During the poker boom, there was an ongoing discussion in online forums about poker becoming part of the Olympic Games. The idea is rarely discussed in much seriousness any more, but the recent efforts of the Global Poker League to help “sportify” poker brings the topic to the fore once again.
For the record, I think poker should be in the olympics. And chess. The heart of sport is competition. https://t.co/p5LhZlJmGc— Brian Brushwood (@shwood) August 21, 2016
The Olympics are comprised of sporting events, separated only by summer and winter games, in which athletes compete for medals, country pride, world records, and recognition for their sports of choice. The Olympics have grown and changed since their origins in ancient Greece to add specialties like the Paralympic Games for those with disabilities and the Youth Olympic Games for teenagers. But no matter the designation, the bottom line remains the same: It is a sports competition for athletes.
Is Poker a Sport?
Poker is a mind sport, much like chess and other games that require a combination of stamina, skill, talent, focus, and experience. A true winner in a mind sport is one who displays these qualities and puts them into practice over a long period of time. Sure, there can be a lucky winner of one tournament or someone who goes on a short winning streak, but it takes years to show that a player is a consistent and proven winner.
One can sportify the game, as Alex Dreyfus plans to do with his Global Poker League. Elements like standing up for long periods of time, balancing physical and mental health to play optimally, and playing in front of an audience may add sports-like qualities to the game. Much like eSports, poker can be a popular event that draws viewers to watch the games.
Classifying poker as a mind sport and sportifying poker are good for the game. But neither makes it a sport. A healthy mind and body might lead to better play but do not an athlete make.
Is Poker an Olympic Sport?
No, no, no.
Any arguments to include poker players in the same athletic category as swimmers, gymnasts, runners, and skiers are downright silly. That is not to say that there aren’t athletes among the throngs of poker players around the world. Many poker players focus a great deal of attention on their physical health – hello Olivier Busquet, Jason Koon, etc. – and it likely improves their ability to play better poker. Still, the process of getting physically fit does not qualify a person as an athlete.
Poker could have a place at the Olympics, however. Andre Akkari of Brazil did just that this summer when he carried the Olympic torch in his home country to represent mind sports. And the more respect that is given to mind sports over time, the higher a chance that a game like poker could play some type of role in the Olympic Games, though not as a medal category. Poker could be a fun side activity for athletes, especially in a charitable capacity.
Even better, poker companies could sponsor athletes at the Olympic Games. PokerStars already signed several Olympic athletes to its roster of SportStars, such as Neymar Jr who just played in the Rio 2016 games and led his football team to a gold medal victory. Sponsorships could go further to tighten the relationship between poker and sports, though the industry will have to grow immensely for more companies to be able to afford such funding and promotional projects.
With many athletes considering themselves poker fans – and some like Michael Phelps as solid players – it does create the start of a path that may connect poker and the Olympics in the future, though never as an actual sport.