Public Engagement

Date: 12/10/2021 [Edited on 14/10/2021 1:20pm]

We received a complaint from an anonymous Member of Public ("MOP") about our requirement for a declaration of closed internet accounts for the Asian Youth Online event. The complaint and our reply are published in full below.

In essence, we believe that the online (and F2F) chess playing environment must be fair and safe for all players, and that those who don national colors should exhibit high standards of ethics and conduct. However, we do not believe in publicly shaming or unnecessarily penalizing members of our chess community, particularly children. We will work with both players and parents to have a better understanding of online FairPlay algorithms and account closures, and to inculcate the right values through the game of chess.

 

Note from MOP received on 8 October, 2021:

S/he has saved SCF's webpage on the eligibility criteria for the Asian Youth Chess Championship. It was stated in point 3 that "A declaration in the registration email to SCF that the applicant has not had any prior online account (including but not limited to chess.com, lichess.org, chess24.com, playchess.com, Tornelo) closed for violation of fair play policies within the past 24 months.". S/he shared that such criterion is not imposed by the tournament organizer (India Chess Federation). S/he noticed that the new EXCO was formed in end Sep and s/he presumes point 3 of the eligibility criteria was sanctioned by the current EXCO.

The MOP has visited the online websites in point 3 and it indicates that those are online enterprises (mostly for profit) that provide means for users to play chess online. S/he went on to share that a major reason why FIDE does not officially rate online tournaments is due to the highly contentious issue of differentiating between games played With vs Without external assistance, i.e.

Dishonest play being detected vs Honest play being wrongly accused as dishonest play
Dishonest play not being detected vs Honest play being wrongly accused as Dishonest play.

Tools have been developed to analyze online games to reduce dispute and controversy. Examples are statistical analysis of games, monitoring of games and players via live video conferencing tools, playing of games at sanctioned venues, etc. Suffice to speak, the accusation and allegation of cheating must bear the burden of proof.

Coming back to point 3, the MOP shared that the online platforms rely solely on statistical analysis of games. These platforms do not impose video and audio live feeds as requirements to play. Basis and comprehensiveness of statistical analytical tools remain disputable, especially when one uses it exclusively (without any physical and real evidence) to accuse a player of cheating. 

Online platforms, being private enterprises or organizations, are free to decide who plays on their website, and who does not. Online platforms have never revealed how and why they deem some players to violate "fair play". Without evidence to prove the actual act of cheating, any suspicion or accusation is only based purely on complaints from other players (some with real reasons, some are sour lemons) or statistics collected from previous games played by top professionals (relevance to amateur games remains questionable).

The MOP mentioned that SCF is not a private enterprise. S/he thinks that the current EXCO appears to be running its own fiefdom, without much regard for developing, nurturing and growing young minds. Instead, the EXCO appears to be fixated on persecuting, labelling and discriminating against young players who unfortunately had their online accounts closed for whatever reasons.
The MOP wonders what is SCF's objective of having point 3 as part of the criteria i.e. to ban a child from competing for 24 months solely based on the action of online enterprises. The MOP shared his/her train of thought with us:

What is the basis of banning young players from taking part in tournaments for 24 months or even 1 week? A ban is a clear punishment. Punishment for what offence? Cheating online? Where is the evidence of cheating? Why is SCF taking unsolicited follow-up action on behalf of the online platforms?

By banning players without indisputable evidence, is it tantamount to SCF abusing its position to bully and cow young players and children into forced submission? Worse, SCF is inadvertently encouraging fellow chess players, schoolmates, school teachers, classmates into perceiving and labelling these children as cheats without having to prove their accusations at all.

At a time when our nation and the Ministry Of Education are doing all we can to protect the mental health of children, the EXCO appears to see it as their raison d'etre to encourage organizational bullying of children, victimizing and indirectly putting labels on children as cheats, denying children of their often fragile and delicate opportunities and all because of decisions made by private chess online platforms or some analysis software that rates a chess game as being quite similar to how a chess program may play?

Be it a real case of dishonest play online or false case of dishonest play, SCF must not and must never make judgement on any child's character. Not even parents are entitled to do that. Not to mention imposing rules or taking actions that can result in permanent damage to the child as a person. The MOP saw in black and white that some, or at least one, member of the current EXCO, prior to election to the EXCO, had threatened child participants of fundraising online tournaments that they would be reported to MOE and their respective schools if the chess analysis software found their moves to be similar to a 'chess engine' program. 

Instead of using the game/sport to send unifying and motivating messages, the current EXCO appears to be mounting a vendetta by imposing rules and carrying out actions to use circumstantial incidents as their reasons for threatening /punishing children. These very actions, in no small way, threaten to tear children apart and leave them with pieces that can never be put together again.

Protecting the integrity of the game is important but doing it by crassly persecuting and labelling children seems to be very wrong. S/he is talking about children and youth and their mental well-being. S/he went on to share that the EXCO is attempting to label the children as dishonest players based on actions of online platforms or based on predictive outcomes of software analysis that are akin to weather prediction programs – predictive and in no way conclusive.

The MOP's opinion is that what the current EXCO is doing to the children is very wrong. The newly introduced criterion may seem innocuous, but it divides, isolates, stigmatizes and ultimately punishes children for deeds they may not have done, or may have done. Once isolated, it is no longer matters if one has done the deed. Public perception firmly sways against the child and that is plain destructive. S/he opines that if the stance of the current EXCO is left status quo, it will be a matter of time before another tragedy happens."

 

Our reply in full, on 8 October

1. We thank the Member Of Public (MOP) for the opportunity to clarify our position on fair play in online chess as well as the aforementioned clause 3. We deliberated long and hard before including the declaration clause, and assure you that supporting "discriminatory, accusatory and stigmatizing behaviour" – especially towards children – is the last thing on our minds. 

2. Online chess accounts can be closed for several reasons, including the use of abusive language and inappropriate conduct, but the vast majority are closed for fair play violations. The popular internet chess platform Chess.com announced in August 2020 that they close an average of 500 accounts every day for computer-assisted cheating (https://www.chess.com/article/view/online-chess-cheating). 

3. This issue of computer-assisted cheating – especially for online chess – is an increasingly significant one worldwide, as can be seen from this article published in Guardian on 16th October 2020 (https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2020/oct/16/chesss-cheating-crisis-paranoia-has-become-the-culture) which also interviewed officials from chess's international governing body FIDE.

4. The major existing internet chess platforms employ different means of detecting players who might be using computer assistance, including in-house algorithms and a panel of experts for independent review. These are highly accurate and greater than a mere balance of probability – it is not in the interest of commercial internet chess platforms to wrongly close accounts for fair play violations. Chess.com described their method in general terms in the aforementioned article (https://www.chess.com/article/view/online-chess-cheating) and – just like other major platforms – also have an appeal process if a suspended player feels aggrieved that his or her account was closed erroneously. 

5. As a National Sports Association, it is our responsibility to ensure that our athletes representing Singapore are not just the best in terms of skill, but that they also exhibit the highest standards of ethics and conduct. We see the declaration in Clause 3 as a first measure in establishing these standards that we believe the Singapore chess community, and the MOP would expect from our national athletes. 

6. We believe in being open and inclusive, and we will gladly engage any players and/or their parents if they feel that their accounts have been suspended unfairly. For instance, there were 2 players who have had their accounts closed within the last 24 months but wished to participate in the Asian Youth Online event. Instead of rejecting their applications, we have engaged their parents in confidence to seek an understanding as to how these accounts were closed. While we cannot disclose the contents of these conversations nor the names of the players, we can share that we are happy with the outcome of these conversations and have proceeded with their registrations. 

If by any chance the MOP's child was affected due to this declaration clause and feels that her/his account was closed erroneously, we would similarly be happy to engage her/him and discuss how we can proceed. 

7. We wish to assure you that the SCF is committed to promoting fair play and inculcating the right values in our young players through the game of chess. We are in the process of drafting up a Fair Play framework for chess that is in line with the World Anti-Doping Code of which Singapore is a signatory. There will be a clear appeal process and certainly for minors and recreational athletes, there will be flexibility in sanctioning. If we do impose any sanctions, these will also not be disclosed publicly except for the most egregious of cases.

8. We also wish to assure you that the SCF is mindful of the need to protect the identities of minors at all times. Discussions of possible sanctions are deemed highly sensitive and are therefore kept within a small committee within the SCF Exco on a need-to-know basis.

9. In the coming months, we will be setting up townhall meetings with interested parties on such matters to see how the chess community can work together on these common goals and to correct common misunderstandings about statistical analysis tools.

 

Kevin Goh
Vice President
On behalf of the SCF Exco

 

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