Chess as a sport - submission to Irish Sports Council

Eamonn Pitts

This article part of the series: ICU Bulletins 2004-05 - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Last month the following letter was prepared by Eamonn Pitts (Chairman) for submission to the Irish Sports Council. A previous submission had failed on the grounds that the Sports Council considered that chess was not a physical activity. It is hoped that this appeal accompanied by a petition can alter their views and grant us recognition as a sport.

"I refer to previous correspondence regarding the recognition of chess as a sport. We in the Irish Chess Union wish you in the Irish Sports Council to reconsider your position on this matter and present herewith a petition signed by several thousand citizens. Our petition also has considerable support in the Oireachtas.

Physical activity

The kernel of the issues at stake relate to your interpretation of the words “physical activity” in the Irish Sports Council Act of 1999, which itself is intended to implement the European Sports Charter and reproduces closely the definition of Sport contained in that charter

"Sport" means all forms of physical activity which, through casual or organised participation, aim at expressing or improving physical fitness and mental well-being, forming social relationships or obtaining results in competition at all levels.

There are 45 other member states of the Council of Europe. Which presumably are also signatories to this Charter. More than three quarters of these countries recognise chess as a sport and therefore do not find the use of the word “physical activity” in the definition, a barrier to recognition. In general only English speaking countries, appear to have this problem.

We note from the Minister’s letter to our Mr P. McCarrick of 1st September last, that the other examples quoted by you relating to the definition of sport and its interpretation come from the English speaking world (New Zealand and North America). As well as pointing out (above) the fact that other interpretations of the Council of Europe definition are clearly possible, we wonder why the Council does not look at definitions outside the English speaking world, unless it merely seeks confirmation of a pre conceived view and is not open to rational argument.

The noun sport comes from French and Latin as a contracted form of the verb disport, which means to make merry. Thus, the core meaning of sport is simply pastime, diversion, or recreation. Like many other sports, chess is also a game (a competitive activity governed by rules) and a competition (a rivalry involving the demonstration of skill or ability). Furthermore, and typically unlike ice-skating or diving, chess is an adversarial sport: the outcome of each chess game is profoundly affected by the opposing interaction of the players.

Chess requires extreme physical demands: a single game might last six hours or more, and several such games might be played in one weekend.

Sport for all

On reading the charter, with its emphasis on “Sport for All”, the advantages which chess has in affording competition on an equal basis to men and women, blind and other incapacitated, young and old, makes it an ideal vehicle (far more inclusive than most other sports) for implementing such a policy. An overemphasis on the physical in your definition of sport excludes the handicapped and the elderly.

Olympic Recognition

Chess is recognised as a sport by a decision of the International Olympic Committee of 1999. The first step towards its being recognized as an Olympic discipline is for the game to be recognized as a sport.


For all of these reasons, we in the Irish Chess Union, and the thousands of people who have signed our petition, would like your Council to study carefully how so many other countries (including most fellow members of the Council of Europe), can embrace chess as a sport and to reconsider your position. We wish to be treated seriously and no longer have comparisons with tiddlywinks made by people who are clearly prejudiced (eg a former Minister) and have not looked into the case.

Chess is a sports organisation second only to Association Football, across the world, with 159 states affiliated to its governing body. We in Ireland organises championships at national under 10, 12, 14, 16 and 18 levels and seek to develop the talent of our young players, as all other sports do. We are restricted in our capacity to do so, by the fact that we are not recognised as a sport. One by product of this is that children from families with limited means cannot avail of coaching or international tournaments. This is a shame.

We look forward with interest to your response."

Created 2005-07-14 ◦ Last updated 2014-07-23 ◦ Editor SLC

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