Opinion: Is Chess a Game or a Sport?

In England's Nottingham Evening Post, there is an interesting story concerning the age-old debate of whether chess is merely a game, or a sport to be classified with other professional sports. Sports England had turned down a request by the British Chess Federation (BCF) for declaration as a sport.

What is at stake here is if chess is classified as a sport, the BCF can have a chance to receive funding it needs to organize tournaments, train players, and travel. "Our top players aren't developing properly because of this lack of cash and, in some cases, are having to go back to work because they can't afford to play full-time," says
David Levens, marketing director of the BCF.

Steve Bradley of the Sports England stands by the decision and states, "If we opened up the sports review event to chess players, we'd basically be saying that anyone could come along." That is certainly true if there were no respectable criteria. While England's accepted definitions for "sport" offer no clarification, what is strange are the activities that Sports England has qualified as "sports." To show you how horrible the council is, below are some of the declared "sports" (don't laugh): 

baton twirling
arm wrestling
life saving
skater/street hockey
snooker (billiards)

These are among the 112 sports recognized by the Sport England council. One thing is for certain… let's hope English sports councils are not on the committee determining Olympic activities. If London is ever the Olympic host, we may have to watch a sport like "synchronized yoga," or "power skipping." The criteria of the "sports" above is that they possess some physical activity… regardless of how mundane it is. Perhaps we can offer such arguments in support of chess:

The chess community has a recognized international governing body (FIDE); the governing body consists of over 150 registered nations; each member nation boasts a  national team with players holding accepted credentials; chess is an activity relying on pure skill and it not a game of chance; requires tremendous concentration and thus, long periods of physical stamina;  has been the subject of many scientific sporting competitions dubbed "Man vs. Machine"; holds a respectable "Olympic" tournament every two years.

Of course, all of the other "pretending" games would be eliminated if they had to meet the chess criteria. While I'm certain there are some really strong skippers, how does one become an IM in skipping?

On a serious note, Leven's  stance brings to light a legitimate point in a board sport struggling for an identity. Notwithstanding some errors in the article (which you will certainly see), his statement is certainly one that FIDE should take on as a central issue in improving the image of chess.

Dr. Daaim Shabazz, The Chess Drum

See Chris Waters, "It's a Game, but is it a Sport?"
Nottingham Evening Post, 22 January 2004.

Posted by The Chess Drum: 26 January 2004