Chess struggling to stay alive in Afghanistan after Taliban takeover

In only one phrase, uttered coldly, Sepehr Sekhawaty, captures the plight of chess in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover, “Horrible.”

However he says he has no complaints, for he’s comfortable simply to be alive and enjoying the sport, a privilege not many might afford.

After the Taliban recapture, they banned girls from all sports activities and commenced the clampdown on these streams they thought had been at odds with their doctrine. Chess, they believed, was a type of playing and distracted folks from saying their prayers, moreover carrying the Soviet stigma. Although they haven’t banned the sport formally, like they did throughout their earlier reign, they’ve chopped its arms.

The hardships of being a chess participant in a rustic illiberal to the sport, and an extension, most sports activities, is immeasurable, he says. Fearing Taliban’s backlash, most chess golf equipment shut store frantically, most chess gamers stopped enjoying, and even the federation officers fled. The president sought refuge in Latvia whereas a number of others migrated to Uzbekistan. “For months, I had nobody to play chess with. Even the federation’s president has fled the nation. So have plenty of senior gamers and officers. I performed on their own in my room,” says Sepehr, who’s from Herat, 900-odd kilometres from Kabul.

Or when there was electrical energy and web, he would browse chess web sites, obtain diagrams of video games that featured the highest 100 gamers, performed a couple of video games and, if time permitted, learn up on his favorite participant, Bobby Fischer. Overlook teaching camps, he has not met his Olympiad colleagues in months. To get into groove earlier than the Olympiad, he travelled a back-breaking 600-odd kilometres by highway to Tehran to compete in three tournaments. “I began enjoying the sport alone once I was seven, and now I’m 19, and I’m nonetheless alone. There’s no coach or colleague. Most of them have fled the nation, and I’m simply managing to play chess due to my supportive father. However I can’t maintain troubling him without end,” he says.

Sepehr Sekhawaty performs a sport of chess. (Instagram)

The Chess Olympiad was his dream, a dream that he practically didn’t realise. He had hardly any cash of his personal to purchase tickets. “There was no funding and all we bought as a stipend was USD 25 in three months. Fortunately, my father purchased me the tickets, and I hope the federation would repay me after I attain Chennai,” he says.

An even bigger hurdle was getting the federal government’s nod. For a number of weeks, he was unsure of travelling to Chennai as his authorities stored refusing permission. He would anxiously verify the information or data from his associates within the media. Lastly, final Saturday, he bought the approval.

Sepehr Sekhawaty with a trophy. (Instagram)

As suffocating was the concern of the Maroof, the spiritual police. The chess fraternity fears a ban on the game as occurred in 1996. The previous tales stored haunting them — the police would burn chessboards, items, imprison them for weeks, slap fines and difficulty threats of chopping off their palms in the event that they performed the sport once more. Chess gamers, petrified of denunciation, needed to meet in secret. However even that stopped when the police intensified the crackdowns.

Reversing the progress

Unshackled after the exit of the Taliban 20 years in the past, chess had begun to prosper once more. “Over the last 5 years, chess was rising quickly. We might afford to rent a Grandmaster as coach, began branches in 28 provinces throughout the nation, had round 10,000 energetic gamers and organised the FIDE Arbiter and Trainers seminar in 2019,” particulars former nationwide federation normal secretary Abasin Mohibi.

Sepehr too might journey overseas for competitions and was once a daily in tournaments in India and Iran, at a time when he amassed a wealth of expertise and factors. However fewer tournaments naturally meant a stagnation in factors (he has managed solely 1809).

Sepehr Sekhawaty. (Instagram)

The emergence was additional stamped after Afghanistan claimed gold in Class D of the Chess Olympiad in 2019. However all that progress has turned the wrong way up within the final 11 months.

“Eleven months into the Taliban rule, there has not been a single official match, seminar or any associated actions. Most federation officers have left the nation. In some provinces, chess has been banned. The feminine division of the federation is at the moment shut. There isn’t a energetic feminine participant both,” narrates Mohibi.

The Taliban has been particularly extreme on girls athletes. A number of needed to flee the nation, many others needed to stop their streams altogether and burn paperwork or gear that betrayed they had been sportspersons. Even girls’s cricket was stopped — throughout their final regime, Taliban forbade girls and women from receiving an schooling or working as properly. Mohibi sighs: “Persons are busy rebuilding lives. It’s a tough life for us.”

Fleeing the nation appears the one real looking various to forge a profession in chess, although Sepehr doesn’t wish to go away his nation. “I actually love and take care of my nation,” he says emotionally, however concedes he would finally look out. “I’ll positively settle for any provide from international locations the place chess is vital in order that I can attain my targets and targets. However who would need me?” he asks, in a deflated tone.

However Sepehr is unwilling to surrender. “I wish to win the person gold in Board Three and assist the group win the gold medal in our class. That will imply one thing in these occasions,” he says. A gold that might be a metaphor of defiance, although they might not be paraded as heroes once they return residence.

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