Chess player Divya Deshmukh criticises sexism in the game: ‘It’s not about how I look’

Asian women’s chess champion Divya Deshmukh (divyachess/arbitervivek/Instagram)
Asian women’s chess champion Divya Deshmukh (divyachess/arbitervivek/Instagram)

Indian chess player Divya Deshmukh has hit out at the sexism that she believes exists among chess fans and called for women to start getting “equal respect” in the game.

Deshmukh won bronze at the 2022 Chess Olympiad and last year took victory at the Asian Women’s Chess Championship in Almaty.

The 18-year-old holds the rank of International Master, but has opened up on the challenging environment she must contend with as a woman in chess.

Highlighting comments made beneath interviews after a Masters event in the Netherlands, Deshmukh suggested that female players are “overlooked” and “under-appreciated”, with focus instead placed on their appearance.

“I got told, and also myself noticed, how women in chess are often just taken for granted by spectators,” Deshmukh said on social media. “In this tournament, I played a few games which I felt were quite good and I was proud of them.

“[But] I got told by people how the audience was not even bothered with the game, but instead focussed on every single possible thing in the world, my clothes, hair, accent and every other irrelevant thing.

“I was quite upset to hear this and I think the sad truth is that when women play chess [fans] often overlook how good they actually are, the games they play and their strength.

“It is quite a sad thing. I felt it was unfair in a way, because if I go to any guy’s interview there would be way less judgement on a personal level, [and more] actual compliments about the game and the player. I feel women are under appreciated and every irrelevant thing is focused on and hated on, while guys would probably get away with the same things.

“I think women face this on a daily basis. I’m barely 18 and I have faced so much judgement, including hatred, over the years for things that don’t even matter. I think women should start getting equal respect.”

Men have traditionally dominated the top echelons of chess, with Nigel Short, vice-president of the world chess federation Fide, claiming in 2015 that they were “hardwired” to be better than women at the game.

But a number of prominent female players have hit out at chess’ culture, including alleging that predatory behaviour has been normalised.

Grandmaster Susan Polgar, whose sister Judit is the only women to have ever reached the world’s top ten, has suggested that she “consciously tried to look as plain and unattractive as possible” during her career to avoid being sexualised.