Controversy hits Chess team over ‘fair play’ gesture at Olympiad

Team Rwanda returned from the Chess Olympiad in Tromso, Norway on Saturday embroiled in a bitter controversy. 
(L-R) Maxence Murara the team captain, Alain Niyibizi and Godfrey Kabera in action at the 41st Chess Olympiad in Norway. Courtesy photo
(L-R) Maxence Murara the team captain, Alain Niyibizi and Godfrey Kabera in action at the 41st Chess Olympiad in Norway. Courtesy photo

Team Rwanda returned from the Chess Olympiad in Tromso, Norway on Saturday embroiled in a bitter controversy.  

The controversy started on the final day of the tournament on Thursday last week, when in round 11, a Seychelles player against Rwanda’s Alain Patience Niyibizi on board 2, suddenly collapsed and was later pronounced dead.

Although Rwanda was leading on the score against Seychelles before the incident, team captain Maxence Murara chose to sacrifice two games as loses in a gesture of goodwill to Seychelles, a decision which did not go down well with his teammates.

Godfrey Kabera, Rwanda’s only internationally rated chess player, termed the decision as “personal” and “shameful” and that it was not done in consensus with other team members.

“The gesture was done without consulting the other players… we lost on board 2 to a deceased player; this is the first time it’s happened in chess history.

“The captain was also nowhere to be seen for close to an hour when all this was happening. He only came in later to change the decision which was initially given as 3-1 to Rwanda,” Kabera said.

He added: “The matter should be referred to the General Assembly and administrative measures taken against the people who fail to put national interests above anything else.”

Kabera accused the Team captain for interfering with the final results of the game, which had been signed and accepted by arbiters as a 3-1 victory, only to be changed to a 2-2 draw later.

“When the team learned of this we were very angry, frustrated and dissatisfied with a decision that was depriving one of our players the title of Candidate Master on board 4,” he said.

“The captain went back and changed the score to give board 4 a win and remove board 1 a point. We don’t know how he decided this or why? If it was done in the spirit of fair play, the least one can expect is for players to be consulted about the matter so as to collectively cede the points in the spirit of fair play.”

The decision cost Rwanda 15 points.

However, the president of Rwanda Chess Federation, Kevin Ganza stood by the captain, saying that in the wake of such a sad incident as death, the least Rwanda could do was to conduct a “fair-play gesture.”

“It was so sad; fair-play is the least thing we could do in the face of such a tragedy. I really support the gesture of our captain; it is the right expression of condolences to the Seychelles Chess Team,” Ganza said.

Murara also defended his actions, saying: “It was wrong to take advantage of the death of a player”.

He added that he took the decision as captain because the team had failed to reach consensus.

“As captain and leader I took responsibility especially because there was no consensus. I am ready to explain it during the General Assembly,” he said.

China emerged top at the tournament in the Open Teams (men) while Russia scooped the top women position.

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