Top African chess journalist Kenneth Boikhutswane wrote a very interesting article which points to many of the problems concerning African chess. The story raised the question of why Botswana, one of Africa’s most economically stable countries, was not sending a contingent to the 2007 African Junior Championship held in Malawi last month. The rationale was lack of funding, but a deeper inquiry finds that the Botswana Chess Federation may have made prior decisions without the blessings of the Executive Committee.
One such decision was the infamous trip of the Botswana’s Women’s team to Russia where they scored 0/36. That performance came under fierce criticism and the damage has been slow to repair. One official who spoke anonymously stated that the decisions were ill-advised and perhaps deprived Botswana a chance to showcase their youthful talent. Ironically, the Botswana Chess Federation (BCF) website reads,
“We at the BCF take great pleasure with improving chess in the African region especially youth development which is why the we have hosted the African junior championship 3 times in the last 6 years. This gives youngsters to obtain international titles with the winner becoming an IM (Fide International Master).”
Kenneth Boikhutswane, “No African Chess for Juniors,” Mmegi/The Reporter, 21 December 2007 (Gabarone, Botswana).
Botswana will not send players in this year’s Africa Junior Chess Championships (AJCC) slated for Malawi. The tournament kicks off on Friday next week.
It is open to all African players aged 20 years and below. It was expected that current Botswana junior champions Thabo Gumpo and Otshepo Seidisa would take part at the event but Botswana Chess Federation (BCF) has not made a formal explanation as to why it will not send players to Malawi.
The Africa junior chess event is a very important tournament for grooming upcoming players. The winners of the tournament become International Masters (IM) with the runners up getting the FIDE Master (FM) title. Most of the current national team players first made their mark in African junior chess. They include the likes of Ignatius Njobvu, FM Phemelo Khetho, Providence Oatlhotse, Moakofi Notha, Tebogo Pitlagano to name a few.
Botswana has always participated in the 17-year-old tournament and this marks the first time the country is missing out. BCF officials are tight-lipped about the failure, though word has it that the federation is cash-strapped. It is reported that BCF landed in financial difficulties in May when it sent players on an unnecessary trip to Russia for the World Women’s Team Championships. At the Russian event, the Botswana team failed to score a point and the country’s performance evoked criticism from chess journalists around the world. Many asked why the country did not hire a trainer to work with the team prior to the All-Africa Games. The entire Russia trip cost over P100,000, an amount usually spent by the 13-strong Olympiad team. It is reported that BCF landed in financial difficulties in May when it sent players on an unnecessary trip to Russia for the World Women’s Team Championships.
An official of one of the clubs, who preferred anonymity for fear of victimisation, said the BCF leadership must resign as it has failed to take chess to higher levels. “That our players will miss the Africa junior is a serious setback. That event is useful for developing players, so what are they saying about development? Any serious leader would have had reservations about spending too much on just six people (Russian trip). It doesn’t make financial or business sense, an important attribute that the BCF lacks.
It is ridiculous and I am of the opinion that the committee must step down,” said the furious official. Mmegi Sport has since learnt that the Russian trip was sanctioned by just two officials. An official has since revealed that at the time of the Russian trip, the whole committee had chosen to send the team to South Africa to play in an open tournament. He said the rest of the officials were surprised when they were told that the team was headed for Russia without the sanction of the executive committee.