International Chess Federation
Wednesday, 19 Jun 2024 13:45
Pune, India hosts Chess for Freedom Conference to promote global growth of chess in prisons

The second Chess for Freedom Conference, organized by FIDE, in collaboration with Indian Oil Corporation, and hosted by the All India Chess Federation and the Maharashtra Chess Association started on June 19, 2024, in Pune, India. Attracting dignitaries and chess experts from 12 countries, the event is aimed to explore the transformative power of chess as a rehabilitation tool in correctional facilities worldwide.

This unique forum brought together officials from The International Chess Federation (FIDE), including Chair of the FIDE Social Commission Andre Voegtlin, Councillor of the Commission and manager of the Chess Program at Cook County Jail (USA) Mikhail Korenman, as well as chess professionals and penitentiary officers from Germany, Georgia, Ghana, India Kenya, Latvia, Malawi, Mexico, Mongolia, Switzerland, and USA, all in an effort to spread global awareness of the benefits of having chess programming in correctional facilities.

FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich joined the conference online and praised participants’ efforts to bring more inmates into chess. “It is my pleasure to watch all the professionals, everyone involved in the implementation of the project all around the world. The Chess for Freedom project helps people who have made some mistakes in the past and serve their sentences to be prepared for their new lives and to make sure they feel responsibility for each move they make. Chess helps to do that. It helps to develop abilities that could be useful throughout the life of each person, including respect for the rules and opponents. And, of course, a strategic vision of what is happening around you. I hope that your interworking will bring a better understanding of how this project can be implemented and will help it to expand,” he said.

Deputy Chair of the FIDE Management Board Dana Reizniece-Ozola, who was also present online, thanked organizers both for hosting the event and for promoting chess among prisoners: “We offer inmates a new path via chess, India really set a commendable example for the world to follow. This is one of the main reasons why we wanted to host the conference here, in India. We know that it is much better to see once than to hear one hundred times. Witnessing personal experiences, sharing tips, hearing stories could be useful for those who are still watching and thinking whether to join this initiative in their countries.”

Among the speakers who shared their experience on the first day of the conference were Nadia Cristina Tovar Cruz, Chief of risk management and health safety of the Mexican federal judiciary system (Mexico); Dr. Cris Fanning, Executive Director - Programs and Risk Management, Kansas Department of Corrections (USA); Carl Portman, English Chess Federation Manager of Prisons chess (UK); as well as former inmates Steven Maruwo (Malawi), Hector Guifarro (USA), and Emmanuel Garcia (USA).

In addition to presenting national programs for teaching chess in prisons, the participants also discussed on how to recruit new countries and correctional facilities for the Intercontinental Online Chess for Prisoners Tournament. Held in October 2023, the tournament featured 118 teams from 50 countries representing every continent.

On the first day of the event, conference attendees also visited the Yerawand correctional facility, where IndianOil implements chess and other sports programs. They met with current program participants, their coaches and the prison’s administration and played chess in the prison yard.

Launched by IndianOil in 2021, the  “Parivartan - Prison to Pride” has impacted over 4100 inmates across 83 prisons in India. In collaboration with the prison departments of respective state police, IndianOil provides coaches to train inmates in different sports disciplines, including badminton, chess, carrot, table tennis, kho-kho, and basketball. The initiative aligns with the belief that making a difference in inmates’ lives can lead to benefits for society upon their return to normal life.

The conference will continue tomorrow with more presentations, case studies and interworking. Both days are streamed live on FIDE YouTube channel and available via the following links:

Day 1, June 19:

Day 2, June 20:

Text and photos: Anna Volkova