In May 2011, Ched Evans, informed by a friend that he had "got a bird", went round to that room where his friend was with a woman in an extremely intoxicated condition. The woman was not known to him. He engaged in sexual intercourse with that woman, about which a judge would later say:
The complainant was 19 years of age and was extremely intoxicated. CCTV footage shows, in my view, the extent of her intoxication when she stumbled into your friend. As the jury have found, she was in no condition to have sexual intercourse. When you arrived at the hotel, you must have realised that.While this was occurring, Mr Evans' friends watched and attempted to film what was going on. Mr Evans later left the room by the fire escape. Subsequently he was convicted of rape, since that is what sexual intercourse without consent actually is. He served half of a five-year sentence and subsequently has attempted to resume his career as a professional footballer, having been connected first with Sheffield United (his former side) and then - this week - Oldham Athletic.
Very many people, including the present writer, find this objectionable. People's reasons for thinking so vary but among those reasons are that Mr Evans' victim remains unable to resume any kind of normal life. She has had to change her name and identity and move house several times to escape abuse and threats from supporters of Mr Evans. Her plight cannot be separated from Mr Evans' continued campaign against her.
Obviously other people disagree with this and a public discussion, not characterised by its good-temperedness, continues to take place. Meanwhile Mr Evans continues to deny that the crime of rape took place, which he is entitled to do: however, at the present time he remains a convicted rapist. (It shouldn't be necessary to stress this, but it is, not least because it is remarkable how much comment on the case makes no attempt to acquaint itself with any facts1. This is also why I have gone to some detail above. It is quite important to know what the case against Mr Evans was. It's kind of the minimum level of knowledge necessary to comment.)
Now the reason I am discussing this on a chess blog is that - perhaps naturally, since both football and chess are important to me - I have wondered what would happen if there was a similar situation in English chess, rather than English football. Wondered, and not idly, because chess does have to think about these things. (We have, for instance, had sex offenders in our community before.)
So, could we rely on English chess officials - representatives of a community made up overwhelmingly of men - to show a proper understanding of what such a case entailed? To take rape sufficiently seriously?
As a guide, here's a comment made by Alex Holowczak. Alex Holowczak is a member of the Board of the English Chess Federation. Specifically, he is the Director of Home Chess.
How does Alex Holowczak approach the question of Ched Evans? The answer is that he has a good deal of sympathy with how poor Mr Evans is being picked on, especially by the BBC.
OK. So Alex Holowczak is a fool, as is anyone who cannot see why a convicted rapist is described as a convicted rapist when the point at issue is that he is a convicted rapist. Well, there are a lot of fools about, though few of them have been so foolish as to imagine that the BBC are deliberately making a "hate figure" of Ched Evans by calling him a convicted rapist.
But what, say, of "easy target"?
Mr Evans is not, of course, an easy target. Easy targets aren't the sort of people who have wealth and influence and expensive people to plead their case. They're not targets at all. Easy targets are the sort of people who have to spend three years of their lives changing their identity and on the run. They have to do this, because they are easy to target. Being described as a "convicted rapist" by the BBC doesn't make you an easy target. It makes you a convicted rapist in the news.
One could go on. But still, why pick on this particular piece of foolishness? Why not leave it in obscurity where frankly it belongs?
Partly because it's not the first time I've had cause to pass comment on Alex Holowczak, the previous2 occasion being the time he saw fit to invoke Martin Niemöller because the British Ladies' Championship changed its name to the British Women's Championship.
Truly, this gentleman has problems with perspective when issues relating to women are involved. Which, one day, might matter, given his status as a leading chess official.
Someday, something may quite possibly come up. And then it's going to be relevant, what our officials actually think.
Now on that previous occasion, what we learned was that though English chess will make noises about sexism and express a desire to do something about it (as its representatives did, for instance, more recently)
nevertheless, when anything actually comes up, or even if you just look behind the curtain and see what people really say and think, what you find is something else entirely. (I won't even call it sexism, in the present instance. It's something deeper, more visceral.) And English chess is not at all keen to be told that it has a problem where women are concerned.
Nor is chess in general. Which is maybe one reason why women interested in chess may have unpleasant experiences.
You see, it isn't about Alex Holowczak as such. It's about how chess, and English chess, and how those communities think and speak and act where women are concerned. How they will think and speak and act when something actually comes up.
So would it be different if it were happening in chess? If it were a professional chessplayer rather than a professional footballer who was involved? If it were the officialdom of English chess, rather than the FA and the boards of Sheffield United and Oldham Athletic, who were taking the decisions? Would those decisions be taken wisely, by informed people who understood what was happening and what it entailed?
Would it be any different? Would it be any better?
I think we know the answer. I think Alex Holowczak has told us.
[1 Another decent guide is Jean Hatchet's reply to Stuart Gilhooly.]
[2 Quite honestly I'd meant to let sleeping dogs lie on that particular controversy, given the rancour involved, but given its relevance to the present piece it can hardly be ignored.]
[Due to the nature of the material above, wholly anonymous comments will not be permitted on this piece.]