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FM Harper closes Olympiad dispute
In one single motion last Sunday, FM Ryan Harper brought to an abrupt end the troubling legal dispute that had erupted in the T&T Chess Association.
The six-time former national champion gained unanimous support when he moved to rescind the decision taken to change the established criterion by which winners of the first three places of the national championship qualify automatically to represent T&T at the next Olympiad.
As far as DR is aware, that criterion was laid down several years ago at an AGM of the Association and had been observed ever since. The reason for it is obvious; the country must send its best players to the Chess Olympiad, just as it sends its best athletes to the Olympics, and the national championship contest, with its preliminaries and finals, is clearly the most convenient and convincing way to determine the best in-form players.
However, at a special general meeting of the Association on February 24, president Russell Smith introduced a motion which would change that criterion.
He argued that the time lapse between the current national contest which ends in May and the next Olympiad which comes off in Norway in August 2014 would be too long for the players to keep their winning edge. He proposed, instead, that winners of next year’s national championship be selected on the Olympiad team.
The president’s proposal, which meant of course that this year’s national champion and his two runners-up would not be chosen to represent T&T at the Olympiad, provoked strong opposition from FM Mario Merritt, one of the qualifiers for this year’s national finals and certainly a favourite for taking one of the first three places.
The FM who is also a lawyer contended that the motion to change the criteria for Olympic selection half-way during the tournament was not only improper but also deprived him of the legitimate expectation of being selected to play at the coming world games. He had entered the preliminaries, qualified for the finals and looked forward to winning the championship on the basis of the standing criteria.
However, inspite of Merritt’s logical arguments and his threat to take the Association to court over the issue, the proposal was passed by a majority show of hands.
It seemed unfortunate to DR that president Smith could not see and accept the simple reason behind Merritt’s objections. His immediate reaction to Merritt’s protocol letter served on himself and members of his executive was to fire off a lengthy e-mail accusing Merritt of practising “big stick diplomacy” because the FM had refused on three occasions an invitation from the Association to join “a committee to find solutions in the interest of chess.”
Equally as unfortunate is the reaction of several members of the T&TCA executive who are threatening to resign over this contentious episode and the prospect of being taken to court over it.
In an e-mail reply, Smith had to beg youth officer Naresh Bhola and female members of the executive not to resign until after the Pan Am Scholastic Chess Championships which will be held in T&T for the first time during the coming Easter holidays. Smith, in fact, confessed that he too is considering this option since his wife complains that he is “consuming too much time in creating a vision for chess while others destroy.”
When the SGM reconvened last Sunday at the Southern Chess Club’s premises to deal with several matters including proposals for major constitutional change and the Olympiad criteria issue, Merrit again had to forcefully explain his position as Smith asked for time to receive the opinion of his lawyers. Oddly enough, however, the T&TCA president disclosed that he and his executive had met and agreed that the decision should be reversed.
Clearly not prepared to consider Smith’s request for time, FM Harper arose and insisted on moving a motion to rescind the decision taken in the first part of the SGM.
The ex-champion described the decision as “appalling” and blamed the extended time lag on the Association which had shifted dates for the national championship to the first part of the year without consulting the membership.
Harper persisted in his demand and was supported by Andrew Bowles who reminded the meeting of Harper’s democratic right to move his motion which, eventually, was given unanimous approval.
This sorry episode exposes, for one thing, the fragility, indeed lack of commitment, of those five executive members who have submitted resignations over a contention that is largely of the Association’s own making.
This is unfortunate as the sport of chess, still relatively undeveloped in our country, requires strong and dedicated leadership if it is ever to realise its potential in the competitive arena and as a discipline that confers a range of cognitive benefits particularly among young people.
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