The Fightback Starts Now, Says President Of New Women In Chess Foundation
The new Women In Chess Foundation has been formed to foster safer environments for women to play.

The Fightback Starts Now, Says President Of New Women In Chess Foundation

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It is the dark shadow that stalks chess—the failure of senior figures in the game to tackle its shameful gender gap and a recent stream of shocking sexual misconduct allegations. Chess, it is said, has to do better.

Now, a new group has formed to take direct action against the blight of people putting women and girls off playing the game and making them feel unsafe at chess events.

The Women In Chess Foundation launched this week with the goal of increasing the participation rates of girls and women in the game at all levels while creating safer environments and helping improve the quality of women's chess events.

President of the new Women In Chess Foundation Emilia Castelao spoke to Photo: Harry Gielen / Tata Steel

How is it going to do that? The foundation aims to recruit and train scores of volunteers, known as certified "advocates," to be present at as many chess tournaments as possible and stamp out sexism.

"Our goal is to have a diverse set of Advocates from chess players to arbiters to organisers, to even parents accompanying their children to tournaments," the foundation said in a press release sent out this week.

"Advocates are trained in how to deal with issues of misconduct, harassment or bullying, along with navigating the often complex complaints procedures that chess federations have. We hope this will mean that people at chess tournaments will always have somewhere to turn."

Outside of tournaments, women and girls will also be able to seek support via the foundation's website,, which also offers them a clear and easy way to report issues anonymously if necessary.

The launch of the Women In Chess Foundation follows a series of scandals that have rocked the chess world this year. Worrying stories of sexual harassment have emerged, such as The Wall Street Journal's story of how eight women claimed GM Alejandro Ramirez used his status to make repeated unwanted sexual advances toward them.

WGM Jennifer Shahade is a two-time U.S. Women's Chess Champion, chess commentator, author, and poker player. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Among the eight women who spoke out against Ramirez was two-time U.S. Women's Champion WGM Jennifer Shahade, one of the founding members and on the Women In Chess Foundation's advisory board. Shahade claims to have been assaulted twice by Ramirez and also that she saw "alarming evidence" from other victims. Last month, the two-time United States women's champion resigned as the Director of the US Chess Women's Program, saying her allegations were "consistently minimized or ignored."

Ellen Carlsen, the sister of the former world champion, is another to speak out. She said that Shahade's initial allegations had led to her report an incident of harassment to the Norwegian Chess Federation.

Another female chess player who has made headlines with recent allegations was the English WIM Sabrina Chevannes, who gave an emotional interview to Times Radio and detailed her harrowing experiences of sexual harassment and misogyny on the platform X. Chevannes said they caused her to quit playing the game professionally.

Also this year, 14 of France's most notable female players signed an open letter entitled “Nous, Joueuse d'échecs,” which denounced what they said was repeated sexist behavior and acts of violence in the chess world.

No wonder, the new Women In Chess Foundation says, that participation rates among women are low—very low—with just 15 percent of FIDE-rated players listed as women. Tackling that head-on is the main aim of the foundation, said its president, Emilia Castelao.

She told "It's 100% direct action, and I think as well it is the community saying, 'You know what, our institutions aren't necessarily doing the work are up to standard so, we're going to take things into our own hands and support each other.'

"Essentially, the goal is to have an independent advocate at every tournament and have those people know how to navigate the process of reporting for their respective country, knowing the mandatory reporting laws, being able to direct survivors to support groups, and so on and so forth."

Asked whether the foundation exists to fill a void left by the traditional governing bodies in chess that should be doing more, Castelao said: "There definitely is a void. When it comes to issues like this, one would expect an organization like FIDE [the world governing body] to set a standard across the board that all federations and all clubs would have to follow in terms of reporting.

"But we have nothing from FIDE in terms of any type of protocols on how clubs and federations should approach this. And then you have every federation and every club being different, and every culture there is different, and so then you have discrepancies in the quality of reporting."

Castelao cited the Norwegian Chess Federation as an example of an organization with an "amazing portal" to report misconduct, while federations like US Chess offer simply an email address to contact. 

Since the launch of the foundation's advocacy program, the 23-year-old Diplomatic Academy of Vienna student has been blown away by the quick response. "Already have two out of four of our advocacy training sessions for the rest of the year filled up," she said. "And the next two, there's really only a few spots left. So, by the end of the year, we should have about 50 advocates in 12 countries, which is pretty incredible for a foundation only being formally launched for four days.

"At the end of the day, obviously, we don't want people to need advocates, but it's something that people can use for the rest of time not only to address misconduct but also for problems like bullying among younger chess players. I think we can cement this idea in chess that we need to really be supportive of each other because it is a very nice community and a small community, and we want people to join and be a part of our community.

"I think when people see chess the way it is right now, it really puts people off and makes them be like, 'Oh, but I could just play another sport where I won't have to deal with these issues.' So I think the advocate program is not only direct action but also kind of a long-term cultural shift for the chess world."

Staff discussed women in chess at's annual meeting. Photo:

The formation was discussed at's annual meetup last week in the Dominican Republic, and several staff members are on the foundation's board of directors, along with a representative from Lichess.

The foundation lists eight directors. They are WIM Ayelen Martinez, IM Jovanka Houska, Chris Callahan, Nigarhan Gurpinar, Michael Duke (aka MrDodgy), Tallulah Roberts, and Geert van der Velde. Shahade is on the advisory board.

Let's see if it can make a difference.

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