An interview with Tshepiso Lopang – President of the African Chess Confederation

by Tatiana Flores
7/5/2023 – In an exclusive interview for ChessBase, IA and WIM Tshepiso Lopang talks to chess journalist Tatiana Flores about her beginnings in chess, her path to becoming a sought-after international arbiter and the first woman to be elected President of the African Chess Confederation. She also shares her ideas for improving chess around the world. | Photo: Courtesy of Tshepiso Lopang

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


Born in Botswana in 1980, Thsepiso Lopang began playing chess at an early age in school. Since then the sport has become a fundamental part of her identity and life, leading her into arbitration and chess politics. After playing for the national team for many years and serving in various capacities in Botswana and on FIDE commissions, she submitted her candidature for the presidency of the African Chess Confederation in 2022. She and her team (Together for Africa) easily won with 29 of the 47 possible votes, of which 11 and 7 went to her two opponents. Lopang is thus the first woman in history to be elected President of the African Chess Confederation and to lead her own chess vision for her continent.

Tatiana Flores: When did you start playing chess?

Tshepiso Lopang: I started playing chess in the year 1994. I was introduced to the game by my agriculture teacher, Mr. Njobvu, who was then a Zambian expatriate teaching agriculture in Botswana.

How did you become an International Arbiter?

I never thought about becoming an international arbiter until... I think it was the Chess Olympiad in Tromsø 2014. There was this arbiter training course in Norway in 2014 and we decided to attend the course in the morning because the games were played in the afternoon. After the course, which I attended with my colleague Vincent Masole, we were awarded the titles of Fide referees.

I think it was in 2015 when I volunteered to be an arbiter at a tournament in Lesotho. I sent a request to my friend Tšeliso Motloheloa, who's the president of the Lesotho Chess Federation, and he gave me the opportunity to get an IA norm. It was a success and it led me to volunteer for the Ugandan Individual Championship as an arbiter, which was also a success. Then in 2016 I volunteered again, this time as an arbiter at the World Amateur Chess Championship. There I also managed to get a norm, so I finally had the three norms needed to qualify as an International Arbiter.

Would you like to see more women in the profession? What changes do you think need to be made for them to be more welcome and supported?

I would definitely like to see more women in arbitration! You know, there's no gender requirement in the field, so you can be an arbiter in the open or in the women's section, so it's an area where women should be present. I'm not saying it's not challenging to be an arbiter, but it's easy to reach the highest level of experience as a female arbiter.

To make them feel welcome and supported, we need to bring them on board as leaders. I'm not biased, but I see that the numbers are not favourable for women, so we need to invite them. We as ACC (African Chess Confederation), whatever tournament we have, we look for gender balance, that's important. We also bring on board women who are interested.

I know sometimes when you send out an invitation saying you're looking for people who are interested, a lot of people feel it's not right for them, so we encourage women directly. We approach the ones we know and hope they will bring friends on board. I usually say that the ACC is not my father's farm; it belongs to the chess community. Everyone is part of this organisation, so if we pull together as a community we can even improve the presence of women in chess.

Tshepiso Lopang as arbiter with Anastasia Sorokina at the WR Chess Masters in February 2023 | Photo: André Schulz

How did you feel on the day of the African Chess Confederation elections?

Ooooh! (laughs). It was not an easy way... You know, I was so nervous! But I would say the most important thing is that I'm a prayerful person. Sometimes as an individual you feel this thing, this gap within yourself. Even if you go to a friend or your family and tell them about that feeling, it's always going to be there; they can never feel it the same way. But if you pray, you can fill that gap.

I could feel that my competitors were as nervous as I was, but because of this spiritual sense in me, I managed to stay calm. I thank God for that because it was really tough.

Was the road until there an easy or a hard one?

To be honest, it was hard. It was hard to meet the delegates, to introduce your team members, to sell your manifesto, etc. You know, at first people told me that there was no way I could run for the ACC presidency without a manifesto. I told them that was our own strategy, because I didn't want to lie to the delegates and tell them something I knew I couldn't achieve. So I said I'd wait for the outcome of the elections so that we could sit down and work out the strategy for this continent.

I knew that the manifesto I'd write would be my dream, not the continental dream. I know it is usually said that leaders must come with their ambitions, but I said to myself: You've seen politicians sell their manifestos and when they get into power they do the opposite. I really didn't want to do that.

What duties do you have as president of the African Chess Confederation?

I can say that I'm responsible for the implementation of the strategy of the African Chess Confederation. Our strategy is not in black and white at the moment, but as a leader I have to show that I'm implementing it or mentoring my team members so that they can deal with whatever is on the table from Fide, from the zones, etc. That is my responsibility.

Lopang started playing chess at a young age at school. Nowadays, the sport and its politics play an important role in her life. | Picture:

What’s your opinion on the outcome of the Year of Women in Chess 2022?

The Year of Women in Chess has really been a success!I have to praise the organisers of this event because it has really shown that it has improved the presentation of women and also promoted the culture where women are in a position where they are role models. It encourages other women to see other women receiving awards. So it was a success! I'd like to applaud the person who came up with the idea. It was probably a collective decision, but the team did an excellent job.

You received the "Administrator of the Year Award" 2022 at the Annual Botswana Women's Sports Awards in recognition of your groundbreaking success in becoming the first woman to be elected President of the African Chess Confederation. What does this recognition mean to you?

It was a real honour, Tatiana. Let me take this opportunity to also thank the organisers of the Women's Sports Awards like Kesego Okie and also Women in Sports Botswana because they were the key drivers for this event to happen. I was honoured and it really shows that these organisations that deal with women take their mandate seriously. It really motivates women to look forward to achieving more and mentoring other women who want to achieve whatever goal they have set for themselves in life.

What would you like to improve regarding chess in Africa?

In terms of improvement we would need... let's say I would like the community, the continent to come together so that every individual feels empowered. We need to improve the performance of our players. As you know, African chess players are not at that level compared to other continents. We also need to improve our refereeing, because we have very few category A referees. That is the dream: The empowerment of our human resources. When we are all empowered, we'll all be able to work together and achieve results for African chess.

The President of the African Chess Confederation, Tshepiso Lopang, and her team had an unusually honest strategy for the elections. | Photo: Courtesy of Tshepiso Lopang

What would you like to change in the chess world?

I'd really like to introduce spectators into the halls! (laughs). Bring spectators on board. That's my advice. You know, one day you'll be sitting there, Tatiana, and (since we can't clap, because that would be disturbing, of course) the spectators will have banners and posters supporting their favourite players. Imagine how exciting that would be, for the players too! In theory, you can look at the ratings on ChessBase, or Tornello and you'll know, but there is no physical spectatorship. I know people think chess is not a spectator sport, but let's make it fun. Why shouldn't we? (laughs).

Thank you very much for your time, Mrs Lopang! The ChessBase team and I wish you all the best for your future career!

The interview was conducted in English via Zoom on 29 May 2023.


More by Tatiana Flores...

Tatiana Flores was born in Andorra in 1998 and moved to Germany with her family when she was 14. She works as a chess journalist, poet and multilingual author. Besides chess, she is also passionate about literature and music. See also her website under