The role of parents in chess

NOVEMBER 19 ― For a young chess player to be able to realise his potential, the role of a parent is all important as without the emotional (and often financial) support from the parent(s) ― as perhaps with every other aspect of the child's life ― no matter how talented, he or she is not going to make any real progress.

In countries like Malaysia which do not have special chess traditions and history, our players are largely amateurs and the game is played by a small circle of enthusiasts ― so, like it or not, it is not much more than a hobby no matter how passionate one is.

However, the game is regulated like a sport in most countries and national chess federations looking to popularise chess to grow the numbers are always looking for solutions based on getting mainstream media coverage and having chess in schools.

Compared to many countries, we are very lucky in Malaysia as we have ― since the 70s ― had chess in the MSSM (National Schools) competitions run by the Ministry of Education, and perhaps thanks to the SEA Games there is also official recognition of the game from both the Olympic Council of Malaysia and the Ministry of Sport.

While we have, as a result, players nationwide ― with our fair share of talent ― coming through each year playing the game, the leadership of the Malaysian Chess Federation (MCF) has not managed to come up with the programs needed to translate this into international sporting success.

Despite so many chess events and publicity generated, our achievements have been too few and the fact was that we still have no office for the MCF or a single paid employee, and no development activities ― let alone a programme ― for the national team and national representatives speaks volumes.

What we have is what has been the natural outcome of having thousands of children emerge from the schools chess competitions each year with the possibility and prestige of national representation in one of the numerous international youth championships held for boys and girls from five to 20 years of age!

Off the top of my head, I count no less than eight where Asians can participate: the World and Asian Junior U-20, the World and Asian Youth (U-8, U-10, U-12, U-14, U-16, U-18), the ASEAN+ Age-Groups (U-8, U-10, U-14, U-16, U-18, U-20), the World Youth U-16 Olympiad, and the World and Asian Schools (U-5, U-17,U-9. U-11, U-13, U-15, U-17).  

As in too many other chess amateur countries (defined where chess is not going to be a livelihood of choice), the role of MCF has become that of facilitating participation of young players in these competitions and little more.

The parents pay for everything, and besides entry fees, airfares, hotel, meals, etc. also MCF's administrative charges and in some cases, the cost of accompanying MCF officials.

A whole eco-system to maximise rent seeking ― rating fees, licences, selection, coaching, etc. ― exists to financially benefit a few individuals in MCF.

I believe that at the start most children (and their parents) dream of sporting excellence but once they get to about 12 years of age and face opponents who are better trained, reality kicks in and the focus changes to leveraging other benefits for the money and time spent; at the very least being able to add age group national champion or even national player to a resume.

Malaysia has long seen and is continuing to see parents taking on bigger roles in MCF even though they know little about chess. They really have no business being there if all they want is to protect (or should I say facilitate) their children.

Think it is bad here? Well, this has now taken a turn for the worst in both Hong Kong and Singapore where parents not only run chess but have aggressively moved against those in chess altogether.

Sadly the politics in chess is not about accommodation or coming together after victory but the elimination of all possible rivals and even those who are neutral! 

Example: A very respected grandmaster and leading chess trainer recently decided to transfer from the English Chess Federation after being very frustrated with machinations by non-chess people leading up to its recent elections.

Of course it is easy for him as he is Welsh but his decision is perhaps best explained with a single sentence: “The people that run a chess organisation should do so with a single goal in mind, the advancement of the game.” 

The justification of these chess parents? “Why not? I have the money and the motivation (my child and easy status of having a big position in a national body). With those interested I am better ― an important person and have more money ― how dare that nobody chess guy oppose me.”

Yes, those who need chess better understand the need to play along ― be patient as you will endure ― after all children grow up and their parents would then move on (unless they don't, in which case you sow what you reap!).

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.