'Seductive dress' controversy: I didn't even see the dress, says tournament director

Esther Landau

KUALA LUMPUR: A chess tournament director, who was roundly criticised on social media for allegedly labeling a 12-year-old female competitor’s dress as ‘seductive’, today hit back at his detractors.

Sophian A. Yusuf, who was the tournament director of the National Scholastic Chess Championships 2017, said the allegations against him were slanderous, as he had never even met the girl in question.

Sophian, who is with the Malaysian Chess Federation (MCF), was subject to a torrent of abuse on social media, after it was claimed that he was the reason behind the girl’s withdrawal from the tournament, held in Putrajaya last month.

The issue began when the girl’s coach, Malaysian chess player Kaushal Khandhar, penned a Facebook post expressing his outrage at the event organisers for their alleged treatment of the girl over her attire.

He wrote that as the tournament was ongoing, the girl was informed that her dress was improper. The tournament director, according to the chief arbiter, had deemed the dress “seductive” and a “temptation from a certain angle far, far away.”

Kaushal had shared a photo of the girl’s outfit, which comprised a short sleeved black and orange striped dress.

He wrote that due to time constraints, the girl and her mother were unable to purchase a replacement outfit. Repeated attempts to contact the chief arbiter for discussion failed, which eventually led to the girl, who felt “harassed and humiliated”, pulling out from the tournament.

Kaushal is seeking a public apology from the tournament director.

Netizens had since shared a photo of Sophian, and labeled him a ‘pervert’ and ‘paedophile’ over the claims.

Breaking his silence today, Sophian refuted the claims.

He said he had never met the girl, nor did he ever imply that the girl’s dress was ‘seductive.’

“It isn’t true. I was not even there (at the location where she was playing) when this allegedly happened.

“I have never even seen this girl, nor did I even see her outfit at the time,” he said, adding that he only saw the dress when the tournament photographer showed it to him when the controversy broke out.

Explaining the sequence of events, Sophian said an arbiter had noted the girl’s dressing on the tournament’s first day and asked another arbiter for advice. The second arbiter then told an assistant, a woman, to speak to the girl and advise her accordingly.

“However, the advice was ignored,” he said.

Sophian admitted that he was briefed on the issue at the end of the first day by the chief arbiter. However, he did not pay much attention to it as there were many things which needed handling at the tournament.

He said the girl submitted her withdrawal letter from the tournament the next day.

Hours after the girl withdrew from the tournament, he received a phone call from the girl’s mother but did not answer it as he was moderating the event.

Sophian said that on April 21, the girl’s mother sent him an email seeking an explanation and a public apology.

“I replied to that email the next day. I explained to her what actually happened. She did not accept my explanation and still wanted me to apologise,” he said.

Sophian said, since the controversy broke out, he had been on the receiving end of abuse from social media users.

He broke down in tears as he spoke about the hate mail he received.

“I received abusive messages and threats on Facebook and via email. People used terms like ‘paedophile’ and ‘pervert’. I even looked for messages of support but there were none,” he said.

He said he has an 11-year-old daughter, also a chess player. The criticism, he said, has hurt him and affected his family.

“My daughter is aware of the accusations against me. She has since become withdrawn and has refused to speak on the matter. My son has also been affected by the issue,” he said.

“When people call me names such as ‘pervert’ or ‘paedophile’ on social media, all I can do now is be strong to prove to people that these

allegations are untrue.

“Again, I wish to stress that I have never uttered such words and was not even there when the incident took place,” he said.

However, Sophian said he bore no ill-will to the girl over the incident.

“I wish her all the best and success in everything she does and in her life.”

Sophian said he has lodged a report on the matter with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) over the allegations on social media. He has also lodged a police report on the incident last week.

He said the MCF committee will hold a discussion on the case and will decide on the next course of action.

He has engaged a lawyer and is mulling legal action.