PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Here are several things we normally associate with chess: strategy, patience, thoughtfulness, quiet and equanimity.
Unfortunately, there is little of any of these in the controversy surrounding a 12-year-old girl's withdrawal from the recent National Scholastic chess championship after tournament officials objected to her dress.
The incident has outraged and bemused many Malaysians. They have seen a photo that supposedly shows the girl in that dress, and they cannot understand how such a thing can cause offence.
There has also been wide international media coverage, mainly reporting that she had been banned because of the "seductive" dress.
At this point, we do not know if that was the exact adjective the officials used to describe the girl's attire, but it has been repeated so often that many people think that was indeed the case.
Also, the girl was not kicked out, although her mother says her child withdrew from the competition "under duress" because of the officials' intervention and the difficulty in resolving the issue.
How the story has been told and the gaps in information have created a murky situation. And it does not help that the Malaysian Chess Federation and the Education Ministry, the joint organisers of the tournament held at a Putrajaya school last month, have yet to come up with firm and detailed statements on what happened on April 14.
In addition, we need to know if the tournament officials were right to say that the dress was inappropriate and that they acted correctly when insisting that she wear something else.
This is important because this episode has projected Malaysia as having an intolerant and conservative climate that gives rise to an increasing number of restrictive rules, including those that apply to clothes worn by competitors in a chess championship for schoolchildren.
We neither want nor deserve this image.
This fiasco is more likely the result of misjudgement, mishandling and miscommunication. There is apparently a lack of clarity in the rules on what chess players should wear and whether these rules are different if a chess tournament is staged at a school. And are there procedures on how to best respond to a breach of the dress code?
The authorities need to move quickly and decisively to address this matter. They must send out the message that we are a nation that focuses on things that really mean something, instead of the length of a dress worn by a 12-year-old chess player.
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