Knight protecting the King and Queen in their conquest of Russia

14 April 2008

UCT sports administrator Frans Mamabolo (Knight) recently joined the South African student team as manager for the Word University Chess Championship in Novokuznetsk (Siberia), Russia. Here he gives us a little insight into his time there.

At the beginning eight students were selected, which included our own chess star Jenine Ellappen. However, Jenine and other five students were unable to travel for financial and academic reasons. So the team at the end consisted of myself and two students, one from Wits and ther other from the University of Limpopo.

Even before I left, my colleagues gave me a name that would be easier for the custom officials in Russia. That name was Frans Mamabolov.

Arrival in Moscow was the start of the cultural shock. English was spoken minimally, and we ended up using sign language a lot.

Everybody was looking at us, and later it dawned on us that we were the only blacks in and around the airport. After been stared at for eight hours in Moscow, we boarded a flight to our final destination, Novokuznetsk.

When we arrived, the temperature was a nippy -23 degrees Celsius. We could not even speak for shaking, and we had to be whisked onto the bus. In Novokuznetsk it was snowy, from day one until we left the area.

People kept staring at us, and everywhere we went people took out their cameras to take pictures of us. And, of course, there were those who resorted to James Bond tactics and used hidden cellphones to snap us.

At some supermarkets there would be people queuing to have their shots taken with us. At first it did not bother us, but it became so hectic that we were unable to walk 100 metres before someone stopped us for pictures.

We were on different TV channels for every night that we were in Russia.

As for the chess, it did not go well for our SA guys. It was like fighting a snake in its hole.

The Russians were ruthless in their game, they did not spare anyone. However, China did give them a run for their money. In the end, Russia won all sections, followed by China and Mongolia.

There were 12 countries participating and we were the only country from Africa. We finished 11th.

Even though we did not win, we gained a wealth of experience. And some bruised egos as we thought we knew how to play chess.

And certainly the Russians won't forget the SA group that hit the dance floor and had everyone looking. Again.

Russia is a beautiful and large country, with many interesting places to visit. One place we visited was a steel factory that was set up during World War 1. It was massive and covered about 5km.

Russian people are nice and I think many of us don't know that, because when we think of Russia we think of the Cold War era and of people who are suspicious and take no nonsense.

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