The Candidates Tournament in Yekaterinburg (Russia) is the only world-class sports competition that continues to be in dispute (until April 4). There are very reasonable reasons – with important nuances – to believe that it should have been postponed. But it is also hopeful and symbolic that eight stars of the quintessential mental sport remain at the foot of the canyon. And even more if that situation is viewed from Spain, a world leader in educational, social and therapeutic applications of the game that teaches to think.
Bill Gates has been warning for five years that a virus can be more damaging than war. The director-general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, insisted on it a year ago. But in Italy and Spain we have failed to see that the tragedy that had paralyzed China, where one in five human beings lives, was going to attack us sooner rather than later. Only a small minority of Spaniards foresaw the enormous risk of the feminist protests of 8-M, or that of Vox. In this context, it is better understood that the International Chess Federation (FIDE) decided at the beginning of the month that the Candidates Tournament was not postponed, although it may seem irresponsible to us with the information we have now.
When Spain declared a state of alarm, on March 14, the eight participants in the Candidates Tournament were already in Yekaterinburg, 1,500 kilometers from Moscow, at the gates of Siberia and the Urals. It is a city of 1.4 million inhabitants where at the moment there are only two diagnosed cases of COVID-19, according to official statistics. The Russian Government then canceled all international sports competitions except the Candidates Tournament. But it imposed major restrictions: no more than 50 people (players, referees, coaches, journalists, managers, etc.) at the headquarters, without an audience, which is in the same hotel that houses the players, with a dining room just for them; journalists cannot enter the gaming room or press conferences. The only non-Russian who managed to get there is the one who writes this, but with bad luck: Spain was included in the blacklist of countries while he was flying, and therefore he went from the airport to quarantine in the hotel room, from which he hopes to get rid. on Tuesday, if the second analysis is also negative.
As expected with so many people confined at home, the audiences of the portals that broadcast the games live on the Internet have skyrocketed. And here is the bright side of FIDE’s risky decision. Encouraging a game that teaches thinking can be one of the counterweights to alleviate the tendency to idiotics. More and more people are thinking less for various reasons: a fast-paced world, the misuse of social networks, remote waste, the increase in inequality in many countries … And perhaps one day sociologists will demonstrate that this dangerous trend explains why that millions of people have democratically elected – and, in some cases, re-elected – as presidents of governments people who are not qualified to assume these responsibilities, even in countries of great relevance.
Spain will connect its image with intelligence through chess at the Universal Expo in Dubai, whose inauguration is scheduled for October 20, and in previous actions; between them, an online world school tournament that has already been called. Such a decision is supported by history and current events. The Arabs brought chess in the 9th century. Alfonso X promoted it as a tool for good coexistence between Muslims, Jews and Christians in the XIII. It was in Spain -probably in Valencia- where modern chess was born in the late 15th century, with the queen (absent in the Arabic) as the most powerful piece; and the Spanish exported it to much of America and Europe. Since 1988, Spain is every year the country that organizes more international tournaments. Ten of the 17 autonomous communities have already introduced it as an educational tool during school hours, following the recommendations of the European Parliament (2012) and the Congress of Deputies (unanimously, 2015). And there are solid experiences, as well as scientific studies, on its great utility as a gymnasium of the mind to challenge brain aging and Alzheimer’s, and also with special people: blindness and other disabilities, autism, ADHD, Down syndrome, serious mental disorders , rehabilitation of drug addicts, prisoners, unemployed, indigent, etc., as reflected in a great report from EL PAÍS SEMANAL on June 16, 2019.
Chess has been in this newspaper every day since it appeared on May 4, 1976; with a daily column and current chronicles when it only existed on paper; and with videos, blog and much more space since the digital edition exists. That 44-year-old gamble and everything explained in this article prompted me to come to Yekaterinburg despite everything, to relate how eight gladiators of the mind continue to fight under the threat of the coronavirus.
In addition to working as a journalist for EL PAÍS, Leontxo García is FIDE’s educational chess advisor and commissioner of Spain at the Universal Expo Dubai 2020