Don´t Make Us Play in a Zoo!

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French clubs that are not wheelchair-accessible will soon no longer be allowed to host league matches. In the directory of the French Federation, pictured above, a wheelchair symbol shows which clubs are accessible. This regulation goes back to a bitter dispute after a cup match between Noyon and Eybens in 2011. The venue was only reachable via steep stairs. Eybens refused to play without their disabled top player.

This story was told at the round table on inclusion by Bernard Sojka, a French arbiter with failing eyesight. Making chess accessible on every level is what inclusion means to Sojka who successfully lobbied the French Federation to adopt higher standards of accessibility. He is opposed to any segregation and stresses that “we have to all play together”.

Chess has overcome barriers to women, people from lower classes, other ethnic backgrounds or with less education. Now segregation makes a comeback from above, and not only in women´s chess. FIDE has introduced championships for the disabled, even a championship for disabled youth. A world championship was planned in Cardiff to coincide with the conference, which gave us the idea for this round table and our announcement here. The FIDE event had to be cancelled for lack of registrations.

Recently, FIDE announced a Chess Paralympics on 30 July to 4 August 2020 in Khanty-Mansisk. This may be partly due to accommodate the Siberian town that does not have enough hotel rooms for a full Chess Olympiad, which has been moved to Moscow. The biggest chess competition ever for players with impairments does not make all them happy though.

For Chris Ross, a blind player, who is active in the English Braille Chess Association, a team of all visually impaired players or a team of all physically disabled players competing at the Chess Olympiad is the maximum he considers acceptable. “The Chess Paralympics cannot be compared with the Paralympics where the athletes are competing in the same venue just at a different time.” A disabled French player had once explained to Bernard Sojka why he didn´t want to travel to Dresden to take part in a disabled-only championship: “I would feel like playing in a zoo”.    

Ross and Sojka would much rather see the chess federations investing to make venues accessible which they see as real inclusion. Philippe Vukojevic, the moderator of the round table, added that in his seminar to become a FIDE-accredited “International Organiser” course he heard nothing about accessibility and inclusion. The same is true for most arbiter training.

Bernard Sojka, who is highlighting the issue of inclusion in France, pointed out another issue: Some players are unable to record their move without an electronic device. FIDE had even promoted a handheld device called “MonRoi” in the past. All such devices have now been banned due to anti-cheating measures. Sojka hopes that a compromise can be reached in the interest of inclusion. For example, “There is no chess software for Linux, so why not accept a Linux-based device?”

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