Friday, September 09, 2011

The Great Chessboxing Swindle runs riot in King's Cross

The freak show is back!

The chessboxing circus is back in town tomorrow, specifically at Scala in King's Cross, a show that promises four bouts to the paying public. This features, naturally, the usual selection of invented-by-Tim-Woolgar titles, including something known as the Bobby Fischer Belt and another calling itself the Women's Commonwealth Middleweight Decider. Woolgar's own British heavyweight title appears, however, not to be up for grabs.

Woolgar and co seem to be having more difficulty these days persuading reputable journalists to reproduce their nonsenses without scepticism (although Woolgar did manage to get this into Time Out, reminding this particular reader how much he used to prefer City Limits). Conceivably Private Eye may have played their part in drawing hacks' attention to the invisibility of the Emperor's New Clothes. Still, one anticipates that on Monday morning, a Google search may locate fresh and depressing examples of journalistic gullibility.

As it stands, though, where reputable journalists are not available, disreputable ones will have to do, and in this instance the disreputable journalists are a bunch of liggers and wannabees - or, it says here, "writers, agitators and culture enthusiasts" - calling themselves Run Riot, an online listings service which puffs the events it lists. As a writer, agitator and culture enthusiast surely would. Indeed on this occasion it's actually co-presenting the event, having been, it reckons, a "massive fan of Chessboxing since 2008". To this end it carries an interview with the Emperor himself, Tim Woolgar, written by one Anne Kapranos.

Oddly, the keen-as-mustard Kapranos doesn't actually feature among that list of writers, agitators and culture enthusiasts, which may be because she's not actually a journalist of any description but rather the Managing Director of Essence Communications - click on "who we are" - who are in fact a PR firm. The piece, mysteriously, fails to mention who she is, still less who she's working for.

Kapranos (right) at Hurlingham 

The piece naturally reproduces the usual Woolgar claims, including the unlikely statement that "chessboxing is incredibly popular in London", which makes me wonder how many spectator sports will muster fewer total spectators in London over the course of 2011. Let alone fewer competitors.

Talking of whom, among the scrappers this time are Ben "The Rumble" Robinson and Mark Lech, who Kapranos (or Woolgar, if you prefer, since the claim is surely his) reckons are "two very experienced chess players". That's as maybe. But neither of them has a rating to prove it. Possibly they play on the internet? So, one imagines, must most of the other competitors, since of the fifteen chessboxers on the two cards Woolgar has mustered this year, twelve appear to have no rating at all that I can trace. Including all eight from March's Boston Dome affair, another chessboxing event featuring non-boxers and non-chessplayers - and thus combining, perhaps, not both disciplines, so much as neither.

This time not all the pugilists are unknown to the competitive chessboard. Of the eight fighting at Scala, one - Andrew McGregor - appears to posses a USCF rating, albeit a very low one, while the fight between Chris Levy and Mike Botteley actually features two genuine chessplayers, with real ECF ratings (Levy's Rapidplay, Botteley's Standard). What neither of them appear to possess is an Elo rating. Strangely, perhaps, given the basis on which the bout is being advertised.

Well, what can you do: these people make their own rules so they might as well make up everything else. If you really feel that you need to give them your money, it'll cost you fifteen nicker (or twenty-five for a VIP ticket) and the show starts at seven pm. And who knows where it may lead? Although Woolgar's previously-expressed ambitions to have his "sport" included in the Olympics appear to have fallen through, the Kapranos piece says optimistically:
Having set up The ChessBOXING Organisation, the first United Kingdom chessboxing institution, Woolgar is now campaigning to Sport England to have Chessboxing officially recognised. If successful, the sport will both have a governing body and receive necessary funding.
So, before we go to Scala, let's pay a visit to the Sport England website and see how much of this stands up. What's this we read?
Sports council recognition of a national governing body is not a guarantee of funding
which means that when it's claimed that official recognition would mean the sport will receive necessary funding, this isn't true. Simple as that.

But come to that, what about the claim that encompasses it?
Woolgar is now campaigning to Sport England to have Chessboxing officially recognised.
That must be true, surely?

But true, it is surely not. I emailed Sport England, to ask. An official replied:
I can confirm that Sport England has not received any recognition applications in respect of chessboxing.
Maybe it's lost in the post. Must be. Because otherwise we might have to conclude that Tim Woolgar was making it up too.

[Kapranos photo: Chisholm And Moore]
[Chessboxing index]


Jonathan B said...

When I used to play on I came across a few boxers who had got into chess because of chess boxing. That seems to me to be a good thing.

The amount of chessplayers interested in chess boxing, however, can perhaps be gauged by the number of responses to this thread on the ec forum. "one of the most exciting chess events in years" indeed!

Incidentally, I'm not convinced the journalists who write about chess boxing are necessarily being gullible. Some will be, no doubt, but I'm quite sure many of them - and their publications - know full well that they're writing shite and just don't care.

Anonymous said...

You have spotted that Tim Woolgar is the only candidate for the role of ECF Marketing Director?

Jonathan B said...

Interesting. Presumably, since he loves chess boxing so much, if he gets the post he'll agree to be smacked in the face before every board meeting?

Still, talking shite about 'sports' 'events' is not limited to chess boxing, of course. Witness, for example, Radio 5's claim this morning that the rugby world cup is the third biggest sporting event on the planet.

ejh said...

You have spotted that Tim Woolgar is the only candidate for the role of ECF Marketing Director?

No I didn't, and if that's really the case it's a matter for some concern. One would like to think the ECF too could see the danger in appointing somebody with a long track record of telling untruths in order to promote his own personal business.

PJM said...

I'll be going tomorrow. Seemed like a reasonable idea for a night out and better than giving £15 to Tim Martin's empire. It's also at a proper venue this time.

Looking forward to seeing what they have to offer. I'll be writing a report for RTK.

Anonymous said...

Apparently Tim Woolgar is nominated for the position of ECF Marketing Director by the (incumbent, I assume) ECF Marketing Director and the ECF Chief Executive.