I was at a Chess in Schools event in Newham last week. It wasn't the first training day for people interested in the teaching of chess in primary schools that CSC had run, but it was the first one that was oversubcribed. More people wanting to go than there was room for? In the circumstances it was kind of them to ask me along to see what was going on.
As it happens the day before I headed East I discovered* that, according to FIDE's May 2013 list, there are only forty registered English female players rated above 1600. Everybody knows that very few women play competitive chess, of course, but even within that context forty for an entire nation strikes me as an embarrasingly low figure. If every male chesser other than me suddenly stopped playing/failed to renew their ECF membership tomorrow even my somewhat deflated rating would be sufficient to see me pushing top twenty in the country.
Matt Fletcher has crunched some numbers and come up with the following stats:
Percentage active female chessplayers rated 1600 and above
Percentage of active (i.e.: X, A, B or C) English chessers with an ECF grade
125 and above:1.7 (58 of 3504)
175 and above: 1.6 (12 of 744)
Percentage of female players on the FIDE list
1600 and above: 6.7%
2000 and above: 4.7%
In fact, Matt says, there is not a single nation with 1,000 or more registered players where the rate of female involvement in the game rises above 15%**.
That was the day before the CSC training day. The day after I read Marina Hyde's piece in the Guardian about Muirfield Golf Club's refusal to accept women members. Happily such nonsense would be unthinkable in a chess club - hardly bastions of progressive thinking - but then again there's not much need for most clubs to introduce a rule which explicitly states that women can't join is there?
Which brings us back to CSC.
Needless to say, 'the good of the game of chess' is insufficient justification to spend money that would otherwise go to education. Not a single penny and certainly not the £689,000 grant that the Education Endowment Foundation has just awarded to the CSC. No, that money is being spent "to test the impact of structured chess instruction" on the kids' education. Nobody gives a damn about whether or not they end up playing competitive chess later life, and rightly so.
Still, if a side benefit happens to be that more girls are introduced to the game then that can only be a good thing. If more of those girls come to see chess as something for them to enjoy as much as boys then that's just dandy too. And if some of those girls do go on to play club or tournament chess then the situation will be a tad less embarrassing than it is now and the world will be a slightly better place.
* thanks to a post from Lawrence Cooper on the EC Forum