Magnus Carlsen
Chess Club & Scholastic Center of Saint Louis

Magnus Carlsen: Chess deserves Olympic priority over esports

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The rise of esports has many wondering if it will soon apply for and receive Olympic inclusion.

Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, the world chess champion since 2013, believes his trade deserves priority.

“Chess has centuries, even millenia of history, which esports, obviously, they don’t,” Carlsen said by phone after competing in the Champions Showdown at the Chess Club & Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. “Personally, for me, it wouldn’t make sense [for esports to get in the Olympics first].”

The first step to being added to the Olympics is having an international governing body recognized by the International Olympic Committee.

World Chess is recognized by the IOC. Esports does not have a recognized body.

Around 30 international federations for sports that aren’t currently in the Olympics are recognized by the IOC, including American football (provisionally), life saving and tug of war.

Since chess was recognized by the IOC in 1999, the sport and many others have repeatedly applied for and been denied Olympic inclusion.

“Obviously, I’d love for chess to be part of the Olympics,” said Carlsen, adding that he has not lobbied on the sport’s behalf to any Olympic leaders. “I think that would be tremendously exciting for all chess players and fans, but there are always difficult questions like, does it belong in the Winter or Summer Olympics and all these things. There are lots of sports applying for the Olympics. So it’s difficult.”

In 2000, a chess exhibition was held at the Sydney Olympics.

Recent attempts pushed for blitz chess, a faster form of the sport, to join the Olympics. World Chess also sought if the Olympic Charter language could be changed to allow a sport that isn’t played on snow or ice into the Winter Games.

Previously, chess officials reportedly said that chess pieces could be made out of ice to conform to the Olympic Charter language for winter sports.

“There are people who are questioning whether or not it’s an actual sport,” Carlsen said. “Obviously, that’s the first question. To me it is. But I think it’s also a question of there are just so many sports that want to be part of the Olympics. You cannot include everything.”

Carlsen said he attended the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Games with his family when he was 3 years old.

“I cannot remember much, but I can remember glimpses of the cross-country races there,” he said.

During the 1998 Nagano Olympics, his mom taped cross-country skiing, Nordic combined or biathlon events so that Carlsen could watch them after school.

Carlsen’s popularity in Norway rivals — even surpasses — that of the country’s winter sports stars.

Carlsen was named Norway’s Sportsperson of the Year for 2013 after he became world champion for the first time at age 22. That snapped a streak of nine straight years in which the sportsperson winner was an Olympian.

In 2016, Carlsen defended his world title in New York City, beating Russian Sergey Karyakin in a tense, 20-day series decided by a tiebreaker.

Norwegian media swarmed South Street Seaport in Manhattan.

National broadcaster NRK aired live coverage of matches in primetime, with a studio desk dissecting moves. National newspaper VG covered it with banner headlines in typical tabloid fashion.

The 2016 Norwegian Sportsperson of the Year winner was not Carlsen. He finished third. Journalists voted for soccer player Ada Hegerberg, with Alpine skier Henrik Kristoffersen taking second.

Where does Carlsen believe he ranks?

“I’ll leave that for others to compare,” he said. “I’m just very happy that chess is being recognized the way that it is.”

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