Is Chess a Sport?
A. It might at first seem that chess is a sport. First of all, it's clearly a competitive activity, which seems to be a necessary if not sufficient condition for something's being a sport. Second, the same sorts of general mental and physical disciplines needed by the sportsman (e.g. mental toughness, strong self-confidence, endurance, etc.) are required for chess players to succeed. To take a prominent example, Karpov's (then-) frail physique nearly cost him twice in big matches against Korchnoi (one for the world championship, the other in a final candidates match) and quite possibly did cost him the title to Kasparov when he lacked the endurance to finish him off in 1984.
Yet despite the above, I think that chess is not a sport. Here's why:
1. I take the following to be necessary conditions of being a sport:
a. That it's a competitive activity.
b. That the performance of the activity have an intrinsically physical component.
2. Chess fulfills (a) but not (b). As far as the nature of chess is concerned, it could be played by disembodied spirits using mental telepathy or by conscious computers.
(Whether either exists is a question for another time; I'm inclined to think the former do exist and to be skeptical about the possibility of the latter, and I'm sure some of my readers think I have it exactly backwards. No matter; the point here is just that either sort of being could play chess either without any physical activity whatsoever, or without the physical activity's being an intrinsic part of the fulfillment of the exercise.)
What I mean by an "intrinsically physical component" is easy to grasp by considering a paradigmatic case: in football, players score touchdowns by using their bodies to move the football across the field and into the end zone, field goals or extra points by sending the ball through the goal posts using only their feet. A physical object must be moved through physical space using particular bodily means.
Not so with chess. Moving the wood or plastic pieces isn't an intrinsic part of the game - one could play an online game by moving one' s mouse or better still, not move anything to play a blindfold game. (One has to move something to state one's move, but the expressing of a move isn't itself a move.) What counts is the production of a move, and that is not an intrinsically physical activity.
3. Thefore, chess isn't a sport.
Now, if one chooses to define a sport merely as some sort of competitive endeavor, then chess would be let in - but so would many other activities, like put-down contests and job interviews. Nor is it enough to add to the competitiveness condition the further requirement that it's an activity where physical prowess can make a substantial difference to one's potential success: one candidate for a job may succeed due to his enhanced fitness (his healthy appearance impressed the hiring committee, his superior conditioning enabled him to successfully work longer hours at his previous job, improving his qualifications, etc.), but that still wouldn't turn job interviewing into a sport.
In sum, while chess is in some significant ways sports-like, and physical and mental training are of great value to ambitious tournament chess players, chess is not a sport - at least if an activity only counts as a sport if it includes some intrinsically physical component.