Chess treated with 'contempt', says game's English supremo

Leon Watson
England's number one Michael Adams at the London Chess Classic last year - Copyright ©Heathcliff O'Malley , All Rights Reserved, not to be published in any format without prior permission from copyright holder.

Government bodies treat the ancient pursuit of chess with "contempt" and have no intention of recognising it as a sport, the game's supremo in England has said.

Dominic Lawson, the eminent journalist and author, said the battle to get chess on an equal footing with other sports faces widespread opposition from officials with "no understanding" of the game.

He added that rival sporting bodies are trying to scupper attempts to have recognised because they don't want to share funding with it.

Rachel Reeves MP, one of the few chess players in Parliament Credit:  

The English Chess Federation has been campaigning for years on the issue to get chess events made exempt from VAT and compete for Lottery funding.

Players currently have to fund training, facilities and travel to international tournaments with no government support.

But Sport England, the body responsible for funding, has steadfastly refused to include chess on its list of sanctioned sports arguing the game does not fulfill the physical criteria.

American number one Wesley So plays England's Luke McShane Credit:  

Lawson, who has been president of the ECF since 2014, has now admitted chess has virtually no chance of achieving the recognition.

"I don't know anyone in Government now who is interested in chess," he told the British Chess Magazine.

"Part of the problem lies in the fact that chess is not perceived as part of British culture.

Entrants to chess events such as the prestigious London Chess Classic currently have to pay VAT Credit: Julian Andrews

"People in the sporting bodies are into athletics and physical sports, and when it comes to chess - if they think about it - they look at it with contempt.

"They probably have no understanding what professional chess is like and they can't appreciate it.

"Also, to be crude about it, there is a pot of money provided by the Government and certain sports have access to it and they do not want another kind of sport cutting into their share."

England's top 10 chess players

Mr Lawson, a former editor of the Sunday Telegraph, said former Chancellor George Osborne did try at his request to get chess recognised as a sport but the Department of Culture, Media and Sport "dug in their heels".

Now, Mr Lawson said, the opportunity may have been lost.

England was once a powerhouse in the game second only to the Soviet Union in the 1980s. But a steady decline has seen the national team fall back in the rankings.

It seems to me that they do not want to open what they see as a Pandora's box by allowing chess into the arena of recognised sports

Dominic Lawson

At the last Chess Olympiad, the game's most prestigious team event, England finished ninth.

"It seems to me that they do not want to open what they see as a Pandora's box by allowing chess into the arena of recognised sports," Mr Lawson said.

"That is why there has been adamantine resistance."

Critics point out that Sport England recognises darts and snooker, sports that can hardly be said to require great physical exertion.

However, a European Court of Justice ruling expected next month may offer hope.

Pressure could be heaped on Sport England to review its list if a long-running case brought by the English Bridge Union rules that the card game is a sport.

The case is being watched with interest by the ECF.

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