Tomorrow Viswanathan Anand will set foot down on the African continent. This is reportedly his first visit which is significant for a number of reasons.
- First, no other sitting World Champion has visited the continent in recent memory (or perhaps ever). This is revolutionary for a number of reasons and may represent a “homecoming” of sorts for a hero of humble beginnings. Certainly as a player from a developing country, there are a number of social similarities that Anand can identify with and he will come with sincerity and humility.
- Second, Anand is admired widely on the continent from north to south, east and west. India of course has a sizeable Indian population in places like Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa, so there is certainly a precedent for the India-Africa detente. IM RB Ramesh visited South Africa in 2003 and was warmly welcomed. In fact, Anand will stop in South Africa and will no doubt want to see a cricket match.
- Third, India and Africa are experiencing increasing cooperation on the economic front and Anand’s visit can perhaps result in a chess diplomacy. Perhaps a chess exchange can develop between the continents with Africa gaining access to one of the most successful models in recent chess history.
- Fourth, this will represent the legitimacy that chess needs for future sponsorship. Botswana’s NIIT branch can be a major player in chess sponsorhip and perhaps other African branches can make an investment to chess on the continent. Other corporations may study the success that NIIT’s investment has brought to India. Of course, this is publicity worth millions of dollars. Anand’s blazers and shirts with “NIIT” have already become a familiar fixture in tournaments he plays in.
- Fifth, this is a fantastic coup for chess. It demonstrates the universality of the sport and the fact and people around the world can be intrigued by a game that crosses so many geographical and social boundaries. Forever the statesman, Anand’s visit will bring legitimacy and may inspire a generation of players. Despite the one billion people in Africa, it is a sparsely populated land mass (80 persons/square mile). The continent is so vast that China, Europe and the U.S. can fit inside of her borders. Imagine chess catching fire on such a massive scale. African federations should be planning to capitalize off of this special event.
Elite players and chess media typically pay little attention to the African continent. Thus, chess struggles for attention from sponsors. However, Anand will not be the first elite player to visit Botswana. GM Judit Polgar visited Botswana back in 2001 and gave a couple of simuls and a workshop.
Unfortunately, there was little fanfare in the international media of Polgar’s visit. African media was equally abysmal in the coverage despite Polgar’s prodigious and historic accomplishments. GM Nigel Short has also visited Botswana as well as Zambia, but both were for political reasons and in ended controversy. Short had visited Kenya earlier and was warmly accepted.
Let us hope African continent will not miss this opportunity and that Anand will get a rousing welcome and African hospitality! Congratulations Botswana for bringing a chess hero to Africa!