What you need to know:
- As he was putting on the niqab to conceal his identity, Stanley was obviously consumed by the innate beliefs that surrounds male dominance in chess, and indeed, in all sports disciplines
- In my opinion, such rules and beliefs encourage the dwindling of female numbers in chess, leaving a smaller pool of female chess players
The female body, in all its wondrous complexities, has for long been the object of shame, ridicule and degradation. A woman is expected to act, speak and move in a certain way. If she doesn’t, she is automatically labelled — or at least questioned — about her mannerisms.
Which is why I found it wondrous when University of Nairobi chess star Stanley Omondi camouflaged in a hijab as Millicent Owuor, in order to compete in the women’s section of the 2023 Kenya Open Chess Championship last Friday.
Note that Stanley, or Millicent, had options. He could compete in the ‘open’ category where both male and female players are allowed. But no. He chose the women’s class. His reason? The financial problems that he is grappling with at the university pushed him to cheat. He had fixed his eyes on the Sh500,000 cash prize for the women’s section winner, all the while forfeiting the cash prize in the men’s section, which was double the women’s, at Sh1 million.
It tells you everything you need to know about this complex issue of sexism that exists in sports. It calls to mind another incident that happened seven years ago in Spain where soccer star Brenda Perez, who now features for Portuguese club Sporting, disguised herself as a man and played among men to quash the existing gender stereotypes in sport.
You can find the video online if you type “El Hormiguero”, but what happened is that Brenda went undercover as a male footballer named Dani Perez. She threw on a wig, latex face mask, facial hair and seven hours of makeup, then stepped onto the pitch. There she ran rings around her opponents for a while, and then when it was time for a penalty kick, she pulled off her wig and peeled off the fake beard. Only her coach and the referee knew about her true identity, and when she removed the disguise to take the penalty, her opponents’ jaws dropped as they wondered how on earth they had been outplayed by a woman.
Now, back to Stanley, aka Millicent. He now says he is waiting to defend himself before the Chess Kenya Disciplinary Committee. Against what? I wonder. I believe his intentions are clear to all. As he was putting on the niqab to conceal his identity, Stanley was obviously consumed by the innate beliefs that surrounds male dominance in chess, and indeed, in all sports disciplines. The belief that women are intellectually inferior to men.
I can understand why there are separate leagues for men's or women's disciplines such as football, basketball, tennis and boxing, simply because of the shear physicality of the game.
But, chess is a mental sport, essentially requiring no physical prowess. So why do we still have rules that supports segregation? Why do we have separate chess titles for men and women? Oh, and why is the cash prize for the female category half of the men’s? Have women not protested this?
In my opinion, such rules and beliefs encourage the dwindling of female numbers in chess, leaving a smaller pool of female chess players. Is it a wonder, therefore, that there has never been a female world champion? That the best female player has always been ranked substantially lower than the best male player? Obviously, this is a controversial subject, but an interesting one!