Covid-19 and chess in Rwanda: Where things stand

Amen Divine Ikamba says that she has used the lockdown to read chess books and refine her game online. File

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rwanda Chess Federation will, for some time, continue to be in limbo as it awaits new office bearers.

Elections to usher in a new leadership team could not be held last month because of the lockdown.


It is still not clear when the chess fraternity, or designated club delegates, will convene or organise an election.


The last poll was held in April 2016.


At the time, delegates elected Kevin Ganza, Rugema Ngarambe, Alain Niyibizi and Christella Rugabira, as president, vice president, secretary general and treasurer respectively, for a four-year term.

Ganza during a past local chess competition. / File

A new election was supposed to be held towards the end of April. It did not happen.

One of the other pending issues was deciding the way forward after qualifiers to pick Rwanda’s flag bearers for the 44th Chess Olympiad were postponed, in March.

At the time, the federation planned to have a third phase of qualifiers this month. As things stand, however, there is no guarantee it will go as planned.

Ganza told Times Sport that: "We have come to a conclusion that we shall let the new committee coming in soon decide the way forward."

But, regarding when an election will be organised, he admitted, much depends on when the pandemic ends "though the General Assembly could decide otherwise, and we organize elections online."

The COVID-19 pandemic brought life to a standstill as countries fought to contain its spread to save life while, at the same time, trying to prevent economic turmoil.

World over, new cases are slowing down. But, many in the chess world know that resumption of play soon may not be possible.

Late March, the World Chess Federation (FIDE) postponed the 2020 Olympiad, a biennial chess tournament bringing together teams from all over the world, which was scheduled to be held in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, from August 5 to 18.

The FIDE Council was ‘deeply concerned’ about the growing COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on people's lives.

All other events earlier scheduled to be held in Moscow and Khanty-Mansiysk mid this year were also rescheduled to the summer of 2021.

Luckily, about a week before lockdown was enforced in Rwanda, in early March, the 2020 edition of the national inter-schools' chess tournament was successfully concluded.

In February, the annual Rwanda Open chess tournament, internationally billed as the biggest chess event in the country, was also held.

However, the lockdown meant that regular training meetings in Kigali ceased and no regular physical tournament, small or big, could be held.

"Coronavirus just stopped the qualifiers, the Genocide Memorial Chess Tournament (GMCT) and usual players' meetings for practice," Ganza further noted.

The annual GMCT is another top international event on the local calendar.

Chess thriving online

With in-person tournaments shut down, reports indicate that top chess players are competing online and millions of amateurs are joining in the fun all over the world.

"Some players have started online meetings for practice," Ganza quickly pointed out, signaling that all is not lost.

Indeed, like others around the world, Rwandan chess enthusiasts have embraced the new virtual reality. They are having fun, learning and improving.

This past week, the Online Nations Cup, the strongest ever online team chess event attracted the world’s top players together from their homes across multiple time zones. It featured teams from India, China, USA, Russia, Europe and a World team.

Rwandan players too are warming up to the idea of playing in online events during the Coronavirus crisis.

Sharing their experiences and life under quarantine as they patiently wait for normal life to return, some shed light on the positive side.

In a telephone interview from home in Rwamagana District, Amen Divine Ikamba, a senior five student at Collège Sainte Marie Reine-Kabgayi, in Muhanga District, told this publication that during lockdown, she is "trying to read different chess books and playing games."

She added: "This lockdown ruined the schedule of chess this year; like the competitions which were supposed to take place."

But the teenager is not deterred. She is steadily working on her game, online.

"My objectives are reaching as far as I can and improving chess in different areas. I think I'll have much more knowledge which will help me in my chess journey," Ikamba added.

Alexis Ruzigura, a senior chess player, noted that, first, "online chess helps you size up your ability; you know how good you are, or where you need to improve."

Alexis Ruzigura. / File

Ruzigura said: "COVID-19 has brought a new dimension to sport so we should evolve and adapt."

"Luckily for us, Rwanda has embraced technology, meaning young players can now improve their game remotely, online."

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