Don’t Panic!

Finally the election results are in and it’s clear that the conservatives have won an overwhelming victory, while their erstwhile coalition partners have suffered a humiliating defeat. Two of their number were even beaten by Not This Candidate, which seems to me very much like losing a game to David Edward Fault.

But wait! It seems there’s been a mistake. A recount has discovered a lot of missing votes and it seems that one of the opposition party has, after all, won a seat. It also transpired that the Chairman of the Governance Committee had made what appears to me to have been an inappropriate intervention, threatening to resign if Not This Candidate failed to win election as CEO. Now I may know as much about governance as Wayne Rooney knows about classical ballet, but I thought that one of the points of the Governance Committee was that it should remain impartial, at least in public.

All in all, a shambles which would have embarrassed the Walmington-on-Sea chess club. There was also the fiasco over the live coverage of the British Championships a few months ago, which led to an intemperate exchange of emails and the suspension, later withdrawn, of the Director of Home Chess. And more was to follow when the new Publicity Director, when asked to comment on a news item, made some, in my opinion, inappropriate and disparaging remarks.

What, then, of the modernisers? They are now only represented by the energetic and well-respected Malcolm Pein, who, after the missing votes had been found, won a narrow victory over the incumbent Director of International Chess. (There’s a suspicion that ECF President Dominic Lawson, although politically conservative, has some sympathy with those who seek to modernise the ECF.) Although they may well have been highly successful in their professional lives, it’s not clear that the other modernisers had the right skills to work within the voluntary organisation that is the ECF. Much of what they did seemed, at least to me as an outsider, to be motivated mainly by a desire to confront and annoy the conservative element of the ECF board. There were allegations of bullying and harassment (whether or not these were justified I don’t know) as well as complaints that questions were not being answered and enquiries not being addressed.

So the best we can hope is that the new ECF Board will be able to work together more harmoniously than in the past. That, at least, would be a start. While I have no doubt that both groups have the best interests of English chess at heart, there seems to be no way they are able to work together. Meanwhile the Pearce Report on Governance has come up with some suggestions which might prove helpful. We shall see.

But at present, it’s clear that the ECF doesn’t want to be modernised. It wants to remain as a low-level voluntary amateur organisation running the national grading list, the British Championship, the County Championship and a few other bits and pieces while various major and successful events and projects such as the 4NCL, Chess in Schools and Communities and the UK Chess Challenge run externally and independently.

Wearing my chess player hat I’m reasonably happy with this situation. There’s something to be said for having a fairly informal national structure run on a shoestring and, if all you want to do is to play in your local league and enter a few congresses, it’s all absolutely fine. But at other levels there’s a need for something more structured, better organised, more professional. If you’re a grandmaster you’ll need this. If you want to represent your country at any level, whether in a women’s team, a junior team, a senior team or whatever, you’ll expect – and deserve – something professional. Wearing my chess teacher hat I also see that our current junior chess structure is confusing and inconsistent, with various people trying to build their own empires instead of working together harmoniously. There’s no national structure, no formal national chess syllabus or coaching course, no proper national junior championships (compare the French Junior Championships with what happens at the British Championships). Our children deserve better and I don’t see how the ECF, the way it is at the moment, can provide this, or that it even has very much understanding of the issues involved.

Richard James

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About Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard is currently the Curriculum Consultant for Chess in Schools and Communities (www.chessinschools.co.uk) as well as teaching chess in local schools and doing private tuition. He has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966 and currently has an ECF grade of 177.