A gifted young English chess player was physically assaulted and his family subjected to Islamophobic abuse by other parents during a recent competition in Austria, his father claims.
The alleged fracas has plunged the sport’s governing body in England – the English Chess Federation (ECF) – into a racism row amid claims that officials initially did not do enough to tackle the abuse.
Officials have belatedly begun investigating the incident and the Metropolitan Police is expected to start taking statements later today from those involved.
Suhayl Rahman, a maths teacher from Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, told The Independent that his three sons, Yousef, 13, Ibrahim, 10 and Ieysaa, seven, were subjected to abuse from other English parents during a junior chess championship in the Austrian town of Mureck.
All three are talented chess players and Ieysaa went on to win a bronze medal at the games. But the family claim their trip was marred by the increasingly hostile reception they received from the parents of fellow competitors.
According to Mr Rahman’s testimony, trouble began when his wife, Tomasina Contu, complained that the hotel they were staying in would not serve halal food despite assurances that their dietary requirements would be catered for. The competition was being held in the middle of Ramadan.
The abuse allegedly began with snide remarks but intensified throughout the two-week competition, with one parent allegedly spitting at Mrs Contu and another allegedly grabbing Yousef by the chest until blood was drawn.
At one point, Mrs Contu, an Italian-born convert to Islam who wears a hijab, even had to call for a police escort to take her from the venue back to the hotel because of concerns over her family’s safety.
In a series of emails sent to the Rahman family during the competition which have been seen by The Independent, officials at the ECF said they recognised that there was “an increased risk” to the safety of both Mrs Contu and Yousef from the parents of other competitors.
But nothing was done to exclude the potentially violent parents from the venue or from having contact with the children. Instead, the Rahman family were asked to move into a separate hotel, a request that they refused.
On the final day, Mr Rahman said his eldest son, Yousef, was assaulted by the mother of another competitor after he tried to watch his brother’s game.
“His path was blocked by another parent,” he told The Independent. “So he went round her and she grabbed him by his left pec, sunk her claws into his skin and yanked him back. He was bleeding, he was crying and he suffered bad bruising. It was quite terrible.” A photograph of Yousef taken soon after the incident shows his chest marred by a deep, purple bruise.
Mr Rahman said his family felt let down by the ECF, whom he accused of ignoring their repeated concerns. He has asked the Metropolitan Police to investigate.
On Wednesday the English Chess Federation issued a new statement saying that the Rahman family’s allegations were “unfounded”. It said that while there was a “disagreement amongst the families” at the tournament, it was not based on racism or religious intolerance. However the federation has yet to decide whether it will make the contents of the report they have compiled public. A spokesperson for the group said it would need to take legal advice before any such move.
The full statement from the ECF read as follows: “The ECF has completed a thorough investigation into the events that took place at the European Union Youth Chess Championships in Mureck, Austria, between 31 July and 9 August 2012. The investigation obtained statements from eye-witnesses. It concluded that the allegations of racist or Islamophobic abuse and of a physical attack are unfounded.”
“The report found that there was a disagreement amongst the families of the England team that resulted from complaints of perceived disruptive behaviour by individual children. There is no evidence that racism or religious intolerance played any part. The claims concerning provision of suitable food during the event are inconsistent with both the facts and the extensive efforts made by the tournament organisers, hotel management and ECF Head of Delegation to ensure that the requirements of all members of the England delegation were met.”
“The ECF takes any charge of racism or religious intolerance extremely seriously and we absolutely condemn discriminatory behaviour of any kind. The ECF is also committed to the safety of all competitors who take part in tournaments at home and abroad.”