Chess withdrawal from Africa Games reversed

By John Tuerijama

THE controversial decision taken by the 2019 Africa Games Local Organising Committee (LOC) to withdraw the chess team from the continental games has been set aside as the team formally left for Rabat, Morocco on Tuesday.

National head coach of Team Namibia Otto Nakapunda when contacted said the decision by the LOC has been withdrawn following a successful appeal by the local chess leadership. “We appealed and eventually the LOC chairperson, Letu Hamhola, reversed the decision after we successfully presented our case.”

Asked what were the reasons communicated to the chess leadership on the withdrawal of the team, Nakapunda said the reason given was that chess was apparently not competitive enough.

He added that the successful appeal had the LOC consider the facts presented causing them to eventually nullify the withdrawal. However, the withdrawal had serious ramifications on the team’s preparation for the continental spectacle as the training programme was disrupted and players demoralised by the decision taken.

“We however managed to get the decision reversed and the LOC decided that it’s worth taking the chess team to the Africa spectacle. We will do very good at the games and certainly make Namibia proud.” said the national team head coach.

“We are not going to be the whipping boys of the event nor are they (opponent) going to run over us,” stressed Nakapunda. He said that as for their podium aspirations his charges would go all out to take on the very best on the continent and were anticipating tough competition from players, with Egypt being the favourite to scoop gold.

Nakapundu acknowledged that the disruption of the training programme will surely have the players not compete at the very top of their game, but nonetheless expressed confidence in the players.

Namibia will feature the country’s senior national team champion Nicola Tjaronda, who has an illustrious chess career locally, while fellow compatriot veteran chess player Charles Eichab is is expected to be equal to the task.

The national coach further said the team’s objective is to wrap the competition in eighth position notwithstanding the fact that North African countries are powerhouses in African chess.

Namibia Chess Federation (NCF) president Israel Shilongo is confident that with the country’s top four chess players he is hopeful of a good showing in Morocco. He said the format for this year’s edition has changed following the introduction of a mixed team.

Shilongo said the country’s top two players in the men and women’s teams are equally experienced and capable of causing an upset. He said players are well prepared as they took part in the national chess league with each player, especially Tjaronda and Eichab, having represented Namibia at more than 10 Olympiads. The NCF president said both Tjaronda and Eichab have the necessary experience to outshine their competitors, whilst the four players are also expected to do well in their individual competitions.

He echoed Nakapunda’s sentiments that Egypt are definitely the favourites to walk away with gold medal while Algeria and Zambia are the other two countries expected to fare reasonably well at the games.

Players are Charles Eichab, Dante Beukes (men), Lishen Mentile and Nicola Tjaronda (female) with Otto Nakapunda as head coach.