Chess deserves Olympic priority over esports, World Chess CEO says

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NEW YORK — Chess is still aiming for Olympic inclusion, in either the Summer or Winter Games and as early as 2022, and one of the sport’s senior officials says the board game deserves priority over esports.

“Well, chess is considered a sport, officially,” World Chess CEO Ilya Merenzon said on the eve of the World Chess Championship in Manhattan on Thursday.

Merenzon was pointing to the fact that chess’ international federation is recognized by the International Olympic Committee and that esports are not. IOC recognition is the first, early step toward potential Olympic inclusion. 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.

“I think esports could also be very, very deserving,” Merenzon said. “Just that maybe chess should be first because it was around for a long, long time, like 5,000 years [smiles]. Esports are a little bit younger. It would be fair to look at age and stuff like that.”

Chess has been around for about 2,000 years, according to World Chess’ website.

Merenzon’s comments came one week after esports made Olympic news after a press release from the Los Angeles 2024 Olympic bid committee.

“We view esports’ immense global popularity and continued advances in digital technologies as tremendous tools for reconnecting millennials with the Olympic movement,” Los Angeles 2024 Olympic bid chairman Casey Wasserman said in the release. “L.A. 2024 will work to ensure technology enhances young people’s sports experiences, instead of replacing them, and becomes a platform for further popularizing Olympic and Paralympic sports.”

Since chess was recognized by the IOC in 1999, the sport and many others have repeatedly applied for and been denied Olympic program inclusion. In 2000, a chess exhibition was held at the Sydney Olympics. Merenzon would like to see another chess exhibition at the site of one of the next few Olympics.

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

Merenzon would prefer chess in the Summer Olympics, but he’s open to any way to get in. Previously, sport officials reportedly said that chess pieces could be made out of ice to conform to the Olympic Charter language for winter sports.

In a press conference Thursday, Merenzon stressed the sport’s global popularity, which is one of the keys for Olympic inclusion. He mentioned it being immensely popular in Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as in the countries of the World Chess Championship players — Norway’s Magnus Carlsen and Russia’s Sergey Karyakin.

“[Chess] is much more on TV than curling,” Merenzon said, smiling.

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