDE and thus do not see chess as a credible competitive activity.

  15. As a chess enthusiast I certainly support chess being recognized and treated as a sport. What I find interesting is that there is not a debate over whether or not certain athletic performances are actually sports. Sprinting and soccer are clearly sports because they involve individuals and teams competing directly against each other. But what about gymnastics? Is it a sport, or is it an athletic performance? And if gymnastics is a sport, is ballet also a sport?

  16. Is chess a sport ? Can promoters, sponsors, coaches, spectators and players make significant financial gain? Sorry to say but the answer lies in economic and commercial success potential. Chess advocates can and do promote competitive chess which is ok, sort of, but in teaching chess I alway promote the pure joy of the game. My son who plays competitive chess always remind me that chess was fun when he played casual games, when money is on the line it is not fun it is work. I remind him “that’s the way life is”. In discussing this issue with my son, he believes that chess is not a sport. He simply asked , “Is ballet a sport?”. My son maybe right, chess is both an art and science of quantitative and qualitative analysis. Chess could be a sport but it is really has more to offer than just a sport.

  17. Ballet is certainly not a sport in the technical sense, thus the criteria of physical movement is not enough to characterize in such a way. I’m sure a lot of balletic performers would scoff at being called a sport. It is billed as more of an art form… an art that is not easy to interpret. Sports are very easy to interpret with a set of rules to follow. This argument will continue forever and I will agree that chess is more than a sport.

  18. Thanks for the response Daaim. The analogy regarding ballet was not to place ballet as a sport but to place chess more so in the realm of a creative art form. As a child he would stop in the middle of a game and just stare at the board. I finally found out that his long pauses were not just to think but to take time to visually appreciate his defensive/offensive form like an artist putting the finishing touches on his masterpiece.

  19. Initially I too would say that ballet is not a sport. But then I think about gymnastics, which is not only considered a sport, but is one of the most popular at the Olympics. Objectively, I don’t see any difference between it and ballet, or figure skating for that matter. Both of the latter are athletic performances, which are judged under subjective scoring frameworks that award points for both the technical difficulty of a move, as well as for the overall creative impression of the routine. Ballet competitions could be structured the same way.

    To me, chess is more of a true sport then either of those three, albeit a non-athletic one. It’s a pure competition, where two players engage directly, with the outcome being objectively determined – not via judging.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button