Indian-origin schoolgirl chess prodigy to be youngest in England team

Bodhana Sivanandan, from Harrow in north-west London, will join the England Women’s Team at the Chess Olympiad in Budapest, Hungary, in September.
Last Updated : 04 July 2024, 13:04 IST

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London: Bodhana Sivanandan, a nine-year-old Indian-origin schoolgirl is set to make chess history after she became the youngest person selected to represent England internationally in any sport.

Bodhana, from Harrow in north-west London, will join the England Women’s Team at the Chess Olympiad in Budapest, Hungary, in September. The others in her team are all in their 20s, 30s or 40s.

"I found out yesterday after I came back from school when my dad told me. I was happy. I hope I’ll do well and I’ll get another title," she told the BBC on Wednesday.

Malcolm Pein, manager of the England chess team, described the schoolgirl as one of the most remarkable British chess prodigies he has ever seen.

"It’s exciting – she’s on course to be one of the best British players ever," he said.

Her father, Siva Sivanandan, says he remains mystified about where his daughter got her talent.

"I’m an engineering graduate, as is my wife, but I’m not good at chess,” he said.

Bodhana first picked up chess during the pandemic lockdown when Siva’s friend was going back to India and gave her a few bags which also had a chess board.

“I was interested in the pieces, so I started playing," she recalls.

Last December, Sivanandan won the European Blitz Chess Championship in Zagreb, Croatia, and was dubbed "super talented" at the time.

Soon after, she was among a group of young chess enthusiasts invited by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to 10 Downing Street to mark the government’s major new GBP 1 million investment package for the game.

The package has since been in place to support children attending schools in disadvantaged areas across England to learn and play chess, improve the visibility and availability of the game, and fund elite playing.

As part of the package, the UK’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said it would invest GBP 500,000 in the English Chess Federation (ECF) over two years to develop the next generation of world-class talent. Funds will support expert coaching, training camps and cutting-edge computer analysis for international events to assist current grandmasters and up-and-coming players.

Alongside the support committed to elite players, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) will provide GBP 250,000 to 85 local authorities across England to install 100 new chess tables in public parks and outdoor green spaces to allow more people to play, connect, tackle loneliness, and develop problem-solving skills.

In addition, the outgoing Sunak-led government set out plans to encourage more primary school children, particularly girls, to learn to play the game.

The UK Department for Education offered grants of up to GBP 2,000 to at least 100 schools in disadvantaged areas across England, subject to interest.

Published 04 July 2024, 13:04 IST

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