Year of birth missing
3 min

Checkmate again — this time for the arbiter

BY NOREEN FAGAN – Chess can be challenging. One wrong move and then —
checkmate.

That is what seems to have happened with CJ de Mooi, the
president of the English Chess Federation. De Mooi had a hissy fit this weekend
at the British chess championships, held in Sheffield.

In an earlier blog I wrote that de Mooi was at the event
dressed in his activist outfit — a bright orange T-shirt bearing the slogan
“Some people are gay, get over it.” He was scheduled to give out prizes to the
chess champions when the championship’s arbiter, Lara Barnes, asked him to change out
of his T-shirt and into something more suitable, like a suit and tie.

It appears that de Mooi overreacted and a wee furor ensued,
with of course, all of us leaping to the conclusion that Barnes was one bossy
lady who opposed the slogan, gay rights, equality and anything else we can
think of.

Wrong.

Barnes is not only a damned good and well-respected arbiter, but
she is also a person of integrity and a supporter of gay rights.

Barnes had read my blog, commented on it and when I
contacted her, emailed me back.

It turns out that de Mooi’s reaction to the incident and the
fact that he opened his mouth to the media before thinking sent a lot of people
into a frenzy. The result — Barnes has been blitzed with hate mail and labelled
homophobic.

All this led to de Mooi issuing an apology on the English
Chess forum
. Here’s what he had to say:

“I no doubt overreacted to Lara’s comments (and I have
expressed my admiration for her and the fellow arbiters) and should have
referred the matter to the board (a short delay for a call to the Home
Director) before discussing it with other people.

I was upset (although at no time have I used emotive terms such as ‘homophobia’ or ‘discrimination’), but that does not excuse my error of
judgment.

I was extremely sorry to hear that Lara has been receiving very
unpleasant emails (I have personal experience of this and know how distressing
it can be) and deplore such actions. I am unaware how anyone got her contact
details, and this represents an intolerable invasion of privacy.

If it is considered someone else can do a better (or at least less
harmful) job, I am happy to step aside, but the decision on my resignation is
still pending. I truly regret any distress my actions have caused and it’s never my
intention to be offensive.”

So what really happened?

It turns out that Barnes did want de Mooi to change out of
the T-shirt, for two simple reasons:

“I just thought that promoting the slogan of any charity at
the pinnacle moment of another event was inappropriate. All of the other
officials had made an effort to dress formally; CJ himself, last year, did the
same, attending in a T-shirt but changing to a shirt with a collar before the
prize-giving,” Barnes writes in an email.

I have to admit I agree. 

Okay, I didn’t say it before, but I am saying it now — was
the dude really going to present prizes at the national championships in a
T-shirt (slogan or no slogan) that he had been wearing for the entire two-day
event? Shouldn’t he at least wear a collared shirt?

It’s a pity that de Mooi let his emotions get the better of
him and that Barnes was cast into the role of the wicked vamp. It turns out
that she supports Stonewall UK — whose slogan started the controversy — and
that she raised £200 (abut $325) for the charity during the event.

Let’s hope that de Mooi’s apology gets as much attention as
his hissy fit did and that the people who wrote to Barnes with misplaced anger
take a step back, swallow their pride and do the right thing — apologize to
her.