Sports versus games
Let’s get one thing out of the way regarding the game of chess and Viswanathan Anand’s fifth world title. It requires a lot of brains, it is extremely competitive because of its accessibility to people around the world, because of which Anand deserves a lot of praise for his Moscow triumph.
However, that praise should not, in my opinion (whatever that’s worth), be plastered in the sports sections of newspapers and in sports shows on television. The simple reason for this is that chess is not a sport.
The Oxford dictionary defines sport as ‘an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.’
There is no way even the most ardent chess supporter can make a case for the popular board game fitting this definition. Unless, of course, they are proponents of boxing chess, a quirky hybrid that involves alternating four and three minute rounds of chess and boxing, respectively. But chess alone? Not a chance.
I know that I can expect a lot of negativity for taking a stance like this but I make it only because I am a bit of a stickler for definitions and because it worries me to see a growing trend of sedentary activities and games being marketed and promoted as ‘sport’.
Take for instance, the downright ridiculous World Series of Poker that is broadcast on ESPN in America, or spelling competitions that are shown live on ESPN in India. Billiards and snooker also push the boundaries of what can or can’t be considered a sport.
Do Indians get excited by triumphs in games like billiards and chess because we are starved of success in sports like athletics, football, basketball and motor racing (barring a few exceptions)?
Before you point a finger at motor racing, saying that it just requires someone to sit in a car or on a bike and press a few pedals, consider this; the heart rate of drivers in Formula 1 and riders in MotoGP reach close to 180 beats per minute while they are in the heat of battle. And it is a battle that requires supreme reflexes when racers go wheel to wheel at speeds exceeding 300kmh.
Also keep in mind that racing cars and bikes are not built with creature comforts and require strength to steer and stop. For example, the steering wheel of a racing car, even one with power steering, requires more force to operate than that of a normal road car so that drivers can be more precise with their steering inputs and can actually feel how the car is reacting to the road. Of course, a decisive way to confirm motorsport’s credentials as a sport is to look at the most successful F1 driver of all time, i.e. Michael Schumacher.
Outside of cricket, a sport largely restricted to a handful of former British colonies, there isn’t much for India, as a sporting nation, to be proud of.
Has this driven Indians to look for sporting heroes in anything that features competition, even if they are pudgy, bespectacled and spend hours on end sitting on a chair while staring at a chess board?
The answer, unfortunately, seems to be in the affirmative.
By Vinayak Pande