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Marc Cressac; Chess Fact-Checked by Marc Cressac | Updated 2022-09-28
Founder of Chessily.com

Is Chess a Sport?

While chess is a recreational activity for most, whether chess constitutes as a sport or not has been the subject of many debates in recent years. While it might seem like a useless discussion at first, it actually has real-world implications for chess players and the game as a whole — public funding being the most important. So, let’s find out together if you can safely call yourself a chess athlete if you play the occasional tournament.

What Exactly Makes a Sport a Sport?

While there is no set-in-stone definition for sport, most sources agree that it is “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment”. Some definitions also include a set of rules as a characteristic of sports.

So, in order for chess to be considered a sport, it has to meet the following criteria:

  1. Chess has to be played according to a strict ruleset.
  2. Chess has to require skill.
  3. Chess has to be played by an individual against others.
  4. Chess has to require physical extertion.

We can all agree that chess easily meets the first three requirements for being considered a sport. However, the main argument critics raise is that chess does not require physical extertion. Is that really true? Let’s investigate.

Arguments For Chess Being a Sport

Being chess players, we obviously have to take the stance that chess is in fact a sport! So, let’s look at some convincing arguments.

Chess Does Require Physical Extertion

When most people think of sports, they think of activities like basketball, football, and soccer which all require a certain level of physical extertion. What many people dont realize is that some games which are not traditionally thought of as sports can still require a fair amount of physical activity. One such game is chess.

While there is no doubt that the mental effort is greater than the physical effort in a chess match, the physical demands of chess are often underestimated. Obviously we’re going to disregard the hand-eye-coordination of moving pieces across the board, as that hardly classifies as physical effort. However, a chess match can last for hours, and during that time, players are required to maintain a high level of concentration and focus. This can be extremely taxing on the body, and can lead to physical fatigue, as the mental exterion carries over to your whole body.

Chess Is Competitive in Nature

Another crucial characteristic of sports is their competitive nature. Competition is a fundamental aspect of human nature. It drives us to be better, to push ourselves harder, and to continually strive for improvement. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the game of chess. It is a game of pure skill. There is no luck involved. The outcome of a chess game is determined entirely by the abilities of the two players. This makes it a very fair game, and one that is highly respected by those who enjoy competition.

This is also the reason why chess is often played in a competitive envoirnment, such as tournaments or various forms of championships. There is no denying that chess is a competitive game!

The IOC Classifies Chess as a Sport

You might know that chess is currently not a discipline in the Olympic Games. However, the governing body of the Olympics — called the International Olympic Committee — does actually classify chess as a sport. Meaning, chess could very well become an olympic sport in the future! But besides that very enticing possibility, it shows that even official organizations see chess as 

Arguments Against Chess Being a Sport

To create a fair and balanced discussion, let’s look at some arguments critics of recognizing chess as a sport bring up. Unfortunately we can only really find one argument that is brought up whenever the question of chess being a sport is raised. If you have another one, please feel free to send it in: [email protected]. Still, let’s have a look!

Chess is Not as Physical as Most Sports

While we’ve established that chess does infact require physical fitness at the highest level, it is obvious that chess is not a particularly strenuous activity compared to soccer, martial arts or basketball. But taking that thought further does raise an interesting question: How physical does an activity have to be, in order to be classified as a sport? I raised this concern a while ago in a comment on John Foley’s article on the same issue. There are quite a few other examples of games that are not really physically demanding, but widely considered a sport — Darts being a popular example. 

Ultimately, it comes down to an issue of definition. There is no hard line in terms of physical extertion that a game has to cross in order to qualify as a sport.

Conclusion: Chess is a Sport!

Unsurprisingly, we come to the conclusion that chess does in fact qualify as a proper sport. While it definitely isn’t as physical as most other sports, there is physical extertion involved — especially in longer time controls and higher levels of play. Still, it is important to remember that there is not one single governing body that can decide whether a given game is a sport or not.

So, in the end it is up to the individual to decide whether they want to recognize chess as a proper sport or just a fun past-time activity.

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