A rising chess star took to social media to express her dismay at the sexist treatment she's received in the male-dominated sport. Per the BBC, Divya Deshmukh is an 18-year-old International Master from India who recently competed in the Netherlands-based Tata Steel Chess Tournament. Despite a successful event—she came in 12th, according to Chess.com—Deshmukh felt "disappointed" in the focus on her appearance by audience members and commentors, and she decided to publicly call them out.
The "audience was not even bothered with the game," she wrote, "but instead focused on every single possible thing in the world: my clothes, hair, accent and every other irrelevant thing." The post was a long time coming for Deshmukh, who told the BBC she's received demeaning comments online since she was 14. Women in the chess world were quick to back up Deshmukh, saying that her experience was all too common:
- "Women have to work twice as hard to prove themselves, and even then you can't escape sexist judgments," says Nandhini Saripalli, a chess player and coach, who added that she often "dresses down" to avoid drawing attention from both male players and audience members.
- Grandmaster Susan Polgar doubled down on that assertion, noting on X that she strove to look "as plain and unattractive as possible" as a young player, when she says she was subjected to unwanted advances and attempted assault.
- The Women in Chess Foundation came out in support of Deshmukh, with founder and CEO Emilia Castelao telling Chess.com they were "extremely disappointing to see those who are also passionate about chess put down other players like this." The group formed after French players published an open letter denouncing misogyny and sexual violence in the chess world last year.
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As chess becomes more accessible via online tournaments and livestreaming, sports writer Susan Ninan tells the BBC that women and teenage girls in the game are "disproportionately vulnerable to receiving misogynistic comments from the predominantly male audience online." She says this can mess with a player's confidence. Per the International Chess Federation, only 10% of licensed players worldwide are women. Koneru Humpy, who became the youngest female grandmaster in the '90s at age 15 (a record that has since been broken), believes more women in the game can help. "The more women play chess, the more claim they have over the sport," she says. (YouTube is the new chess club.)