There’s a lot of debate over whether poker can truly be classified as a sport – I know my drinking arm gets a decent workout over a long session and some people’s mouths must ache after whining for hours on end. The same question has been asked over bridge and chess. The European Court of Justice has recently ruled that bridge can be classified as a sport which has tax implications in the UK – VAT (effectively our version of sales tax) isn’t charged on certain sporting events and also the UK’s central sporting body currently gives no funding to non sports.
So I’m attempting to settle the argument once and for all, utilising my analytical skills (and the power of Google on a rainy Sunday morning) I’m going to show the numbers.
For the purposes of this I’m going to exclude all North American sports – most of the world tends to compete internationally before calling themselves world champions, I’m also going to exclude single sport events such as the rugby, cricket & football world cups. So there’s only set of numbers that I really need to look at – the Olympics. Now there’s no arguments that the Olympics are the pinnacle of most sportsmen’s (or sportswomen’s) careers but are all the events technically sports?
That sounds like a stupid question but hear me out – there are plenty of events in the Olympics where you can excel without technically being called an athlete but does that mean the event should be precluded from being called a sport? Not at all. Have a look at some of the Olympic events if you don’t believe me – shooting, archery, sailing & dressage (essentially horse dancing) could generally be done by anyone with the right equipment with no real degree of physical fitness required on the participant’s behalf (OK being 400lbs should probably preclude you from riding a horse but you get the drift).
So I’ve broken Olympic events down into 2 categories – sedentary and active. Any sedentary event involves the participant partaking of his or her event whilst being sat down or being stood still for the majority of the event. Quite easy you think but for the purposes of my analysis sedentary events include rowing & cycling which are technically active events but the participant is sitting down. I’ve then used the gold medal tables from the last 2 (2012 & 2016) Olympics analysing the 5 countries (USA, China, UK, Russia & Germany) who won the most gold medals and the results are surprising.
The USA, China & Russia are remarkably alike in that they gain nearly all of their gold medals in what I’ve classified as active events such as swimming, athletics & gymnastics (the only time this figure dips below 90% is USA’s number in 2012 and that’s only to 89%) whilst the UK & Germany are the complete opposite in that the majority of golds are achieved in sedentary events as shown in the tables below:
The numbers are the % of gold medals won by that country in the 2 sets of events
Americans, Chinese and Russians excel at athletic events where physical attributes are the defining factor between success and failure whilst the British and Germans are quite comfortable achieving success whilst sitting down.
So back to the original question of whether poker can be called a sport. I’ve already made the argument that athletic ability should not preclude an event being called a sport and the ECJ has ruled that another card game can be classified as a sport. So of course poker is a sport – but only if you’re British, or perhaps German.