Chess to get funding boost to foster young talent

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Rishi Sunak watches a child playing chess on a visit to a US school in WashingtonImage source, Reuters

Image caption,

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has previously said he wants to get more children playing chess

English chess is set to get a funding boost to help foster young talent.

Bloomberg has reported that the government is to announce £500,000 of funding for the English Chess Federation, alongside plans to expand chess in schools and public parks.

An announcement is expected later this month and the federation said it was in talks with the government over how to best invest in the game.

It said the money was “potentially transformational”.

Chess is not officially recognised as a sport in England, which means it can not access funding from Sport England.

Malcolm Pein, the federation’s director of international chess, told the BBC this would be the first time the UK government had financially backed the national team.

Neither Downing Street nor the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport would comment.

However, Mr Pein said the federation was expecting funding to be announced this month.

He said that while the reported £500,000 of funding sounded like “a trivially small amount”, chess was a cheap sport so a small amount of funding could go a long way.

Mr Pein added that there were plans to invest in training camps, top coaches and cutting-edge computer analysis to support up-and-coming players.

He said the hope was that the funding could help England create more grandmasters and return the country to its number two position in the world rankings, which it reached in the 1980s.

England’s men have since slipped to 18th and their women to 24th, according to the International Chess Federation.

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

There are plans to invest in new chess tables for public places

Mr Pein, who founded the charity Chess in Schools and Communities, said there had also been discussions about installing chess tables in parks and expanding chess in schools.

Bloomberg reported that the proposals were for just 100 tables to be installed, but Mr Pein said that given there were currently thought to be only five in parks across the whole country, this would be “a good result”.

He added that the hope was that more local authorities would want to install tables if they proved popular.

Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves told BBC Radio 2 she would love to have a chess board for a park in her constituency “but it doesn’t sound like there’s many to go around”.

The former junior chess champion added: “If Rishi Sunak fancies a game of chess, I’m happy to take him on too.”

Chess saw a boom in popularity during lockdowns, with websites reporting a surge in sign-ups.

Sarah Longson, a former British ladies champion who now coaches England’s junior players, said Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit, which follows the story of a young female chess prodigy, also sparked an increase in interest, particularly among women.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the gender balance of the game was roughly 50:50 at primary school age, but it became more male-dominated in older age groups.

Mr Pein said the federation also wanted to use the funding to encourage more women to play chess.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has already expressed a desire to improve numeracy amongst the country’s children, saying he wants all pupils in England to study some maths to the age of 18.

On a visit to a US school in Washington in June, Mr Sunak spoke of his desire to get more British children playing chess, saying it was a “great skill”.

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