Contest checked by red tape

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The Independent Online
Roll up, roll up for the biggest chess tournament on Earth - unless, that is, you come from one of the larger educational authority areas, or from the North of England. Michael Basman, a chess teacher, organiser and International Master from Surrey, has been trying to persuade every local education authority to disseminate information about the 1996 Intel UK Chess Challenge to all the schools under its jurisdiction.

After involving 100 schools and 4,000 children in his home county in badge and competition schemes, Mr Basman looked forward to welcoming 1,000 schools and 30,000 players, aged from six to 18, when the scheme went nationwide. But it needed the assistance of the LEAs, and their willingness to distribute entry forms seemed to operate under rules that were both "size-ist" and "south-ist".

"The conclusion I drew from the mailing was that the larger the authority, the lower the likelihood of sending out," says Mr Basman. Strathclyde (1,200 schools), Lancashire (750), Hampshire (630), North Yorkshire (550) and Cheshire (500) all refused to help at first, although Lancashire, Hampshire and Cheshire later succumbed to various combinations of begging, cajoling and offers of money. Essex also finally agreed to distribute the forms for 5p a school.

"We never send out this stuff," a man from Leeds told Mr Basman after he had sent them 450 entry forms by mistake. "It's supported by a private firm and we don't allow competitive sports in Leeds." After a little begging, however, they did agree to return the forms rather than throwing them in the bin.

North Yorkshire quoted a rate of "half the second-class post" for sending them out, then arrived at a figure of pounds 66 for 470 leaflets. That's nearer 14p than 9.5p, Mr Basman pointed out. Yes, they agreed, but by the time you've halved 19p, rounded it up to the nearest penny, added a pounds 10 administration charge and VAT, it comes to pounds 66.

The metropolitan boroughs generally responded positively, and there was a better response from the South than the North, although, Mr Basman says, some of the southern counties tended to price themselves out of the market.

Thanks to his pleading and delicate negotiations, entry forms have now been sent to 20,000 schools for the scheme, which includes gold stars for every win, badges, books and a chance for every child to qualify for area Megafinals and a national "Gigafinal".

But not if they're from the persistently "refusenik" areas of Durham, North Yorkshire, Clwyd, Dorset, north-west Kent, Strathclyde, Tayside or the Highlands, or the metropolitan boroughs of Barnsley, Bradford, Ealing, Leeds, Rochdale, the Wirral, Knowlsley, St Helens (Merseyside) or Walsall.

Any school, or individual, from those benighted lands is encouraged to contact Michael Basman direct at 7 Billockby Close, Chessington, Surrey KT9 2ED (0181-397 1826).