FM Joseph Mwale – Does The ‘Punishment’ Fit the ‘Crime’?

Ukotupenga.

An African Proverb

It is about two weeks to go before the start of the FIDE World Cup and the FIDE Women’s World Cup. What was meant to be a gracious Wild Card inclusion, is turning into a controversial and potentially divisive issue in African chess. Opinions have also been swinging wildly on opposite sides of the spectrum.

The ongoing saga between the chess athlete and his Federation president gives cause for us to look at the contentious but important issue of talent management in athletes on the African continent.

In the space of a few weeks, Joseph has gone from having his praises sung by the Malawian press, for outstanding chess performance at the recently concluded Africa Individual Chess Championships, having a commendation approved by the FIDE president to allow him play at the upcoming Chess World cup (as a wild card), to having his participation revoked by the CHESSAM administration for undesirable behavior.

Malawi champion Joseph Mwale in happier times| Pic by Chris Loka, Nyasa Times.

Who is FM Joseph Mwale and why should anyone care?

Well he is only the record holder for the youngest ever National Chess Champion in the whole of Africa and has an endless string of chess accolades to his name. The 28 year old Mwale is Malawi’s cherished number 1 player and is yet to lose a game of chess to another Malawian in the last four (4) years (according to him). The latter part of the question is the more difficult to unpack.

After the Africa Individual Chess Championships were concluded, CHESSAM president Susan Namangale wrote to FIDE and made a case for a Malawian player to be allowed to participate in the upcoming FIDE World Cup.

Africa’s four (4) World Cup slots were all swooped up by the undeniably strong Egyptian contingent. Mwale’s performance was mentioned specifically as outstanding and he was granted a Wild Card slot alongside other players like Russia’s Rudik Makarian and Kirill Shubin.

Also from other regions are: Dommaraju Gukesh (India), Jergus Pechac (Slovakia), Nijat Abasov (Azerbaijan) and Vladislav Kovalev (Belarus), who all received direct ‘wild cards’ from the FIDE President, Arkady Dvorkovich.

Joseph Mwale (R) and his replacement in the Chess World Cup, Chiletso Chipanga (L)

CHESSAM released the above statement, stating their reasons for revoking Mwale’s participation. Mwale, through various social platforms has denied the allegations (albeit in a crude, ill-refined manner) as misunderstandings. While I will not go into a detailed analysis of this statement it raises several red flags bordering on defamation, like when it stop just short of diagnosing Joseph as a mentally ill an an alcoholic.

It is my opinion that issues like those do not develop overnight and the solution cannot be to take out the rod but to assist. Joseph has gone on a rampage on social media to try and salvage some of his reputation but they way things are playing out it does not bode well for chess.

It is every chess player’s dream to play at the highest level but as we have it, the decision of CHESSAM is what stands between Joseph and a maiden FIDE World Cup participation.

The issue of deviance in sport has been widely researched and documented. Academic researchers have even created a branch of study called “deviance in sports”, which is attached to the sports sociology tree. It is not unusual for boisterous conduct and diva tendencies to be displayed by high performers and it looks as if we are ill equipped to deal with some of the issues. Federations have to be well equipped to deal with these inevitable issues in a manner that should not harm both the country Federation and the athlete. Perhaps even the mother body, the African Chess Confederation and FIDE should set guidelines that will be universal to protect everyone involved. There have been a few unpalatable incidents by other chess Federations with no intervention from the mother bodies when there should be lessons taken and standards set for the growth of chess.

For growth to happen such incidents are unfortunate but lessons should be drawn from them.

FM Joseph Mwale in one of the numerous events he has won

So what is the next step for FM Joseph Mwale?

Joseph using social media platforms to express his frustrations

J

Joseph has taken to social media to make an announcement that he intends to leave his Federation. He has also stated that he wants to focus on growing his chess academy the the Mwale Chess Academy.

Given that such traits, as well as behaviors, always have underlying causes; a chess talent like Joseph should have been better managed an supported by all those around him.

As it pertains to chess and the issues raised by CHESSAM, is it warranted for a chess athlete to receive heavy sanction for off the board behavior in such a manner, or at all?

These are deep issues in nurturing talent. Trust me, we have certainly not heard the last of these type of issues.

One comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.