Chess: game or sport? -Cherwell
Reading about teenagers who have triumphed in the world of chess got me thinking about the game’s relationship to sport and whether it’s fair to categorize it that way. The International Olympic Committee has recognized it as a sport since 2000 and it is considered as such in 24 of the 28 EU members.
After the Prague Masters sprint on February 22, it was interesting to see 16-year-old Alireza Firouzja of Iran beat 25-year-old Vidit Gujrathi of India to win 2-0. The news preceding this that American Carissa Yip, the same age as Firouzja, beat Chinese grandmaster Ju Wenjun, 29, the reigning world champion, in the Cairns Cup was also exciting. Even more so considering her weak start as the lowest-ranked and youngest player. These teenage rising stars made me curious about the status of chess as a sport because of this apparent correlation between youth and success.
The Cambridge dictionary defines ‘sport’ as ‘a game, competition or activity requiring physical exertion and skill which is played or performed under rules, for pleasure and/or as work’. According to this definition, chess does not equate to the term “sport”, because physical exertion is not something the game requires. Chess is played on a chessboard while seated, and to make a move, you have to lift a one-ounce chess piece on the board after 15 minutes of strategic thinking: athletic ability is therefore not required.
To contextualise, chess is not recognized as a sport in the UK and receives no public funding. Despite this, as I mentioned, the International Olympic Committee and over 100 countries recognize gambling as a sport. There are several reasons why this could be. First, the game is competitive, two people are engaged in competitive wrestling for an extended period of time. This way, every game is thrilling, with an outcome unknown until the very end.
Despite the obvious lack of physical exertion, many argue that the peak mental condition required means being in good physical condition. Players have to concentrate for up to seven hours and with the build up of stress blood pressure, pulse and breathing rates all increase. World championship contenders have nutritionists and physical trainers, which speaks to that need for physical well-being so often associated with professional athletes.
The behavior code, another key characteristic of the sport, is also an important component of chess; players are penalized for lack of sportsmanship such as refusing to shake hands with their opponent and cheating is taken seriously. There is also an anti-doping policy.
It goes without saying that there is a mental component to chess, and competitive sports could also be seen as games of strategy, the only difference being in their physical manifestation.
It is also true that the player ranking system, which was developed for chess in 1960, has been adopted by many other sports, including American football, baseball, basketball, hockey, rugby and golf. . This again puts it in the same arena, no pun intended, as other sports. So with all of these reasons in mind, why do I still struggle to categorize it as a sport? The bottom line is that sport, for me at least, is characterized by physical exertion that is absent from chess.
The subject is controversial for several reasons. Physical ability aside, other games played on a board also require strategy: however, we don’t hear of Monopoly in this category. Yes, chess is more sophisticated and requires intelligence and focus, but that doesn’t mean it’s a sport when it so obviously lacks what many would consider the sport’s cornerstone, its physical expression.
Chess is certainly a unique game. Although the International Olympic Committee considers it a sport, it is not played in the Olympics. Instead, it has its own international league held twice a year called Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE). This in itself demonstrates the foreignness of the game to the sporting world. Chess overlaps sports in many ways and therefore deserves funding and respect because just as much preparation and skill is required. That said, this preparation is above all mental, because brain power is more necessary than anything else. Therefore, for me, it should be seen in its own way.