NEIL BONNAR: Chess is not a sport... but what constitutes a sport?

While chess is a great game, it cannot be classed as a sport, says Neil Bonnar

While chess is a great game, it cannot be classed as a sport, says Neil Bonnar

First published in Sport

IS chess a sport? Bolton MP Yasmin Qureshi thinks so, and has got a group together in Parliament to get it recognised as one.

For me it’s not a sport but there are plenty of people on both sides of the argument.

There’s not a definitive line drawn between what is a sport and what isn’t, and chess certainly falls within that grey area.

I have worked on a sportsdesk for 25 years and chess is one of those topics which has got journalists scratching their heads over whether to put it on the sport or news pages.

I would join Ms Qureshi in advocating that chess should be played in schools. It instils positive qualities of competitiveness and gets the brain working.

But that doesn’t make it a sport, neither does the fact that the International Olympic Committee recognises it as one.

So what is a sport? Everyone has their own parameters for what constitutes one.

One of my colleagues has a rule of thumb that if you wear shoes to play then it isn’t a sport.

That rules out darts and chess, about which there have been repeated arguments over their right to be classed as a sport – but it also dismisses snooker, about which there is less argument, and golf about which there can be none.

There are various flippant rules some people have for what makes a sport: you have to sweat when you play it, you can’t wear long trousers, it must involve a ball. All are wrong. It is far more complex than that.

When the ancient Greeks invented sport as a way for men to compare their strength and skill without killing each other, they came up with what has always formed the basis of the Olympic Games. Running, jumping, throwing, wrestling.

People who argue those are real sports are missing the point.

Sport is evolutionary, the Greeks just gave us a basis to work with. They didn’t have bikes but would anyone argue cycling wasn’t a sport?

My view is that anything that involves either physical exertion or physical skill – or both – and is competitive has an argument to be classed as a sport.

That’s where chess falls down. There is no physical exertion and, while there is skill involved, it is mental rather than physical.

That makes it a game, and a great one which could be hugely beneficial to the minds and characters of our youngsters if Ms Qureshi is successful in getting it played in all schools.

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