New chess centres to target Omani children: OCC Chief

Laila al Najjar (right) exchanges agreement papers with Mohammed al Hasani (left) as Sheikh Mahfoudh looks on

The game of chess is all about making the right moves. The bosses of the sport in Oman seem to be making the right moves, too, as they focus on taking chess to far-flung corners of the country and tapping young talent. 

With this initiative in mind, the Oman Chess Committee (OCC) has chosen to pair up with The Zubair Corporation as they signed a one-year partnership deal at the Oman Olympic Committee (OOC) headquarters on Tuesday.

In her remarks to Muscat Daily, Laila al Najjar, the chairwoman of the OCC, said, “The partnership will be the backbone on which we will launch three new centres in Ibri, Sohar and Salalah in the coming days. The centres, to be run free of cost, are aimed at attracting Omani kids in the age-group of eight to 16 years.

“We already began a centre in Muscat recently and we are keen to take the game across the country. We hope that based on the success of the new centres, we will be able to open a further three centres - in Ibra, Barka and Nizwa - by the end of the year.”

Laila was recently picked as vice-chairwoman of the newly-formed Gulf Chess Federation. As per the OCC's plans, the centres will be open for boys and girls, and would be managed by Omani coaches, who would undergo training under national team coach Basheer al Qudaimi of Yemen.

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A file photo of young Omani players taking part in a domestic competition organised by the Ministry of Sports Affairs and the Oman Chess Committee

The national chess body's priority is to build a pool of age-group players, according to Ahmed al Balushi, the OCC secretary. “The centres will enable us to scout for the best age-group players from across Oman,” he said. “So far, we've had only the youth (U18) and men's teams. We plan to have national teams in U8, U10, U12, U14 and U16 categories. Once the teams are ready, we will send them overseas for competitions as they can improve by getting international exposure.”

A total of 560 players are registered with the OCC, which is aiming to push the numbers up to 1,000 by the end of 2017. “The majority of the players [registered with the OCC] are seniors and we do not have many young players,” rued Balushi. “This is why we have shifted our focus on age-group teams.”

The new centres will run thrice a week with two sessions planned for each day, informed OCC member Azza al Balushi, adding that plans are on to host an international open tournament in February, followed by two more open events.

STARS LIKE ANAND COULD BE INVITED

On the OCC's plans of bringing reputed names to Oman for tournaments, Laila said, “Stars like Vishwanathan Anand are a big draw in the country and we are open to the idea of inviting some of them to Oman. Their presence will help chess gain popularity here.”

MASHIKHI IS OMAN’S TOP-RATED PLAYER

A growing number of Omani players have made it to the FIDE (world chess governing body) rating list, and national coach Qudaimi insists that playing more tournaments will help improve the ratings. “Most of our players are good in the rapid and blitz formats. There are fewer players in the standard format. Out of the 40 ranked players, only 24 have Elo rating in standard format with FM Salim al Mashikhi the top-rated player with 2,109 points,” said Qudaimi.

Amer al Maashani (2,025), Salim al Amri (2,024), Said Ahmed Fadhil (2,006) and Amin al Ansi (1,945) complete Oman's top five. The OCC will conduct a tournament for Omani players next month in order to pick the national team. The competition would be held in two stages, with the second round featuring top ten players from which the best five will take part in an international event in Sharjah, UAE in March.

‘AGREEMENT IS RESULT OF MONTHSOF DISCUSSIONS’

Mohammed al Hasani, the chief of corporate communication at The Zubair Corporation, said the agreement was 'a result of months of discussions' between the OCC and the OOC.

“Chess is one of the emerging sports in Oman. We would like to join hands with them in their journey that aims to bring laurels for the sultanate,” said Hasani.

The agreement ceremony was attended by Khalid al Zubair, the OOC chief, Sheikh Mahfoudh al Juma, an OOC board member, Taha al Kishry, the OOC's secretary-general, and other officials.

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