A sporting gambit by the chess players who say they are athletes

`When the American Bobby Fischer took on the Russian Boris Spassky in Reykjavik in 1972, their chess match was seen as a metaphor for the Cold War.

During their nail-biting battle, won by Fischer, the men were not just operating at the extreme limits of their mental abilities, it was also their physical endurance that was being tested.

According to the benchmark study carried out by Temple University in the United States, the players' heart-lung rates and blood pressure were comparable to those of competing boxers and footballers. Fischer himself declared: "I've got to stay in shape or it's all over."

But more than three decades later, chess is not accepted as a sport in Britain, the United States and many other parts of the world outside the former Soviet Union. Its secondary status as a mere pastime is particularly rankling in the wake of Sport England's decision last week to recognise darts as a sport - a pursuit which, despite a recent ban on big-match drinking, is synonymous in the popular imagination with cigarettes and beer guts.

However, the British Chess Federation (BCF), which represents Britain's 60,000 regular tournament players, is now set to play its killer move. It is petitioning to return chess to its rightful status as a sport. Before darts, the previous two sports to achieve the accolade in Britain were polocrosse - a fusion of polo and lacrosse - and harness racing in which competitors ride chariots pulled by horses.

And according to Roy Lawrence, marketing director of the BCF, his argument was readily accepted by the ancient Greeks who included much less demanding "intellectual sports" such as poetry reading in the original Olympics. But despite achieving exhibition status at Sydney in 2000, chess remains firmly out in the sporting cold.

"It is chronically under-funded - a situation which could be rapidly transformed if it were to achieve sports status. The allocation of central funds will make the sport thrive," said Mr Lawrence who has played chess for 40 years and admits to being "completely shattered" after a typical six-hour game.

While applauding the success of darts, which argued its case on an "indoor archery" ticket, gaining the support of the Sports minister, Richard Caborn, along the way, chess has been continually rebuffed in its search for central funding. The rejection is based on an obscure 1937 Act of Parliament, which demands that sport must be "physical", he said.

Top-class players, who can earn up to £500,000 a tournament, follow strict exercise regimes. The outgoing world champion, Gary Kasparov, credited his superior fitness for his successful cerebral struggles with his arch-opponent Anatoly Karpov in the 1980s.

Mr Lawrence said: "The campaign is going on all over the world. We are not able to access sponsorship because we are not taken seriously. Chess can be played by anyone - people with physical disabilities, the young who get into it through computer software, and the very old." Unlike almost every other sport, men and women compete at the same tournaments in chess.

Such inclusiveness is one of the main considerations when deciding the merits of a pursuit for sport status. According to Sport England, which judges cases, governing bodies must submit applications which show that "physical agility" is needed to play them. They must also prove there is no discrimination by sex, race or disability.

A spokesman for Sport England said yesterday it would consider an application from the BCF, although, like darts, it would more likely be eligible for tax breaks rather than cash.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before