Sunday, December 22, 2013

2013 SEA Games chess shame (Part one)

I never intended to write this particular piece. Over the past week I was still debating with myself whether I should do so. What made me decide was looking at the final results of Malaysia in chess at the 2013 SEA Games.

What I write here is based on what I understood from talking with people involved. If there are any mistakes, they are fully mine. This will be a long article and I will break it up into two parts as there will be too much to digest in one go.

For full disclosure I must state that I was asked to train with the ASEAN and Traditional Chess team. I also had a two day training with the International Chess women team. Up till three months before the games, I thought I would be competing in the Transfer Chess event (read below for more).

In case anyone tries to spin this post, let me emphasis that this is not written to attack or humiliate any of our representatives. They were vetted and sent by the Malaysian Chess Federation. Personally, I hold MCF responsible for this Games debacle.

Contrary to what some had tried to spin, Malaysia was not last. We were last in the medal tally - two other countries had no medals and they are Singapore and Laos. Therefore we actually finished third last.

Some background info

The SEA Games comes under the umbrella of the Olympic Council of Malaysia or OCM. They alone decide which sport can take part and who will go and how many. Each sport federation will submit  a list of their representatives for OCM to decide. In less important sport like chess, I believe they will rely on the MCF to vet their own list.

Each sport is categorised into groups A, B or C, ( I think there are only three but could be four) according to their medalling prospects. The first group are high propensity to medal and the last the least likely to medal. Top group will be totally sponsored and others partially sponsored and the last will be completely un-sponsored. This last group will have to come up with the costs themselves if they want to participate in the Games. Chess falls into this category.

SEA Games  is all about medals. It is not about the chess. Gold is king after that comes silver and bronze. If you come back with a gold medal, the Olympic Council of Malaysia will be very pleased. It adds to the total medal tally for the country. They could not care less if you won it in chess or backgammon or whatever. The only thing that matters is that chess delivered medals and nobody will care if it is in what some fool called "real chess" or Transfer chess or Traditional chess.

A total of eight countries entered for 18 events that have medals. There are total 54 medals (18x3 )  at stake. The only countries that did not win a medal was Laos and Singapore.

New paradigm

This games will be noted for the de-emphasis on International Chess. Myanmar is not a strong International chess country and they knew there was little chance of medalling here. So they totally dropped the standard time controls leaving only rapid and blitz. New events were introduced such as Traditional, ASEAN, Chess960 and Transfer chess. See here for an explanation of these type of chess.

Why this trend? Previously Vietnam , Indonesia and Philippines were taking the lion's share of medals at previous Games. It was too lop-sided and some powers-that-be decided it would be better for future Games that more countries could win medals. So they included different types of chess from International chess. As an aside, the next games will be in Singapore and there is a good possibility that chess of any type will not be included because of the poor medalling chances for the host.

This Games was a golden opportunity for Malaysia to win the most medals ever. This would have increased our exposure within the OCM. Unfortunately our MCF officials are still stuck in the year 2000 era. Unable to think outside the box, complacency, ignorance and plain apathy are the terms I can think of when it comes to these officials.

When I first found out the events that will be included in chess for this Games, it was clear that the majority of medals will not be in International Chess. Yet our official(s) choose to ignore this fact. They should have started some programs to expose ourselves to the other types of chess and start identifying possible candidates to represent Malaysia.

For example, as early as July, I enquired from MCF Assistant Secretary Gregory Lau. I wanted to take part in the Transfer Chess event. His reply was that MCF only registered for International, Traditional and ASEAN chess events. Meaning that the last two types of chess had already been sub-contracted out. I will talk more about this.

In Part Two, I will talk about the selection for each type of chess.


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