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Harika comes back with bronze, but no one at the airport to receive her

by Sagar Shah - 02/03/2017

All those who followed the Women's World Championship 2017, can understand that Harika's feat was truly something special. She was down in the dumps on many occasions but fought back and very nearly made it to the finals. The girl from Hyderabad is a three-time bronze medal winner. Yet, when she arrived at the airport she had absolutely no one to receive her for her feat - no media, no officials. It was just her parents. A sportsperson like Harika surely deserves better.


Harika Dronavalli got down from the airplane at the Hyderabad airport with the World Championship bronze medal. She had been to Tehran and fought valiantly with 64 best woman chess players in the world. Too bad she is not a cricketer. If she were, the entire airport and the city would have been waiting for her arrival. But she is a chess player. World class for sure, but not a cricketer! She collects her baggage, comes to the arrival section, hugs her proud parents and goes back home without the slightest of furore.


Chess is a sport often misunderstood by the spectators. Seeing two people hunched over 64 squares and moving 32 wooden pieces gives an impression of a laidback sport which requires only brain power. Ask any top player and you will realize that nothing can be farther from truth. Chess is a sport that demands extreme levels of physical fitness, training and dedication. Twelfth World Champion Anatoly Karpov when playing his World Championship match against Kasparov in 1984 lost eight kilograms because of the stress and the toll that the games took on his physical health.


The same is the case with the recently crowned World Women’s Chess Championship bronze medallist Harika Dronavalli. The girl from Hyderabad prepared meticulously for the World Championship that was held in Tehran from 11th Feb to 5th of March 2017. The compulsory wearing of Hijab didn’t come in her way of participating in the tournament. Becoming a World Champion was her dream since childhood and she had to fulfill it at all costs. With her team of coaches and seconds she prepared not only different opening schemes, worked on calculation and tactics, studied possible endgames, but also ensured that physically she was as fit as possible. The World Championship was a knock out event. The margin of error in such formats is extremely low. One error and you are sent back packing.


With grim determination and unparalleled levels of fighting spirit Harika won the hearts of millions of chess fans all around the world. She was very near to winning the semi-finals against Chinese Tan Zhongyi. A last minute error was the end of the road for Harika.

Although the loss was depressing, one thing that everyone could agree upon is the fact that Harika performed exceedingly well to win the bronze medal in this 64 player knock out event. She won all her matches in the high pressured tiebreaks ousting top players in the world like Dinara Saduakassova, Sopiko Guramishvili and Nana Dzagnidze.

Harika with the bronze medal and the Indian flag
The bronze medal

This is Harika’s third bronze medal at the World Championship level. The first two were in Khanty Mansiysk in 2012 and Sochi in 2015. Harika has won the World Juniors in 2008, Commonwealth women’s title in 2010, Asian Championship in 2011 as well as World online blitz championship in 2015. She was feted with the Arjuna Award in 2008.


In a country where it’s becoming increasingly difficult to create world class players in individual sporting disciplines, chess is perhaps one of the very few sports where India has such dominating players like – Five-time World Champion Viswanathan Anand and Pentala Harikrishna in the men’s section, Humpy Koneru and Harika Dronavalli in the women’s section. Thanks to these gems as well as a horde of youngsters coming up, experts all around the world have started to predict that India will be a powerhouse of chess, just like what Russia is currently, in the years to come. When the world class chess journalist and the founder of ChessBase Frederic Friedel, he echoed the same opinion.


Yet when Harika comes back home to Hyderabad, after such a successful tournament in Tehran, she is greeted on the airport by just her parents. There is absolutely no one apart from her family who came to welcome her with garlands and hearty wishes. Why is it the case? Why do we all rouse in great celebration when our cricket team returns from a successful series? And why is a gem like Harika, who makes the country proud, in a sport that is played by 605 million people all around the world, completely neglected? When we asked the same question to Harika, she said, “I didn't feel bad that no one came to the airport to receive me or that my efforts were not recognized. I know that it is going to take some time to bring the change. And in order to change the perception towards chess I am trying to do my bit.”


It is high time that our officials and media realize that there is more to sports in our country than cricket. India has a bright future in this global sport called chess and it is only by respecting champions like Harika can we inspire more people to take up the checkered game.


Firstpost and ChessBase India have collaborated to bring you extensive and detailed coverage of the chess scene in India and internationally.


This article was first published on the Firstpost website on 28th February 2017.



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