With the announcement of poker’s first professional league Dave Woods asks – is Phil Ivey a world-class sportsman or just a player of games?
Is poker a sport? The question was first mooted back in 2005 when representatives of the poker industry, and boxing promoter Barry Hearn, led a bid to have poker added to the 2012 London Olympics. Hearn was quoted as saying, ‘Poker is one of the most popular sports on the planet and deserves its place in Olympic history. We bring more to the party than solo synchronised swimming, that’s for sure.’
Well indeed, but the fact that solo synchronised swimming was cast out of the Olympics in 1992 didn’t help there. Poker didn’t make the shortlist. Karate, squash, golf, roller sports and rugby sevens did, and none of them made it past the Olympic committee either.
The dictionary definition doesn’t clear things up. The Collins English Dictionary states a sport is: ‘An individual or group activity pursued for exercise or pleasure, often involving the testing of physical capabilities and taking the form of a competitive game.’
You can shoehorn poker into this, but the same could be said for Monopoly. Or Hungry Hippos. In most people’s minds, sport involves some sort of physical exertion, but few would argue that darts and snooker aren’t sports.
What does it matter? Tell the rounders of old they were athletes and you’d get shot. But recognising poker as a sport goes deeper. Some see it as the only way to legitimise it, grow the game and get true mainstream support. Enter Alex Dreyfus.
Dreyfus is the head of the Global Poker Index and the man who’s making the most serious bid ever to ‘sportify poker’. He’s just announced what he sees as the ‘last piece of the puzzle’ – the Global Poker League.
The GPL is a series of live events with six to eight teams ‘competing against each other with initial seasons lasting three to four months.’ Dreyfus has pitched it to potential franchise owners and is confident it will launch in 2015. The concept will have most poker fans salivating.
But would other people watch it? This is crucial. ESPN – ‘Worldwide Leaders In Sports’ – certainly thinks they would. It’s invested huge sums of money in showing the WSOP each year, and there’s no doubt the edited highlights make for great TV.
But is it a sport?
Ask the man on the street and he’ll say no. A recent survey on reddit saw 460 people rank 53 activities with the question, ‘Is it a sport?’ Poker came last, behind chess, cheerleading and competitive eating.
Ultimately it comes down to opinion and influence. We think it’s a game. At a push it’s a mind sport. But Dreyfus is a man with a mission. He thinks the real question isn’t whether poker is a sport, but whether it should be promoted as one.
With the US waiting in the wings the time is right for a second poker boom. We need new players to grow and that will come from mainstream coverage. But what will it take to convince people? The Global Poker Index has already carved out the official rankings. The Global Poker League could indeed be the missing part of the puzzle. The big question is whether the Global Poker Index, and Alex Dreyfus, can deliver. We think they can.
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