An eight-game Solidarity Match that started this week between England No 1 Michael Adams and two-time Ukraine champion Andrei Volokitin will take on a wider significance. Games, which run from March 21 to 30 (2pm start), are free to watch online, and match venues are the Ukrainian Embassy and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
Its opening ceremony will be hosted at Westminster by Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, and will coincide with a revival of the traditional Lords vs Commons match, last played in 2016. The game has been played in Parliament for over 150 years, and there is even a chess room.
Chess in Britain is currently booming at grassroots level, especially in online games and among children. The largest website, chess.com/today, recorded around 3mn active UK users, 4.4 per cent of the population, in January. In contrast, government support of £60,000, which started more than half a century ago via the Department of Education and continued at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), was withdrawn in 2010 and has never been renewed, even at a reduced level.
This week’s new campaign aims to have chess recognised as a sport — as it is in most European countries. Previous similar attempts have failed due to the opposition of Sport England, which relies upon the European Sports Charter definition: “Sport” means all forms of physical activity which, through casual or organised participation, aim at expressing or improving physical fitness and mental wellbeing, forming social relationships or obtaining results in competition at all levels.
Last weekend a well-attended conference at the University of Roehampton discussed the role of chess in education, while the charity Chess in Schools and Communities has introduced chess teaching to many inner-city schools.
That prompts the thought that the Department for Education, the first UK ministry to finance chess, might be a better target for the new campaign than the DCMS. An online petition aimed at chess-playing children and their parents, where 100,000 signatures triggers a parliamentary debate, could be a more fruitful approach than the current plan of letters to individual members of parliament.
Realistically, official negativity towards mind sports is likely to continue, but even a small victory such as giving chess the same VAT status as major sports would be a significant step forward.
Anna Zatonskih vs Nazi Paikidze, American Cup, St Louis 2023. Black to move and win. The former US and Moscow women’s champion failed to spot the decisive sequence.
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