CHENNAI: Gender equality has been a talking point in sports and chess is one discipline where men and women can compete with each other. Yet, in the 132-year history of the World Championship, there has not been a single woman winner. Hungary’s Judit Polgar came closest, when she qualified for the meet in 2005 before finishing last in a field of eight.
Closer home, the gap between men and women chess players appears bigger. India is ranked fifth in the FIDE list (based on average ratings of the top 10 players of a country), which shows that the country is doing well. But digging deep into the list, one can see that in the top 100, not even 10 are women. Only a handful of young chess prodigies coming out of India are girls. In a list of 50-plus Grandmasters from the country, there are only two women (Koneru Humpy and Dronavalli Harika).
The reasons are many and complicated. Broadly, the slower rate of growth in women’s chess can be attributed to factors like lack of quality tournaments in India, inadequate funds and social factors like family restrictions and marriage. You read it right. A number of women say tying the nuptial knot restricts their movement in terms of training and playing tournaments.
Talking on the sidelines of the women’s championship currently underway here, international arbiter Bhuvanaa Sai LR said not many are able to continue playing because of responsibilities after marriage. “Chess demands time to be spent away from home and family when a player reaches a higher level. If her husband’s family is supportive, she will be able to participate and improve. But most of them become inactive after getting married.”
A study conducted in 2009 by University of Manchester revealed that the male-female ratio in participants in chess was 16:1. In India, lack of funding is a major obstacle. “To improve ratings, one has to participate in stronger tournaments abroad (in India, events of such stature are few and far between). On an average, we take part in two to three events per year. Even that is an expensive proposition,” said India’s WIM V Varshini. Players reveal that the cost comes to `2 lakh per trip, which many can’t afford.
These are not issues faced only by Indians. WGM Guliskhan Nakhbayeva of Kazakhstan says she even thought of quitting after marriage. “The growth of a player also depends on how many games she plays at her peak. I started playing at 14 but had to stop after marriage. With kids, responsibilities grew. Afterwards, my federation said they will sponsor me if I played. That’s how I got back,” said Nakhbayeva.
Unfortunately for Nakhbayeva’s Indian counterparts, such assistance is not commonplace. As news of one boy after another scaling new heights does the rounds, girls playing chess in India can only hope that the situation changes.
Results: Round 7 (Indians unless specified): Aakanksha Hagawane (4) drew with Osmak Iulija (UKR 4.5); Chandreyee Hajra (1.5) lost to Olga Babiy (UKR, 5); Michelle Catherina (5) bt Uuriintuya Uurtsaikh (MNG, 3); Divya Deshmukh (5) drew with Nakhbayeva Guliskhan (KAZ, 3.5); Saloni Sapale (2.5) drew with Franco Valencia Angela (COL, 1.5); Munguntuul Batkhuyag (MNG, 4.5) bt Varshini V (2).