Chess Olympiad: How India is helping South Sudan’s chess traditions

The 44th Chess Olympiad offers a contrasting picture of experience and expectations.

While the competition has ace teams like USA and India looking to stamp their authority on the board, for some others, the Olympiad is a chance to allow the game to enter their country’s mainstream.

South Sudan is one such nation, its efforts finding support from an Indian coach— Vedant Goswami.

Vedant Goswami at the Chess Olympiad in Mamallapuram | Photo Credit: Lavanya Lakshminarayanan

“I am part of a program sponsored by FIDE where they’re introducing formal chess training in countries which do not have access to those facilities. It was an interesting experience because the women’s teams are completely new and some of them have been introduced to chess as late as six months ago and this is their first tournament,” says Goswami, who is currently training in Djibouti, an East African country.

The FIDE Master and trainer worked with South Sudan, the youngest nation in the world, prior to its Olympiad campaign.

“The women needed to be taught things that we usually teach children when they start playing chess. I then learned that chess there is played outside bars, under trees – places were women would not be comfortable. So this is their federation’s first formal attempt at introducing women to the game,” Goswami explains.

A photograph on Goswami’s phone reveals the training conditions in the Central African country: his players are huddled around common laptops trying to understand the basics of the game.

Members of South Sudan at the FIDE Chess Olympiad

Members of South Sudan at the FIDE Chess Olympiad | Photo Credit: Facebook/ South Sudan Chess federation -SSCF

“When we train in India, everyone has access to a separate computer and individual access to software. In this case, everyone was gathered in one room including the officials and when I am proposing positions, I could not make out who was answering my question. Their internet connectivity was also an issue,” he adds.

Goswami believes South Sudan’s social climate comes through in its players’ approach on the board. The nation continues to cope with the aftershocks of a merciless civil war and communal tension.

“Most of their games are very raw in nature. Maybe that’s driven by their culture of unrest and war because they want to attack all the time. They need to work on positional play and other nuances,” he says.

Goswami feels that the next chess boom will happen in Africa and hails the Olympiad for being a stepping stone towards that end.

“South Sudan has sent a media representative with the team who will now relay updates back home. Just the people and the government becoming aware of their participation here will be huge for sparking interest in the game there,” he adds.


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