A chess tournament in Kabul

6/22/2003 – As we reported chess has returned to Afghanistan. For a decade the infamous Taliban had stricly forbidden the game, but now, thanks mainly to the efforts of Dutch Embassy employees, there are lessons and even tournaments in Kabul. They are attended by male and female players, the first such intergender activity in a long time. Boy Frank reports...

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Boy Frank reports from Kabul

I have organised chess activities in a number of countries during my postings there for the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Singapore, Luanda, Bucharest, Asmara, Tbilisi, Kabul. The projects are funded from the budget for small embassy projects. The Dutch embassy in Tbilisi sponsored two projects during my posting there from 2001 to 2002. As you know, the level of chess in Georgia is very high. I organised a tournament and helped finance a number of chess clocks.

As far as the re-activation of chess in Afghanistan is concerned we financed the purchase of 200 chess boards and chess clocks, which were put at the disposal of the National Chess Federation of Afghanistan at the end of last year.

There has been funding for a kind of follow-up this year, with a budget of Euros 14.800. For this we bought books, chess clocks, extra chess boards, pieces, two demonstration boards and organised a chess tournament in the garden of the compound of the Office of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Kabul.

There were 185 participants in the tournament, among them eight Afghan women and 24 ISAF military from Macedonia, Holland, Germany, Turkey, Romania, Latvia, Belgium and France.

Participants came from different parts of Afghanistan and also Pakistan. The preliminary rounds took six hours. I applied the Swiss system to determine the best twenty players.

All the twenty selected players were Afghans. We let them play in two groups of ten and after that in a group of four to determine the winner and the runner up.

There was a separate group for women in which one Dutch woman participated. A chess computer, donated by Van Stockum booksellers in The Hague was donated to the school which the girls attend.

There were two cups for the men, one for the women and 25 other prizes, in the form of chess books bought from Van Stockum.

All photographs in this report were taken by Judy Vermeulen, my Deputy at this office. All the items bought for the chess project were purchased from Van Stockum, through the intermediary of Frans Hoynk van Papendrecht who has been very active and helpful to despatch all items as quickly as possible. He also managed to obtain a gong from our chess club DD, which was used during the preliminary rounds of the tournament.

Part of the project is also the renovation of a small building in a central park of Kabul, which has been put at the disposal of the chess federation by the mayor of Kabul, for the period of one year.

During my last trip to Holland I brought a demonstration board from Van Stockum which I use to teach elementary chess to women and schoolgirls in the garden of the compound.

They visit us three times a week. Sometimes I play simultaneously, which is new for them and which they enjoy.

As you probably know, women in Afghanistan were not allowed to do anything during the regime of the Taliban. Men playing chess were punished by prison sentences. Although women are allowed to do many more things nowadays, the culture here limits certain contacts and activities.

There is little initiative to teach girls chess and although we opened a small chess club in the Park Residence Guesthouse of Mr. Sabhir Latifi a few months ago, there has been no incentive to coach women to play chess. I hope this will change as time goes on. I have spotted some talent here and there, also amongst young girls who can reach a high level when trained.

Last but not least I mention my appreciation for Mr Sabhir Latifi, a businessman in Kabul with which the Embassy has good contacts. He has made space available in his Park Residence Guesthouse for use of chess players and has donated tables and chairs for this purpose. For the current project, he has arranged the use of all the tables and chairs for the tournament and has donated the chess cups. He will also renovate the mentioned building in the park. I am very grateful for his activities and attitude on this front.


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