What is a sport? Chess? Figure skating? Modern dance?

Via Susan Polgar’s blog and featuring her Webster University chess team:

Based on a dictionary definition, the filmmakers boil it down to three aspects:

1. Athleticism

2. Skill

3. Competition

Chess fits the last two with ease. The “athleticism” argument is weaker. They argue that it’s draining — elite players lose weight in world championship competition.

But is that essential?

Other Olympic sports have all three elements. Figure skating is perhaps the most questionable, with the “competition” aspect only coming into the mix through judging that is still partially subjective.

Modern dance, like figure skating, requires athleticism and skill. Just watch Pilobolus sometime. But it’s not competitive, and no one’s seriously lobbying for it to be in the Olympics.

So we could say the Olympics require all three. The media, on the other hand, do not. ESPN televises poker and spelling bees. SI used to cover chess, along with many European sports departments. At USA TODAY, we used to cover the Westminster Dog Show through sports.

The media, though, don’t need to be exclusive. ESPN has a lot of hours to fill, and most Myriad readers would likely vote for chess, poker, dogs and quiz bowls instead of Skip Bayless yelling at people.

Does the “chess as a sport” movement go beyond that? There’s a practical reason we won’t see chess in the Olympics. Chess players can argue for months about their playing conditions. They’re not likely to hang out with the hard-partying swimmers in the Athletes Village.

And the Olympics don’t want to get bigger right now, even if the facility needs are cheap. Hosting is already far too expensive.

So is it a sport? Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter.

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