Election Address from Malcolm Pein

Once or twice in a generation, an opportunity arises to develop the game of chess in this country. This feels like one of those moments. The success of The Queen’s Gambit and the explosion in online chess has inspired many new social players. The game’s profile has been raised in the media and the Netflix series has inspired more women and girls to play. In the first week of September there was another spate of ‘chess boom’ articles in the press, local radio and even ITN where Nigel Short appeared.

The challenge for the ECF is to nurture this social chess boom and convert some of the social players to competitive players, to the general benefit of chess organisations, clubs, leagues and congresses. With that in mind, I have concluded we need a change in direction.

Currently, the ECF is effectively an ‘enabling’ organisation that devotes itself, with limited resources to provide services to its membership base while effectively ‘outsourcing’ some areas of chess development and activity. Two obvious examples of successful ‘outsourcing’ are of course the 4NCL and Chess in Schools and Communities (CSC), which are both self-funded and have made a huge contribution.

The problem with this policy stance is that while the 4NCL and CSC are successful, it leaves a vacuum and associated opportunity cost in many other areas. I want the ECF to adopt a more ambitious and forward-looking approach that befits a governing body. It should attempt to fund raise and actively engage with government while seeking to grow the game.

There is huge potential. While ECF membership fluctuates around 10,000, the number of English based players on the major chess servers is over a million. The recent ChessFest in Trafalgar Square on July 18 run by CSC attracted 6,000 people of all ages and backgrounds, despite Covid restrictions. The vast majority were social players who had never been to a chess club.

  • The game’s development has been hampered by a lack of government support due to it having no official status, changing this should be a priority, I will try my utmost to engage with the DCMS. What was particularly pleasing about ChessFest was message of welcome from the former DCMS Minister Oliver Dowden, who described the game as both a ‘sport and a cultural pursuit’. See here:  https://www.chessinschools.co.uk/dcms- congratulates-chessfest.
  • This requires the ECF to step up as the governing body and be the initiator of ambitious plans to develop social chess and bring the game to a wider audience. 
  • As CEO my objectives would be to increase the game’s popularity both OTB and online and feed players into our traditional mainstays of clubs, congresses and leagues many of which are experiencing a gradual decline with older membership.
  • Covid has put significant strain on ECF finances making the allocation of approximately £200,000 of investments, cash and other assets that remain in the BCF an important issue. The BCF/ECF structure should be streamlined ASAP and these legacy assets secured in a tax-efficient manner for the benefit of members:
  • A priority use of some of these assets should be buttressing the ECF financial reserves to limit or avoid entirely any possible increase in membership fees.
  • A portion of the funds should be allocated over the next three years to aiding Covid recovery of clubs, leagues and congresses. I would focus on the areas highlighted by clubs in the recent survey (ECF Website). See here for further details.
  • The ECF Strategy Statement and Business Plan states that the BCF and legacy assets should be moved to the Chess Trust charity. I am against these funds being moved anywhere other than the ECF without significant safeguards. In the coming weeks I will be detailing a proposal and have tabled motions to Council which will amend the motion passed in 2018, pre Covid, when circumstances differed.

Malcolm Pein