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.”
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.