League faces up to masks debate

Questions hang in the air as Shropshire prepares for its first chess league season after the advent of the pandemic, including – how many people will want to play?

An emergency general meeting of players to discuss coronavirus protocols to allow face-to-face action to resume revealed huge divisions of opinion, particularly on whether face masks should be worn. Some felt that if the government was no longer making them mandatory, nor should the chess league. And the meeting heard that in one part of the country the issue was so contentious that it had resulted in a league splitting in two – with one of mask wearers, and the other of mask refuseniks.

Mark Smith of the Shrewsbury club said: “If you say to people you have got to wear a mask, there are some people who won’t play – it’s as simple as that.” Chris Lewis said there were some at Newport who would refuse to play in a mask, and a suggestion on the table to suspend the board order rules – the effect would be to allow mask-wearers and non-mask wearers to be paired against each other in matches – would avoid conflicts. Daniel Lockett wondered whether, in view of all the restrictions being discussed, they might be trying to resume face-to-face chess too soon.

In the event the meeting agreed on a rule that players must wear a mask in Shropshire league matches unless their opponent agrees to play without masks – if they do not, they will be defaulted. And the rule which requires players to be fielded in order of playing strength is being suspended for one season, to give flexibility for mask wearers and mask refuseniks to be paired against each other.

Among other measures, players are being recommended to be double vaccinated – a proposal to make this mandatory was defeated by a single vote – and to take a lateral flow test within the 24 hours before a match.