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Chess to get sport status

THERE was rejoicing in the cerebral world of chess yesterday, following the news that the game of wit and guile is about to make it to full sporting status.

Being ranked alongside the likes of football, athletics and synchronised swimming means that chess would be eligible for grants from sporting bodies.

The announcement was made by Tony Banks, the Sports minister, in a Commons debate on Monday, who said the Government was willing to legislate for the necessary changes. The British sports councils would also have to change their royal charters in order to accommodate chess, he said, after which the new "sport" should also be eligible for lottery funding.

"This is excellent news," said Robin Mackley, a director of the British Chess Federation. "It is something we have been striving to achieve for many years."

But difficulties revolve about the definition of a sport in the 1937 Physical Training and Recreation Act, which inconveniently for chess includes the idea of some degree of physical effort. No problem, said the bold Mr Banks, he will simply have it altered. Chess and other "mind games" are to included in a "cultural framework Bill".

The debate was introduced by Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, himself a former schoolboy chess champion. He pointed out that Britain was the second- or third-best chess nation in the world."Our success at it is something we should be more proud of," he said.

Support from an unexpected source came from Ellery Hanley, the legendary rugby league player and coach at St Helens. "It's got my vote," he said, having been assured that he wasn't the victim of a "wind up". "I think it is good to have an outlet in doing something else. Mine is chess ... It gives you that time to think, and patience as well."

Eric Cantona, that other sporting sage, could not have put it better.