This article by Quah Seng-Sun was originally published in THE STAR, a Malaysian newspaper, on 13 Feb 1998
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A CASE OF BRAWN OVER BRAINS
It would have been easy to overlook that short but significant sentence in the sports pages of the Sunday Star five days ago. There, tucked away in a corner of the newspaper, was a small mention that chess would be out of this year's Malaysian Schools Sports Council (MSSM) calendar.
For those who missed the news item, it was reported that the Education Ministry had slashed their budget for the MSSM, forcing three sports to be dropped from the schools calendar this year.
The report quoted the MSSM secretary general, Abdul Aziz Mohamed, as saying the MSSM would only receive RM550,000 from the Education Ministry.
"The amount is half of what we (normally) received. Under the circumstances, we don't have any alternative but to reduce the number of sports for this year," he said.
Apart from chess, the other two sports dropped by the MSSM are handball and softball.
My first reaction was one of outrage. There we are, having made so much progress locally during the last few years and having the results to show for it, and here we have a decision which in a stroke cancels almost everything chess officials in the country have worked for.
I would like to know from the MSSM authorities whether they had considered the alternative of a uniform reduction in the allocation of funds for all the sports.
Instead of removing certain games from the calendar, why can't the MSSM uniformly scale down the size of all the sports? I would think that it would be more important to retain continuity for all the games, such as by organising them on a smaller scale, than to sacrifice the three affected sports altogether.
The cut is especially hard to accept when you realise that chess is the only game in the MSSM calendar that deals with the mental development of the players. By taking away chess, the MSSM has effectively removed the only opportunity for school children to compete in mental sports.
I would think that mental prowess goes hand-in-hand with physical prowess. Even Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Council, acknowledged as recently as last month that chess players have to be physically fit in order to play chess.
So do the authorities in the MSSM have differing views? Are they trying to signal that nothing, not even mental activity, can be as important as physical activity? Is brawn better than brains? I hope to be proven wrong, but these recent developments seem to point in this direction.
As long ago as the beginning of last year, even before the economic crisis hit Malaysia, there were already rumours that the MSSM might be trying to do away with chess in their calendar.
I may be wrong again, but the rumour mill also suggested that some quarters were uncomfortable that chess, in the last few years, was threatening to overshadow a few sports that have greater mass appeal. Ooi Chern Ee surprised many people by coming third in the 1995 MSSM Sportsboy ceremony. Then, in a milestone development, Mas Hafizulhelmi finally bagged the Sportsboy award in the 1996 ceremony.
Whatever the real reason may be, I can only hope that common sense can prevail in the end and chess can be reinstated immediately. Why take away a sport which has featured regularly in the MSSM calendar for the past 25 years?
Does it really cost that much amount of money to run an MSSM chess tournament? If so, I will be the first outsider to support any move to reduce the number of different categories of chess events, just as long that the game can be retained in the MSSM calendar.
For example, instead of holding separate individual and team events for two or three different age-groups, the organisers can hold just one team event for the most senior age-group and award the MSSM chess champion's title to the best Board One performer among the teams.
This is just one suggestion. If the MSSM would care to contact the Malaysian Chess Federation (try telephoning MCF secretary Hamid Majid at 03-421-9576, for instance) and discuss strategy together, I am sure other viable alternatives can be considered too.
In the meantime, if readers have any strong opinion about chess and its exclusion from the MSSM calendar, you can write to me through The Star or e-mail me at email@example.com .
The Perak International Chess Association will organise a one-day open competition this Sunday at the Taman DR Seenivasagam in Ipoh. This is a six-round event with a time control of 25 minutes per player for each game.
Registration for the event will start at 8.30am on the day of the competition, and the first round is expected to begin by 9.10am. Entry fees are RM8 for members of PICA and RM10 for non-members.
Prizes will include trophies with cash given to the best eight players. The best under-12, under-16 and woman players will also receive prizes. For more enquiries, call Wong (tel: 05-3661692).
The Union High School, Penang, will organise its first Union open tournament this Sunday. This will be played over seven rounds.
The entry fee for the one-day tournament is RM7 per player, and participants are required to register themselves at the school hall at 7.30am on the day of the event.
Six cash prizes ranging from RM150 to RM20 will be offered. Trophies will also be given to the best under-12, under-18, women's and Union High School players.
For more details, contact Lim Chu Ai (tel: 04-226-7067), Lim Swee TIn (tel: 04-262-9824) or Wong Wai Quan (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Copyright: Star Publications
(M) Berhad. Thank you. Author: SSQuah
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