CHENNAI: Arbiters are an integral part of any over-the-board chess tournament. They have to ensure that rules and laws of the games are followed. But with OTB games coming to a standstill in the past few months, arbiters have been left to fend for themselves. While players have been able to play and train during the lockdown, thanks to online chess tournaments, arbiters are finding it difficult to make ends meet. Given the situation, a few of them from Tamil Nadu have taken up odd jobs.
Noted arbiter Rathinam Anantharam, who acted as the chief arbiter in several world championships and is the most experienced arbiter in the country, says that the situation of arbiters is really bad. “As there are no over-the-board tournaments for almost 15 months, it has affected the income of the arbiters. Though many arbiters are part-time coaches, they also have lost their jobs in schools. Only a few thrive on online coaching. The lockdown has slackened the skills of the arbiters. As there is no practical exposure, many of them have forgotten the rules and regulations to be followed in chess tournaments,’’ said Anantharam.
There are about a thousand arbiters in India. About 120 international arbiters (IAs) and 300 FIDE arbiters (FAs). In Tamil Nadu, there are 35 IAs and about 80 FAs. Many of them are part-time arbiters but professionally competent. The lockdown not only ate into their income, but some of them also contracted the deadly virus. Those who could manage online coaching survived, but the rest took odd jobs and some turned into delivery boys to sustain their livelihood. The national and state chess associations extended help but it seemingly failed to help them ride out the storm.
“All India Chess Federation and Tamil Nadu State Chess Association have financially helped arbiters who were affected by COVID-19. Some arbiters have taken up part-time jobs to stay afloat. In fact, one arbiter is a Zomato delivery boy now. Like players’ associations, we arbiters do not have an association. Two or three arbiters (including an international arbiter) suffered from COVID-19; TNSCA met part of their hospital expenses. In north India, two or three arbiters got infected,’’ revealed Anantharam, who officiated in the last Tata Chess tournament at Kolkata where Magnus Carlsen and Vishwanathan Anand participated.
Lack of OTB chess tournaments also meant these arbiters were deprived of the exposure needed to hone their skills. “There is one Fide arbiter (the next lower level to international arbiter) from Maharashtra. Ten arbiters are getting enough experience to become international arbiters. Because of the pandemic, they are deprived of any experience due to the lack of OTB tournaments,” he added.
“I have served as a chief arbiter for six world chess championships of different categories. Gopakumar of Delhi, R Srivatsan of Tamil Nadu and Dharmendra Kumar of Bihar have been chief arbiters in international official championships. The talented arbiters from Tamil Nadu are R Srivatsan, S Paul Arokiaraj, V Vijayaraghavan, M Ephrame, S Ganesh Babu,” said Anantharam.
Several top international arbiters in the country and many promising ones from the states are waiting for OTB chess tournaments to start. This can be done only when indoor sports facilities are open to the public. A lot depends on the re-opening of schools.