Petty squabbles that hold the game back

MAY 26 — While the European Individual Chess Championship held in Djakovica, Kosovo has just ended, the Asian Individual Chess Championship started yesterday in Tashkent, Uzbekistan but all eyes in the Asean region are on the coming 17th Asean Age-Group Chess Championships to be held from May 29-June 7 in Pattaya, Thailand.

It has not helped that the coverage of the European Individual Chess Championship was very poor and conditions apparently not up the the mark. But with 23 World Cup qualifying places up for grabs, the chess itself was excellent with every of the 11 rounds throwing up huge fights.

There was practically no coverage leading up to the Asian Individual Chess Championship but hopefully the organisers will prove everyone wrong and do better than their European counterpart as the tournament swings into full gear.

In the case of the 17th Asean Age-Group Championships, the challenges facing the organisers are different. While the Thailand Chess Association is hosting the event for and in conjunction with the Asean Chess Confederation (ACC), there are unresolved issues between ACC founding President Ignatius Leong and his former colleagues in FIDE (World Chess Federation) which has resulted in ACC's suspension and the refusal of FIDE to recognise direct titles and to even rate the competition.

My opinion is that all this has been a completely unnecessary fight which can be easily resolved if the various parties put their egos and personal ambitions and agendas aside.

The Asean Age-Group Chess Championships has for almost two decades not only provided a platform for the best young talent in the region but has also catalysed the growth of the game in many of its member countries. Since opening up entries to others countries, it has also given opportunities to players who would not have received the same elsewhere.

This year there will be some 330 participants representing 14 countries (including 40 from Malaysia) in this competition and that includes all eight of the active Asean member nations.

Since the Asean Chess Championships held last December in Jakarta when I first learned that FIDE was threatening suspension of its direct titles, I have repeatedly appealed to all for good sense to prevail as the players should not suffer.

But now it has escalated to the point where there is a formal suspension of the ACC and a refusal to allow the Asean Age-Group Chess Championships to continue as an official FIDE event.

The ACC has provided its version of the dispute in a timeline on its website together with supporting documents i.e. correspondence from various parties but I find it all to be highly unpleasant.

I am not saying FIDE is at fault in this case but for too long now, everything it does has political ramification which makes a mockery of not only its own rules and regulations but calls into question its own institutions.

Whether in the appointment of its officials to certain positions or as representatives at major events, the award of titles by lecturers and commissioners at its seminars, there is hardly a murmur of complaint let alone protest by anyone, and life just goes on.

In Malaysia, the Malaysian Chess Federation (MCF) is not in compliance in such matters like not holding its Annual General Meeting and elections but the authorities have not acted against it because of who heads the federation. Or so it is believed.

There have also been allegations about votes rigged through State Chess Associations that either barely exist as vote banks or whose officials curry favours and so on.

Yes, all this may or may not be true but the fact is that is is the same group of people in MCF who will make up the core of any new administration and while they have individually and collectively done nothing for the game, they really love their positions, the occasional trip as team manager or head of delegation to some event or another, and who will do what it takes to remain.

The people who really love chess need to stand up but it's always an unwillingness to offend or the opportunity to get something that keeps them quiet. Even those who do chess for a living — players, organisers and coaches — and who profess to be chess professionals almost always only say something if it significantly affects their interests in the short term.

I think the reality is that the people in chess are generally selfish and so cannot see beyond themselves and therefore will always expect others to fix their profession for them.

My conclusion is that if it does not matter enough for those affected to do something about it, then all should accept that chess is just a game!  

* This is the personal opinion of the columnists.