At 9, UK chess prodigy Bodhana navigates racist jibes

Tamil girl from Harrow makes England women’s team for Chess Olympiad

Despite her remarkable achievement, Bodhana faces racist comments on social media
Despite her remarkable achievement, Bodhana faces racist comments on social media

NH Sports Bureau

Chess and prodigies may go hand-in-hand, but nine-year-old Bodhana Sivanandan seems an exception by any standards. The news of the girl from Harrow, north-west London, making the England women’s team for the Chess Olympiad in Hungary later this year has gone viral, though what has stuck out like a sore thumb are some of the vile and racist comments circulating about her.

Bodhana is nearly 15 years younger than Lan Yao, her next-youngest teammate, and qualified by team manager Malcolm Pein as the "most amazing prodigy" the sport has seen in Britain. In an interview with BBC News, her father Siva expressed surprise about what made Bodhana take up the sport as both her parents are engineering graduates with no prior experience of chess.  

However, this has not stopped trolls in the UK — a country which has drawn heavily on its immigrant population to fill up national teams in football, cricket and athletics. Some of its best-known sports celebrities have been subject to vile cyber bullying in the past. Comments about Bodhana ranged from ‘’she is clearly not English’’ to ‘’why is she playing for England’’, to even more derogatory words on X, prompting Hungarian-American former world champion Susan Polgar to pen a scathing Facebook post.

‘’It really makes me sick and disgusted reading reading some of the (racist and sexist) comments from mostly guys about this young and sweet 9 year old chess star, Bodhana Sivanandan. Instead of celebrating the incredible achievement of making the Olympiad team at age 9, these sickos posted derogatory comments,’’ wrote Polgar, who had invited Bodhana to participate in a tournament in London in 2021.

‘’She is an amazing talent and I hope she will go very far in chess. It is sad that even in 2024, a young girl with a simple dream of becoming great in a field that she loves, has to face so much abuse and insults. Unfortunately, she is not the only girl who has to deal with this. Many have to endure it. We need to do everything we can to protect these young girls,’’ wrote Polgar.

While the damning posts about Bodhana are mostly faceless, it’s scary to get a glimpse of their thinking about a nine-year-old. A number of social media users, meanwhile, have fired posts in protest, like this one: ‘’The amount of envy and cope is amazing, over a literal kid who knows her trade and plays for her country,’’ wrote Glorious Maharaja.

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