The idea of sports as a form of manly empowerment is an old one.
Teddy Roosevelt, a future American president of Rough Riders fame, declared in “Professionalism in Sports” (1890) that “There is a certain tendency … to underestimate or overlook the need and virile qualities of the heart and mind.”
Three years later he argued in his book “The Value of Athletic Training” that “Manly out-of door sports” could contribute to the growing role of the United States as a world power. Vigorous athletics would help build “courage, resolution and endurance.”
Roosevelt foreshadowed the observation of another U.S. president, Dwight Eisenhower, who observed: “The true nature of American sports is to prepare young men for war.”
Curiously chess, which is sedentary and minimally physical, was also seen as a form of empowerment by leaders of the revolutionary Soviet society of the 1920s.
According to Marshall Malinovsky, the Soviet minister of defense, writing for the publication Chess in the USSR, “We in the Armed Forces value chess highly because it disciplines a man, helps to increase strength of will and powers of endurance, develops memory and quick-wittedness, and teaches logical thinking.
Two decades later the Soviet armed forces drove back Hitler’s powerful legions from the gates of Stalingrad, Petrograd and Moscow after months of excruciating and deadly face-to-face combat.
Was training in chess a factor in their victory?
Below is a win by Shakhriyar Mamedyarov against Gabriel Sargissian from the FIDE World Rapid championship in Dubai.