Schoolboys expelled for chess competition

Kevin (8) and Rowan Willathgamuwa (9) of St. Ives Prep
were expelled after playing in the World Youth in Brazil.

There have been countless studies on the role chess has played in helping in the development of cognitive abilities and analytical skills. Thus, the wave of popularity has spread “Chess in Schools” throughout the chess world. It is with a great sense of irony that two Australian schoolboys were expelled for competing in the recently-ended World Youth Championships held in Brazil. This incident is now facing the condemnation of the worldwide chess community.

Rowan Willathgamuwa, 9, and his eight-year old brother Kevin, are two of Australia’s best junior players and trekked to Brazil to compete in the under-10 and under-8 groups, respectively. Rowan scored 4.5/9 while Kevin got 6/9. GM Ian Rogers accompanied the boys to Brazil and weighed in on the situation.

“It’s incredible someone should be punished for missing two weeks of year two for representing Australia. It was very important for him to go to the world youth championships. It’s not just the tournament but it’s important for him to see what other kids have achieved at the same age.”

The purpose of these extracurricular activities goes far beyond chess offering opportunities to broaden horizons through travel and to meet other players from around the world. Such excursions are invaluable and play an important role in social development. Apparently the school obliquely mentioned to the boys’ father Dr. Ignatius Willathgamuwa that they were not supportive of the trip. “We would be sorry to see them leave and hope that you will accept our decision,” was the statement given.

St. Ives Preparatory

The article states that Sydney’s St. Ives Prep School had strict attendance rules. However, to represent the country at an international event seems to be grounds for an exception. Are all sports and events held to the same restriction? The school denied the boys a chance to participate in the same World Youth last year in Greece, but the two participated because the school approved a family vacation to Greece. Strange.

The father summed the matter up poignantly,

“We are very frustrated at this. It is like the boys are being punished for their excellence. If taking them to the world championships is going to make them leave the school, then we have no regrets because a school with this approach to their development can be quite detrimental for them in the future.”

Mrs. Rowena Lee, principal of the school, also did not allow the boys to compete in the Australian Schools Teams Championships and stated that it was unfair to other students who were poised to replace them after missing the first day. The whole affair sounds very unreasonable. This matter requires an investigation. Mrs. Lee did not return calls to the local news when called.

Link: Sydney Morning Herald


  1. Unless there is more to this than meets the eye, this seems to be a classic case of “myopia” on the part of the school’s administrators/authorities. Surely, representing your country at such a prestigious event must be accommodated as much as is possible. The school could have set deadlines for the students to submit or do any assignments/work to be affected during their absence. Indeed, alternative arrangements could easily have been made.

    This is not rocket science especially when the boys’ father is clearly a well-educated person and, all things being equal, would not be pursuing or supporting a course of action detrimental to the welfare of his children.

    Further, it is a feather in the cap of the school to boast that its students are good enough to rub shoulders with the best players in the world.

    If all educational institutions behaved in this manner, international events (in chess and other sports) would probably never take place (unless during the holidays)!

    1. I’m not sure, but being in the U.S., you can’t help but to think that some of this may have a racial component. Maybe not, but there had to have been a way to allow these boys to compete with these admonishments.

  2. This is very unusual. I do not understand why any school will EXPELL students because they missed school while participating in an international competition. Daaim, I would like to clarify that they were EXPELLED and not suspended. Based on the information in the article above the school’s behaviour is unreasonable and conter productive to the developement of children particularly because exceptions can be made.

    1. My understanding is that the students were not suspended, nor were they officially expelled. Rather, they were asked not to re-enrol next year. “Please don’t come back” has the same result as expulsion, but without quite the same stigma.

      1. Yes… same result, but still “expel” by another name. They would not be allowed to enroll if they showed up next year. Maybe “banned” is a better word, but that is even stronger than “expelled”.

  3. FLASH!!! Schools compete for boys admission!

    SEVERAL Sydney private schools have offered places to the young brothers told by Sydney Grammar to find another school because they took unauthorised leave to compete in the World Youth Chess Championship in Brazil last month.

    The boys’ father, Ignatius Willathgamuwa, has spoken with the preparatory schools at Knox Grammar and The King’s School about enrolling Kevin, 8, and Rowan, 9, next year.

    ”The headmasters of both schools are welcoming the two boys and are saying that, when it comes to the world championships, it will be a matter of submitting a leave application and that it won’t be a problem,” Dr Willathgamuwa said.

    Read more:

  4. Hey Guys! Good coverage and comments! This will do more for “chess in schools” than many studies prevalent on the subject in the long run. This in its-self becomes an attractive research over time. The boys are going to do the “new school” proud and open the eyes of many Aussie schools re chess in education.
    I have worked with many youngsters who would miss schooling to partake in chess events, ironically they invariably went on to become the best performers in the classroom respectively and regardlessly!

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