Botswana is located in Southern Africa and if one can imagine a map of African Continent like chess board it’s easy to find Botswana on the second rank near to South Africa.
The population of the country is about 2 millions but the territory is so huge that the density is 3.4 people/km2 (in comparison density in India is 376 people/km2), which makes Botswana one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world.
Botswana becoming one of the fastest-growing economies in the world with a GDP (purchasing power parity) per capita of about $14,000 per year, and a high gross national income, possibly the fourth-largest in Africa, giving the country a modest standard of living.
It is also the world’s largest producer of diamonds and the trade has transformed it into a middle-income nation. Botswana is a very attractive destination for tourists and considered the safest country to visit in Africa and I can confirm it without doubt! Here you can see wild nature and enjoy hunting and photographic safaris in many national parks.
Susan Polgar, Chairman of WOM and former Women’s World Chess Champion, and Martha Fierro, the Secretary of the FIDE Women Commission (WOM), kindly proposed me to take part in promotional tour of women chess in Botswana. WOM plays very active role in promoting chess for young women around the world and I was glad to have a chance to work with them.
Report by WGM Anastasiya Karlovich
Photos by Anastasiya Karlovich and Thuto Molebatsi
I was lucky to appear in Botswana during the summer time and after quite a long trip the temperature was changed from Ukrainian -15C to +35C. Warm welcome at the airport of Gaborone and my promotional tour has started.
It was interesting to learn that women chess in Botswana has enjoyed steady growth over the years. Botswana is the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to have a Woman Grandmaster (Tuduetso Sabure). The Botswana team has consistently taken part in the World Olympiad since 1982 and has great potential over the years.
The new elected President of Botswana Chess Federation Tshenola Maruatona tries to use achievements of the previous government and puts more ambitious goals for future.
The chess federation is well organized and the Botswana Chess Calendar is arguably one of the busiest calendars in Africa. Botswana federation organizes women national championships every year and it’s interesting that the first prize is 1000$ (compare to 1500$ in open championship).
Women in Botswana are very active and openly fighting for the right to have the same prizes and I have a feeling they will manage to win in the nearest future :)
The federation enjoys good support from Government but also gets support from private sponsors. I met many people who are not getting paid but work because they love chess and try to support the federation and players.
The Botswana Sports Council is the mother body that oversees the activities of all the sporting codes in the country. Botswana Chess Federation is funded by the National Sports Council and they are affiliated to it.
The meeting discussed key issues on the development of sports for women and the senior management pledged their support to the federation. The federation was applauded for leading the initiative in developing women sports as this is in line with the strategy for the sports council. From the Sports council, the team was lead by Mrs Game Mothibi and Mr Steven Bothasitse.
“We have numerous events targeted at school students and these are organised and run by the federation with the help of the school’s committee. The country also has some set up chess clubs which have very keen members who take part in open tournaments,” explains Tshenola Maruatona.
A chess player in the past, he understands clearly the problems and perspectives of women chess in Botswana: “Our strongest women have an average rating of 1800 and there is a need to give them full exposure to players of higher ratings and finding a coach will help them improve on their overall chess.”
The President of Federation doesn’t want players from Botswana to go to Olympiad and be there as tourists but he wants them to take overall team position within the category and improve their individual ratings. He believes that the strength of the women team can also be enhanced with insistence on play in men’s section and he constantly tries to find the way to encourage them to play there.
The President is also looking for a chess coach to focus on both men and women teams and this comes from his opinion that performance at the Olympiad can improve with some guidance.
We were trying together to figure out the ways, how to support women players in Botswana, how to encourage them to devote their life to chess, to show perspectives to make living out of chess.
Tshenola Maruatona worries that the Botswana team consists of the same women players dominating the chess scenes for many years. Chess in primary schools is supposed to increase the chances to find new talents among young generation. Recently the federation has embarked on a country-wide campaign for introduction of chess at primary school level. The federation has signed a memorandum of agreement with the Primary Schools Sports’ Association and has already distributed chess sets and study materials to over 30 primary schools.
At the Metsimotlhabe Primary School chess lessons were introduced 4 months ago. Boys and girls have chess lessons few times per week and had already learned basic rules. They played quite well as for beginners! The schools have to solve the problem with deficit of chess coaches and I met some teachers of mathematics, who had to learn chess from the beginning within short term before the lessons started.
The teachers are doing their best to help their students and constantly try to increase their level by reading books and studying lessons from Internet. The Federation encourages chess players to give lessons at schools (Botswana boasts of relatively strong male players with an average rating of 2200) and also grants the winner of the National Championship not only financial award but an obligation to teach chess in one of the primary schools during one month as well.
The girls heard only about Polgar sisters but on the next day they could easily pronounce the name of current World Champion Hou Yifan and recognize other Champions.
As one of the main steps to help women chess, the Federation of Botswana has created the BCF Women Commission. The main aim of the Commission is to increase the number of girls’ players in Botswana.
Therefore, Botswana became the first country to create Women Commission similar to FIDE Women Commission and I was honored to launch it during the press conference the second day of my visit.
The BCF Women Commission consists of following members:
Tshepiso Lopang (WIM) – Chairperson
Gayathri Sriram (active member of the Federation and mother of 2 talented chess playes) – Secretary General
Boikhutso Modongo (WIM) – Committee member
Kutlwano Tatolo – Committee Member
Keenese Katisenge (Press officer of the federation, who makes fantastic job to promote chess in Botswana and informs local media about every step of the the federation) – Ex-Officio
The motivation behind the Women commission is as follows:
1) Bring up talent among young girls. Over the years members of commission have seen a drain in talent with regards to girls. We have seen the domination of the same faces over the past years and there wasn’t any emergence of new talent.
2) There has not been any talent continuity with chess for girls. We continue to see girls abandoning chess immediately after school and this extremely affects the level of our senior teams.
3) Train the young and selected girls to achieve a higher level in the game and compete with the world.
When it was my turn to answer questions of local journalists, who were trying to figure out the difference between women and men chess, I had an opportunity to share with them my own experience and explain the main ideas on this topic, expressed by the Chairman of the Women Commission and former world champion Susan Polgar.
The real test was on the third day when I had to face 30 players (most of them girls). There were few, very young participants, who just recently learned playing chess and some players had quite good level, around 1900-2100.
I made 3 draws and in one game my opponent was too kind not to punish me for my too optimistic play in the middlegame :)
Visit to Bothe University, former NIIT University (Botswana branch of NIIT, one of Anand’s supporters). In 2009 NIIT sponsored the visit of Vishwanathan Anand to promote chess in college and Botswana. The University has 19 sport clubs, including chess club for students.
We also “checked” the board by playing few moves with Director at Botho College, Ravi Srinivasan.
During my free day I decided to leave Gaborone and flew to Kazane, following the steps of Judit Polgar, who visited the country few years earlier and said, in the interview to Rádio Xadrez, that in Botswana she had the nicest memories and experience with nature.
I went for the boating safari on the Chobe River which is known for variety of wildlife that is incomparable with any place in the world.
There was no rain for last three days and many animals came to the river to drink water and swim, so I got a chance to get up close and personal not only with hippos, crocodiles, water birds but elephants, buffaloes and giraffes. To complete my experience with nature I met a quite huge (for my experience) spider in my room and spent unforgettable sleepless night :)
Those few days in Botswana passed very quickly but from the first moment of my arrival I felt I’m among friends!
I’m very grateful to everyone, whom I met during this trip and I wish one day Botswana will have chess stars of World level because the federation and chess lovers work hard to find the talents and help them as much as possible.