Surprises in Malaysian team to Chess Olympiad

JULY 14 — Apparently Malaysian Chess Federation (MCF) President Tan Sri Ramli Ngah Talib will be leading our team to the upcoming World Chess Olympiad from September 1-15. 

Ramli will be head of delegation, while appointed deputy president Muammar Julkarnain will be made the Delegate to the FIDE Congress.

His appointed secretary Gregory Lau has been named as the captain-coach of the men’s team while Lau’s long-time assistant Zuraihah Wazir, formerly the assistant secretary but who has since been promoted and appointed vice-president for women’s chess, has been named as the captain-coach of the women’s team.

This is all, of course, very much business as usual for an organisation that has failed to hold elections for some three years now and whose accounts have been questioned for at least double that time. The latest promise is to hold it in October which is not only after the Olympiad but interestingly also after the Malaysian Chess Festival which is organised by the rival camp from September 8-18.

What I find amazing is that after a long selection process where our No. 1 player Yeoh Li Tian declined to participate in the final stage as he was not able to play due to his SPM examinations, the logical leader of the team International Master Mas Hafizulhelmi also later pulled out. Neither were replaced by any of the players who had played through the qualifying matches.

Instead Mok Tze Ming, who has consistently declined to play in any of the national championships, Malaysian Masters or qualifying events in the last few years was given a place and then with Mas’s departure, Mohd Kamal Abdullah was made his replacement. Ramli’s argument was that the team needed a Malay.

This was also the same argument given two years ago with the team to the Tromso Olympiad even though it was pointed out then, as it is today, that we have four of five in the women’s team who are Malay. With this kind of logic, even with the formalisation of race quotas, perhaps due to politics we will eventually have situations where there needs also to be a token Chinese or Indian if not a mix of representation from all parts of Malaysia.

The question though is why Kamal as he is not exactly a young man. I think very convincing arguments could be made for other candidates and I don’t need to look much further than the Malay talents from Sabah who did amazingly well in the National Championship and acquitted themselves well at the Malaysian Masters.

But perhaps that is a something for Muammar who is also Sabah Chess Association President to explain to his state players. The same question perhaps that the leadership of the other state associations, many who are represented in the MCF Council, need to also answer with their players also missing out an an opportunity they had worked hard for and long dreamed about.

I understand that Datuk Tan Chin Nam has convinced his nephew Daniel Yong Chen-I, head of the organising committee for the Malaysian Chess Festival and now president of the Chess Association of Selangor, to offer himself as a candidate against Ramli in the October elections so there is a possibility that Baku might become his last hurrah.

No one will be surprised if instead it is a fight with Muammar as not only has the wily Umno loyalist has done well with Sabah chess (and yes, he is a keen chess player) but other than showing loyalty to Ramli has no special issues with voters. Now there is even talk of Pahang royalty entering the fray. Once again the focus seems to be on personalities instead of programmes.

The closest I have heard to a tangible offer is Yong promising to give MCF RM250,000 a year as long as he is president and  I do hope he is not including the sponsorship of the Malaysian Chess Festival at Mid Valley City in that figure.

Well, money is always on offer at election time and with all the speculation over a move to remove Kirsan Ilyumzhinov from the FIDE presidency, it cannot be a very big surprise that the Baku Olympiad and FIDE Congress organisers have now announced, and perhaps for the first time ever in a non-election year, that the air tickets of Delegates will be subsidised.

I have argued that in this country chess will have a chance to take off only when the government gets involved and sadly the answers might not be with those who are currently running things as it will be pretty much the same. I for one do not subscribe to the idea that throwing Ramli and Lau out is a solution in itself.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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