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With Only Weeks Until a Vote, Chess Makes Its Move for Olympic Inclusion

20 Feb, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Organizers for the 2024 Games in Paris are getting closer to submitting their recommendations for sports to be hosted and as expected, all those who want to be considered are jockeying for position.

In the terms common to its own lexicon, then, chess has launched a double attack.

The International Chess Federation (FIDE, the Fédération Internationale des Échecs) launched its candidacy exactly a week ago – and simultaneously noted that 2024 would be the 100th anniversary of FIDE itself and a fitting celebration of the sport.

The campaign was launched in Paris (as was the announcement of snooker’s candidacy) with FIDE officials touting the game’s global reach (189 national federations) and its enormous fan base (600 million people around the world are at least occasional players) .

And since the IOC is in search of sports with a youth component, the FIDE is only too happy to share that information as well.

"Chess is also growing in France, where 67 per cent of the members of the French Chess Federation are aged under 18 years old," the FIDE noted in a statement.

The game would also be open to Paralympic competition – an important consideration.

Chess might be initially considered to be a fairly dark horse in the field of sports; however, FIDE believes many perceive the game as something where players go for hours, and even longer, between moves. Not necessarily, says FIDE. Chess is a game of multiple formats and the Olympic bid would include two ‘fast chess’ versions: rapid and blitz, in which each player is given less time to consider his or her moves than normal tournament time controls allow. (According to a summary published in Quora, in rapid chess, the players get 15 minutes and +10 seconds (extra time) for each move; whereas in blitz chess, the player gets only 3 minutes and +2 seconds (extra time) for each move.)

Chess is already a longstanding member, through FIDE, of the International Mind Sports Association, which puts on international tournaments in games including Bridge (WBF, The World Bridge Federation), Go (IGF, the International Go Federation), Draughts (FMJD, or Fédération Mondiale du Jeu de Dames), WXF (World Xiangqi Federation) and Mahjong (MIL, the Mahjong International League). The organization puts on the World Mind Sports Games (a quadrennial, Olympic-style event) as well as the IMSA Elite Mind Games (an invitation-only event).

Another hurdle for chess to get through is whether it is perceived as a sport – something common to all mind sports.

"People think ‘Oh, you’re killing me. You call this a sport? It’s very sedentary,’” said Thomas Hsiang of the International Mind Sports Association. “But according to SportAccord, which we’re a member of, and which classifies sports into five categories, we do fit the definition very well. Plus, the perception is changing. In Asia, parents look at mind sports as beneficial to their children’s education, rather than as a waste of time. In Beijing, for example, schools are providing mind sports as an extra-curricular activity, and students are required to pick one game.”

In the U.S. as well, chess is being used to great effect as a club activity for school children, and is growing at the scholastic level, according to the United States Chess Federation (U.S. Chess).

Chess was an exhibition sport at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney but has never featured on the full program.

According to Inside The Games, Paris 2024 organizers are due to submit their recommendations for new sports before the International Olympic Committee Executive Board meets in late March. The IOC Session in June will then offer provisional approval before the new additions are officially confirmed by the Executive Board in December 2020.

In addition to new sports that will be campaigning, the sports added to the Tokyo 2020 Games will also be promoting themselves as well, since their inclusion in 2024 is not guaranteed. These include skateboarding, surfing, competitive climbing, baseball/softball and karate.

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