A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Scrabble Gets Fair Play in Bahrain

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 28, 2009

Yesterday an intriguing item came across my Google alerts: the news that a Bahraini champion Scrabble player had been found guilty of cheating and banned from playing in tournaments for the next four years. Today I saw a follow-up article in Abu Dhabi’s The National, which I have pasted below.

Its a bit long, and Scrabble is not the world’s most pressing concern (and no, I am not saying this just because I lost a family Scrabble match over the Christmas holiday. Grandma, your unchallenged string of victories was well-deserved.). But I think this story is important, because it offers an example of an organization willing to enforce the rules of fair play – not something that happens in the Middle East all that often, and certainly not to Gulf citizens.

Even if you aren’t interested in Scrabble, I hope you will be interested in this article and the World English-Language Scrabble Players Association’s (who knew!) message that cheating is unacceptable.

The Scrabble champion banned from international competitions for four years for cheating will not be stripped of his local and regional titles, it was announced yesterday. The Bahrain Scrabble League Committee believes the ban “is punishment enough”.

Mohammed Zafar, 19, beat Akshay Bhandarkar from Dubai last June to win the Gulf Scrabble championship. He is also the Bahrain national champion.

Mr Zafar, who denies cheating, was barred by the game’s governing body, the World English Language Scrabble Players Association (Wespa), for breaking the rule about how players draw their letters while playing in a tournament in Malaysia in December.

“The decision is not to strip Mohammed of his titles,” said Roy Kietzman, a member of the Bahrain Scrabble League Committee and a special panel of four that met on Monday night in Manama to discuss Wespa’s decision.

“We felt it was humiliation enough to be charged with being guilty and being banned from Scrabble.

“For him, this is public humiliation in the Scrabble community. We feel this is punishment enough.”

Mr Zafar was accused of taking his tiles from the top of the bag and having a quick peek at them before letting go of any he did not want during the Causeway Challenge, held in Johru Bahar in Malaysia.

The rules of the game state that although players may give the bag a vigorous shake, they must draw tiles at shoulder length while looking away from the bag.

Mr Zafar is also banned from the Malaysian tournament for life.

The Bahrain Scrabble League Committee says it “fully endorses the Wespa decision that he was guilty”.

Mr Kietzman confirmed that Allan Simmons, the chairman of the Wespa inquiry and Britain’s national champion, had been willing to lower the penalty and cut the time of the ban by half if Mr Zafar had admitted his guilt.

“We are urging Wespa to make strict guidelines on what to do in the future. This was a precedent.”

Last year, Mr Zafar faced the two-time defending champion of the regional Scrabble title, Mr Bhandarkar, in a thrilling match that saw the use of plurals, bingos [when a player uses all seven letters at once] and plenty of theatrics.

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