Argentina’s new Falklands gambit: a chess contest

Argentina’s new Falklands gambit: a chess contest

First they went to war in the South Atlantic, now they are fighting over a chessboard. Almost four decades after Britain and Argentina clashed over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, a chess tournament staged in Port Stanley has sparked furious British complaints of Argentine dirty tricks.

The English Chess Federation (ECF), which administers chess in the Falklands and other British overseas territories, complained to the sport’s ruling body last week that Argentina was staging “clandestine tournaments” in the Falklands as a “diplomatic provocation”.

There were mutterings in Port Stanley, the Falklands capital, of “deeply troubling” attempts to “politicise sports” and advance Argentina’s “erroneous” claim to sovereignty over the islands.

The fuss has arisen from an event billed as the Chess Tournament of the SouthIslands, supposedly featuring a pair of veterans from the Argentine-British conflict of 1982. A Royal Navy lieutenant, named by the organisers as Marc Villiers Towsend [sic], took on an Argentine officer, Colonel Major Jose Jimenez Corbalan, and was soundly beaten in the four-game tournament in March. He lost by two games to one with one game drawn.

It was not the sting of British defeat that upset the islanders; it was a move by the official arbiter to register the tournament as having taken place onArgentine land. The official, Mario Petrucci, the president of the Argentine Chess Federation, is also on the executive board of Fide, the world chess governing body.

Argentina’s chess federation fuelled the fire by referring to the players as “Malvinas ex-combatants” —using the Argentine name for the islands —and to Port Stanley as Puerto Argentino.

All this proved too much for islanders, who complained of a dastardly Argentine move to play out of turn with bogus pawns.

Mark Pollard, the chairman of theislands’ legislative assembly, thundered in a letter to the president of Fide: “We are a self-governed British overseas territory and the assertion that these tournaments officially took place in ‘Argentina’ is a serious affront to our fundamental human rights under the Charter of the United Nations.”

Pollard also discovered that another tournament held on the islands in 2018 had been registered as having taken place in Argentina.

The ECF, whose president is Dominic Lawson, a Sunday Times columnist, backedPollard’s complaint.

Asked by this newspaper for assurances that Britain stands ready to defend the Falklands from impertinent Argentine chess players, Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, responded in a tweet: “We’re with the ECF on this. The Falkland Islands are part of the United Kingdom: the status of this particular square on the board is not in question.”

Twitter users immediately pointed out that the islands are an overseas territory, 8,000 miles from the UK.

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