Thursday, July 5, 2007
CONTROVERSY IN KENYAN CHESS TEAM SELECTION
By paul maloba
Is there anything that can be done here??
This decision was reached by the executive of Chess Kenya after Kenya sports
council only allotted 5 slots to chess instead of the earlier anticipated
number which was to include; men's team (6 – Ben Magana, Ben Nguku, Akello
Atwoli, Wycliffe Obutu, Steve Ouma and Martin Gateri), women's team, two
coaches (Atwoli Lukoye – Men and Isaac Babu- Women) and a team manager
(Lawrence Kagambi). The teams were selected after a round robin tournament
late last year
The cut number saw a reduced number of both officials and team to 5; Ben
Magana, Ben Nguku, Steve Ouma, Akello Atwoli and Lawrence Kagambi- official.
The criterion that was used to select the team of four was based on, in
1. Order of qualification
2. Medal prospects
4. Discipline and commitment to team
The final line up of the team was selected with Obutu and Gateri being left
I am basically questioning, limiting the comparison to Obutu and Ouma. I
have raised some of these questions with the team elect (including Steve
Ouma in a long phone conversation), Larry Kagambi (in along phone
conversation, unfortunately severally my efforts to meet him and further
discuss this bore no fruit – I'm to wait for two more weeks to meet him.
That is what lead me to do this mail), and several chess players.
1. Appropriateness of the criterion
A good friend of mine told me that *'we are unable to see the forest because
of the trees', *we lose focus of the big picture because of technicalities.
Processes are there to support the objective and should never supercede it.
Good performance and future of chess in my opinion should've been the
The four point criteria was quite innovative of Chess Kenya, when a decision
had to be made and I acknowledge that
a. Order of qualification
This being listed as the first criteria I presumed it carried more weight
(in my opinion, justifiably so). the order of qualification is as their name
appears in the first paragraph above
b. Medal prospects
Shock unto you, Steve scored highly than Obutu on this, because he has more
international exposure. Anyone who has been following recent tournament
results would bet that Obutu plays superior chess than Steve (It can be
proved further by playoffs) plus this is an upcoming player a learning curve
chances are that his tomorrow's chess will be better than his today's. How I
see it is that (for medal prospects) if your chess strengths are equal then
the alternative of 'international exposure' can be looked at. Debutants,
Nguku and Wachania registered impressive performances in their first outings
if this is anything to go by.
This was attendance to training sessions, Here Steve scored the highest
13/13! and this must have greatly tilted the weight to his favor. Obutu had
8/13. Attendance was vital since KNSC (Kenya National Sports Council) could
do an impromptu visit to check on the player's seriousness in practice to
determine their chances of retaining their slot in teams to Algeria.
Unfortunately players used to show up to play blitz. The coach made a
program that was to start with a rapid round robin tournament, this
happened, but there after players used to just show up to sign in, its
apparent that at times Obutu could show up and end up reading his class
work, further more UoN students had exams and CATs coming up thus they had
THERE WAS NO TRAINING TAKING PLACE. CK had frequent meetings with the player
emphasizing on the importance of attendance and warning/threatening that
this could jeopardize their future (in my opinion this is why CK wants to
show their iron fist, for being ignored after repeated warnings). Well it
almost appears that CK have a case here but look at it this way, CK take
time to hold meetings and discuss the importance of attendance but are not
taking steps to ensure activity during these sessions, infact the players
were complaining that its becoming more and more senseless. Considering the
neglect on CK to their duty, they should have exempted players from these
criteria. You do not warn against doing a wrong while your self you do
wrongs with impunity and expect utter obedience.
d. Discipline and commitment to team
Here Steve outdid Obutu, more or less due to the attendance, and perhaps
because of some antagonistic characteristics and utterances that the
upcoming players (Obutu and Atwoli) have been showing.
Well considering their level of maturity some of this is expected, the mode
of punishment has to be weighed. You don't use a shot gun on your
indisciplined son. More so the approach CK was taking in tackling issues
left a lot to be desired, even to the older players. Use of threats is not
so apt while leading/dealing people/team.
1. Discontent in chess fraternity.
Interestingly enough all the chess players I have talked to so far (with the
exception of Mr. Kagambi and Mr.Ouma) feel the same, this includes the
current elected team members! Who were also very bitter about this
*Why isn't any one saying anything?* Well, while replying to this mail, you
will be saying something (your honest opinion, you don't have to share my
For the future of chess most players saw it fit not to air our dirty linen
in public lest chess loses an opportunity of all African games
The elect team (excluding Steve) see the unity of the team as key to
performance (they are eyeing for medals) and wouldn't want to raise any
antagonism which could leave Steve feeling unwanted (I must apologize to the
team, for this mail goes against their wishes. But I feel that laying low on
this would be a bigger crime) this came out after I suggested to them that
if they strongly feel the decision was wrong as they are saying, why not act
and write a letter to Chess Kenya expressing the same? One of the players
told me that CK stated that if the men's team wasn't up to it, then they
could replace it with the women's team – perhaps CK can clarify this
If Chess was to be a democracy, this decision would definitely be thrown out
the window, but with the status quo, unfortunate conclusions are being drawn
(some of which may be inaccurate) e.g. Chess Kenya is a one man show,
dictatorship, favoritism, personal interest, corrupt, sleeping… (I beg to
clarify that am neither insinuating nor accusing, much as this comments have
been mentioned in my presence, I don't intend to digress from the issues am
raising, like I said before I don't entirely agree with all of them) my
point is that ivory towers and iron fists explains why some members jump to
conclusion. While managing people, if some fundamental requirements aren't
met then such behaviour is inevitable.
*Points trying to explain this decision for instance include;*
• * 'perhaps you need to look at it from chess Kenya's side and
you'll see it makes sense'* as Steve mentioned to me: I have been trying a
lot to do this but from what I have gathered so far over the phone it still
doesn't add up, setting up a meeting wasn't fruitful either.
• '*The criteria'* as CK indicate in their letter to Obutu. In my
opinion this still favors Obutu over steve, otherwise perhaps they could
have agreed of the criteria with the team (since it was a novelty-
consultation seems apt) and ensure its just before executing it.
• '*Where is the justice in throwing out the man who has been there
for the team? – Steve had a 100% attendance*' as Steve mentioned to me. I
must confess that this is the point I started seeing it a bit differently
and noting that perhaps CK didn't just act for favoritism's sake, that maybe
they had an argument… but for the sake of seeing the '*forest*' this stint
dint last for long. Steve did great, unfortunately the slots for chess were
cut down to five, the proper criteria 'the forest' - Good performance and
future of chess, leaves him out. If the disciplinary case against Obutu
would have been major then e.g. fight (disrespectful heated argument) with
CK, absconding training/showups in total or misbehavior in camp then his
exclusion would have been warranted.
• '*Don't say I didn't warn you*…' this is (my opinion) what makes
sense to me, otherwise, favoritism. But like I said, the slap is not
warranted, the punishment does not commensurate the indiscipline, CK's
neglect in training schedule wasn't a morale booster as such.
• '*Obutu is young and still has future chances'* as Obutu's regret
letter after his appeal read, in fact it acknowledged the fact that he is an
upcoming player. This is absurd.
1. what the future holds
In a recent tournament 'Uganda Open' in Kampala, more than 60% of
participants were young upcoming competitors from primary, high school and
colleges, it was magnificent, on this, Kenya has a lot to work on to attain.
Again in a recent interuniversity sports tournament of East Africa in Uganda,
University of Nairobi (Ben Nguku, Obutu, Atwoli and George Mwangi) took the
title. This tells you that despite our poor development of young chess we
have a crop of young, strong chess players (it in fact they made 50% of the
Kenya team). My question to CK is, are we reading from the same scripts?
It's a rather an unfortunate reward for work well done.
1. Conflict of interest
It happens to be that Steve is a member of CK executive committee (but Larry
assured me that he didn't sit in the meeting that deliberated on this
decision), eye brows get raised when a contentious decision which raises so
many questions involves/favors one of the executive members.
Conclusion – walk the talk
CK has the authority to make decisions (whether good or bad) we mandated
them to do so, but when injustices of such magnitude happen (especially to
those who lack tact of stand for them selves), how do we address them?