Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"Un pueblo abierto"

Last week saw Zaragoza play host to the individual championship of Aragón, and what I'd like to do is present you with some kind of report. I shall, however, not be doing so, since, in a mean-spirited action which still has me spitting blood several months after I first heard of it, the Aragonese Chess Federation decided to change its rules this year - and, in an act of official discrimination just about as blatant as can be imagined, excluded non-Spaniards from taking part in the competition.

Hence, although I live and work in Aragón, although I am a member of the Federation and pay no less for the privilege than anybody else, I am not permitted to play in its championship. I live here, but I do not belong here. I am an outsider. I am persona non grata.

This is not, as I have said, some ancient tradition, understandable but sadly in need of modernisation in the 21st century. This is new. This is a rule change made this year. Somebody had to think it up, to pass it at a meeting and to write it down, to ask what impact it would have and decide that if anybody was affected by it, if anybody was unhappy about it, it didn't matter. Somebody had to decide that it was all right to discriminate.

Note that this is not a national championship, but a regional one. It is not the championship of Spain, but the championship of Aragón. There might be a case for restricting entry to Aragonese players, for sure, though even then one might wonder if it would be more civilised, more inclusive, to include those who had been resident in Aragón for a certain period. I could understand that. But that is not the case. You can be Galician, Cantabrian, Extremeduran, Andalusian, Catalonian or what you will. You do not have to live in Aragón, which I do. That's OK. But live here and be a foreigner - and no matter what contribution you make to Aragonese life, the door is barred. And you're supposed to be all right with that.

What's the reason? Ostensibly, the reason is that the competition is a qualifier for the Spanish championship, which does have the sort of entry restrictions I mention above. Uh-huh. Except that, as everybody knows, in those circumstances all you have to do is restrict the qualifying places to people who are qualified. As happens in all sorts of competitions, in chess and other sports. You don't have to restrict entry to the whole qualifying competition. You only do that if you want to.

Why am I so angry about this? Well, perhaps you have to have been on the wrong end of discrimination to understand it, but basically, as I say, I live here. I am not transient. I moved here and I moved here in order to stay here. This is supposed to be my home. But home is a place where you belong. It is not a place where the doors are slammed against you. If they are, then you can never belong and it can never be home. And I am angry about that. I'm angry about the sheer needlessness of it and the sheer bloody stupidity involved. Why on earth should it be hard, why should it be a struggle, just to play chess?

Because chess is everyday life. It's not a difficult social issue involving housing shortages or health services or political rights. It's everyday life. You cannot bar people from everyday life. You cannot say that people may not come into this or that bar or that they cannot enter this or that shop or that they may not enter your chess tournament. And if you do any of those things, they are going to be angry about it and they are going to have an opinion about the people who do it. You exclude, you discriminate, when you absolutely have to. And not otherwise.

When I first heard about this rule change I wrote to the secretary of the Federation to say how upset I was. We then had a short exchange of emails, which, whatever its intention, made me angrier than before. It wasn't just being told that it wasn't "personal" (nor was it "personal" when the State of Alabama decreed that people should rink at separate water fountains). It was being told the following:
puedo decirle que Aragón es un pueblo abierto y hospitalario y los ajedrecistas aragoneses tambien
"I can tell you that Aragon is an open and hospitable place and Aragonese chessplayers are the same".

Now, in the circumstances, I don't know quite what to make of that. But I do know that there are words for people who discriminate and there are also words for people who say one thing while they are doing the opposite. And if this rule-change is not reversed, I am inclined, very soon, to start using them.


Jonathan B said...

Not much to say about this except that it is, as an Australian social worker I once you knew used to say of such things, not cool.

Jonathan B said...

and possibly without any legal basis.

I can't imagine anything so direct happening in Britain. Perhaps our native discrimation is more subtle.

ejh said...

Well, I don't really want to make a Britain v Spain match out of it, that's not really the point. But the directness of it is startling, yes.

Anonymous said...

"I can't imagine anything so direct happening in Britain. Perhaps our native discrimation is more subtle."

Oh, I don't know ... we stopped the ancient tradition of allowing commonwealth players to play in the British Championship, whereas we could have just stopped them winning the titles. Isn't that much the same?

Mike G.

ejh said...

It's an interesting point Mike, and it had occurred to me: it's partly (though not solely) for that reason that I made it clear I'd have had no objection if the Aragonese championship was actually for the Aragonese, as opposed to anybody who happened to be Spanish.

I think there's also a residence qualification for the British Championship as presently constituted - is it three years? - which is partly why I also mentioned that in the piece! The idea of residence qualifications, of course, is to include rather than to exclude, becuase it seeks to allow non-nationals to play, provided they're actually part of society and not just there for a few weeks to accumulate prize money and bugger off. It's a good system, I think.

For what it's worth, I was somewhat against the change you refer to - and the fact that the removal of the Commonwealth players wasn't exactly followed by a return to the Championship of all the people who'd complained about them helps to explain why.