Heralded Government Grant to Chess
Reports are appearing in the press, most notably articles by Leonard Barden in the Guardian and the Sunday Times, but also an article on the BBC News website, about the government being expected to announce next month some significant funding for chess. This appears to arise from spadework done by the ECF International Chess Director, Malcolm Pein, in conjunction perhaps with ECF President Dominic Lawson.
The anticipated sum is mooted as £500,000 which would seemingly be a one-off at this stage and could be an upper limit as opposed to an unconditionally set sum. An annual grant of £60k was received in the past from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) as it was known then. (For a while “Digital” entered the name, but that was removed earlier this year.) No strings were attached to that £60k, so it could be spent broadly however the recipient wished.
The heralded new financial support seems to be earmarked for specific areas:
Examples mentioned of how international chess could be supported include things like hot-housing top rising juniors, backroom team support such as game-preparation support. The new funding channelled into international chess could be all aimed at things extra to the basic travel, accommodation, subsistence and appearance money currently funded by sponsorship and the ECF’s income derived from membership fees. Thus, it might not reduce the financial impact of international chess on the ECF’s income derived from its members. The terms of the funding provision have not been made clear and might not be what people might assume. That said, it would obviously be a good thing for English international chess, and is a significant achievement by Malcolm Pein.
The reference to teaching chess in state schools is slightly unclear. It could mean incorporating chess into the curriculum for reasons not wholly different from those in the past for teaching Latin, or it could mean (funding for) chess-players external to the schools teaching chess perhaps in dinner hours or after school, as already occurs quite extensively though possibly usually on a voluntary basis. Getting chess into the curriculum would be a major, long wished-for target, though perhaps beyond the scope of this initial enterprise.
Installation of chess tables in public places seems a relatively minor element. Many libraries allow/foster chess-playing in a context wholly separate from the organised chess scene. In recent years there was a daytime chess club in Rotherham Library, wholly unconnected with Rotherham Chess Club. A game of chess would often be in progress in the café area at Doncaster Library, and the odd game has been spotted in progress in the foyer of Sheffield Central Library. In the open air, there are a number of large-scale boards dotted about. The most used may well be that in front of Huddersfield Library. There are three boards in front of Leeds Library, where Edwin Woodhouse used to work during the building’s original incarnation as the Town Hall; Eric Davies has in the past promoted their use, though none was in use on the day of the NCCU AGM on 18th August. A similar outdoor board exists in Rotherham’s Clifton Park, though it seems to get no use. The writer vaguely recalls playing on the outdoor board in Sheffield’s Millhouses Park about 55 years ago. Or course, outdoor chess tables, as such, support more-serious chess than is easy on the large outdoor ones, and are to be welcomed, though are not a major prong of the overall initiative.
Access to government funding has of course long been hampered by the fact that chess has not been recognised as a sport in this country, so denying access to funding from Sport England (one of two bodies which in 1996 replaced The Sports Council, and was initially named UK Sport but was then renamed in 1999). Sport England is an “arm’s-length” public body, which term seems to have largely replaced “quango” (= quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation). It falls under the purview of DCMS.
Gerry Walsh, when BCF President, wrote to the government appealing for chess to be recognised as a sport, and doubtless later such efforts have been made. When the writer became correspondence manager for his division in the DfES as was, under the guise of at-desk self-training and system familiarisation, he tried searching for Gerry’s letter and was successful in calling it up on the computer screen. (I’d have liked to print it off for myself but knew that would be naughty.) The stumbling block seems to be the notion that “sport” must be a physical activity.
Since Sport England is funded approximately two-thirds by lottery money and the remainder by grant-in-aid from the DCMS, this initiative is rather like stopping banging on the front door of Sport England and instead going to the back door of DCMS and arguing that chess is “culture”, and not flogging the dead horse of the “sport” angle.