Keep the momentum going with Malawi schools’ chess

Southern Region Chess League has successfully hosted its third edition of its special juniors’ tournament called the Finesse Schools’ Chess Championship that targets to inspire primary and secondary schools students is to inspire youths to take the sport seriously and aim to become the best.

This tournament is sponsored by Malawi Chess Association (Chessam) former publicity secretary Gilton Mkumbwa, in conjunction with one of Malawi chess’ sponsor —  South Africa-based Tiwone Mdina.

The two sponsors’ goal is to try and emulate what Egypt, now Africa’s best chess country, has achieved by nurturing youngsters to become international chess Grand Masters. This is really ambitious and noble as evidenced by the enthusiasm that students have attached to this special tournament that is held in the first term of each academic year prizes on offer are chess materials in preparation for other tournaments that comes in their way.

About 130 students pitched up at Jacaranda Secondary School last Saturday to try and outwit each other and the best were heartily rewarded.

This motivation should be encourage and emulated by big corporate sponsors to keep the youths occupied and in the same vein help to produce an international Grand Master as Mkumbwa and Mdina are aim at doing.

Chess has come to stay and is rapidly being embraced by senior players as well as the youths, who are even encouraged by their parents. Some parents have sponsored their own kids when Chess Association of Malawi failed to find funding for them to participate at international schools’ tournament outside the country.

Many parents attested to the fact that their wards were performing excellently since they took up the sport and even teachers noticed that the students who were apt with chess were doing well academically and willingly inspired them to participate in tournaments to raise their school’s flag higher.

What the sport needs right from the grassroots level is good sponsorship and for the junior level they should be accorded chess materials as prizes just like Finesse tournament does. Every participant should be given some chess literature as a reward for making it to the tournament and that needs sound sponsorship.

Chess has fast become popular but the journey has been long. Chess was not considered a sport worthy to be covered in the newspapers when I joined journalism until one day when chess enthusiast Zengani Mkandawire and his colleague Steve Saidi approached me in 1998 to consider covering their events in the papers.

They impressed me that they were in talks with a potential sponsor and for the deal to materialise; the sponsor wanted their association with the sport to be highlighted in the media. I went back to the editors and asked if I could cover the chess as a recognised sport just like the world treats it.

I got the nod to go ahead and from then on I developed a strong link with Zengani and Steve when they started feeding me with the right information to make the sport glamorous enough to impress the potential sponsor. The sponsor was Mkaka Building Contractors and they started with a monthly tournament in which a floating trophy was introduced and that the most winner will have it for keeps at the end of the year.

It was a well contested tournament and the fierce battle was between Zengani, Steve, Kajani Kaunda, Gilton Mkumbwa, Susan Namangale and James Kamowa but the overall winner, who went away with the floating trophy was Steve.

Chess became an attractive sport from then on in which they managed to secure more sponsors and managed to be recognised by Malawi National Council of Sports. Later in the year, Lab Enterprise came into the picture and brought some good prize money and in 2011 they secured a deal with South Africa-based Malawian entrepreneur Tione Mdina, who bankrolled what was named Mdina Open Chess.

Chess also managed to bring in an international grandmaster from who played with several players at once at Blantyre Sports Club, an event that spiced up the existence of the game at local level and later a Malawi national chess squad was formed that participated at the World Chess Olympiad in Germany.

Since then, Malawi has always participated at these Olympiads but we are yet to identify a brilliant player to be recognised as an international grandmaster. Is it attainable? I believe so if Chessam can find sound sponsorship from the corporate world for the players to continually participate in tournaments that shall offer attractive prizes for winners as well as participatory prizes in the form of chess equipment and literature.

Well done to the chess fraternity and, please, keep the momentum going with schools’ chess

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