Chess as a sport has continued to see consistent growth in Africa. Players are stronger than ever, there is an increase in chess tournaments and an all-around discovery of new chess talents.
However, with this growth comes new challenges. As is the case in the recent bruhaha with the Chess Federation of Zambia, the body responsible for overseeing chess in the country. It all started when IM Chitumbo Mwali made an appreciation post on his Facebook page thanking the Zambia chess federation for the opportunity to play at the FIDE World Chess Cup Championship in Sochi, Russia.
In the post, he called himself the 2021 National Chess Champion.
However, in a reply to this post, six times Zambian National Champion IM Andrew Kayonde stated:
I am shocked to see how someone who won a certain Qualifier Event now wants to unscrupulously proclaim and upgrade himself into a National Champion.
How? Where? When? It does not work like that.
Fellow players, no one must ever lie to you…the National Championship is staged exactly as it is called “National Championships”.
Every player in Zambia has a right to play in the National Championship cycle starting from the ordinary player on the street to the strongest wannabes.
Winning this event is no walk in the park and you cannot buy your way to it. Let us not be cheated.
Apparently, IM Chitumbo Mwali wasn’t a National champion through the normal process of choosing a champion but only saw himself as one, based on the information to him from Chess Federation of Zambia because he was the one that represented Zambia at the 2021 FIDE World Cup.
The Zambia Chess Federation in a bid to forestall the ensuing chaos released a statement to this effect.
Read their statement below;
The National Championships are for the discretion of the National Federation (Executive). The Federation can use any possible method to determine the National Champion and it can be OTB, Hybrid, or Online.
In this case, THE 2021 NATIONAL CHAMPION was decided through the TOP 6 World Cup Qualifier which also picked the Champion to represent Zambia as an OFFICIAL PLAYER in all INTERNATIONAL tournaments that Zambia would participate in.
The announcement was made before the start of the TOP 6 and if it was skipped then the officials present during the TOP 6 could have mentioned it as it was discussed and agreed upon that the TOP 6 will also be for the National Championship Title as well.
The president even mentioned before the trip to Malawi that IM Chitumbo Mwali was the 2021 National Champion during a briefing before departure.
CHITUMBO HAS THE BRAGGING RIGHTS TO SAY HE IS THE 2021 NATIONAL CHAMPION
From the statement, you would see it was stated they had the sole power to choose a champion based on OTB, hybrid or Online tournaments but went ahead to choose a champion on none of these criteria.
This begs the question, should a chess champion be chosen based on appointment?
One would expect that a champion is usually by popular acceptance, something that is usually achieved via tournaments or matches where the would-be champion would have to prove he/she has what it takes to become a champion.
Or at the very least, through a democratic, fully inclusive voting system.
One Facebook user commented his displeasure by saying;
This is related to the previous debate on handpicking. Not good to chess I believe.
IM Andrew Kayonde Continued;
Makes no sense.
There is a total collapse of systems.
The National Championship has never been discretionary.
The Official Player is different from the National Champion.
I have a video recording of what the President said word for word. I will share it here. Stop putting words in his mouth, please.
One can easily see how selecting a champion based on appointment falls flat and just stunts the development of chess in Africa.
Why rob others of their chance to become a world champion. It’s like saying,
“Even though you are a chess player and might have improved your game, we don’t see you beating the person we believe and think is a champion”
This is discouraging to chess players. What then becomes the incentive for growth, if a national champion is selected based on what a few people think?
Chess is like any other sport and a sports champion is contested not appointed.
A true organizing body concerned about the sport it governs should be more focused on providing a fairground where everyone has an equal chance of becoming a champion.
In addition to this, it just kills the excitement, tension, and economic potential of hosting a tournament to know who the chess champion is.
Think about all the chess games we never get to see and the rivalries that would cease to exist because a body thinks it has the power to appoint a champion.
No one knows why they made their decision, but I dare say their official statement was deliberately vague and in no way answers the question;
“Why appoint a chess champion”