TOP STORIES Ukrainian grandmaster claims to replace the Russian head of...

Ukrainian grandmaster claims to replace the Russian head of the World Chess Organization


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Kyiv, Ukraine. Russia’s war against Ukraine has even penetrated the seemingly sedate chess world, where a Ukrainian grandmaster claims to overthrow the powerful Russian president of the International Chess Federation.

representatives 195 Member States on Sunday, a conference in Chennai, India, will vote for the president of the federation, the governing body of the chess world that governs all international championships, determines player ratings and decides where global and continental championships will be held. The current president is Arkady Dvorkovich, former Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, facing three rivalsincluding Andriy Baryshpolets, a 31-year-old Ukrainian grandmaster based in California.

His bid is an illustration of the attempt by many Ukrainians to unravel their country’s deep ties to Russia, as well as to challenge Moscow’s global influence after the invasion of Ukraine in February.

“Definitely, the war motivated me to fight for change at FIDE,” said Mr. Baryshpolets, using the French acronym by which the chess federation is widely known.

“This is a very non-transparent structure and it is heavily dependent on Russian money and Russian sponsors,” said Mr. Baryshpolets, an economist who emigrated to the US in 2016. He said that the Russian government is still using the chess federation to project Russian influence on the cultural front.

Mr. Baryshpolets noted that in 2020, the last year for which financial statements are available, Russian public and private companies on condition more than 90 percent of all FIDE donations, which is more than 45 percent of the organization’s budget.

Chess has traditionally been inextricably linked to the Russian state and a projection of its world power, a legacy of Soviet domination of the sport it funded and nurtured. From the moment the International Chess Federation established the first World Chess Championship in 1948 until 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, Soviet chess players won every championship except one.

Mr. Dvorkovich, 50, was elected president four years ago, replacing the eccentric Russian millionaire Kirsan N. Ilyumzhinov, whose controversial two-decade rule ended in a 2018 ouster by the federation’s ethics commission.

Mr. Dvorkovich said his close relationship with the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin was a thing of the past.

In one of the interviews, Mr. Dvorkovich said that he “is aware of the reputational risks” stemming from his former affiliation with the Russian state. He has described himself as “between two fires,” drawing criticism both in Russia for refusing to openly support the war, and abroad for ties to the Kremlin.

In a July online debate with other candidates for the organization’s presidency, he described himself as “far from the Kremlin.” promised to resign whether he will ever fall under the sanctions of the West. That same month, the head of the Russian Chess Federation called Mr. Dvorkovich “our candidate” and predicted that he would win easily.

Under the leadership of Mr. Dvorkovich, the federation condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine and severed important sponsorship ties with Russian-controlled companies. After the invasion, Russian players could only participate in official international tournaments under the flag of another country or under the neutral FIDE flag.

However, Mr. Dvorkovich repeated the Kremlin’s false claims that he was fighting fascism in Ukraine.

At the same time, he is generally well respected for his leadership in FIDE and remains popular both among chess powers such as India and dozens of smaller national federations that rely on grants from the FIDE Special Development Fund.

“Compared to four years ago, today’s FIDE is completely different,” said Milan Dinich, editor of British Chess Magazine, referring to the changes he says Mr. Dvorkovich made. “He is much more respected both inside and outside the chess world, and his finances have improved and become more transparent,” he added, while acknowledging that the organization still needs further changes.

Al Lawrence, managing director of the US Chess Trust, a charity that provides chess scholarships to children and veterans, said that despite systems put in place to strengthen institutional processes so that decision-making does not depend on one leader, the FIDE President still had significant influence. to important questions.

“Who is the president matters a lot,” said Mr. Lawrence, a former director of the US Chess Federation who spoke for himself. “Frankly, right now the federation is very closely tied to Russian influence.”

This influence can serve broader Russian interests almost immediately. It is expected that a day after the presidential election, the chess federation will consider a proposal to lift the ban on the participation of Russian teams in major championships. Chess, like most world sports, was banned for Russian teams after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“We would like our team to return to the big stage,” said Andrey Filatov, head of the Russian Chess Federation. said in July.

In Mr. Baryshpolets’ hometown of Kyiv, chess players gathered in Shevchenko Park last Saturday, laying out plastic chess pieces on stone tables, waiting for partners.

Like the federation challenger, almost all of them learned to play as children.

“For us, as chess players, it’s not that important, but as citizens of Ukraine, we would like a Ukrainian to be the head of the federation,” said Vadim Weisberger, 63, a businessman who was one of the players.

Others said they left the war behind when they sat down at the chessboard.

“This is the civilized world of chess,” said Sergei Maiboroda, a retired police investigator. “Here we are talking about chess; we discuss politics in different places.”

Mr. Baryshpolets learned to play chess when he was 6 years old, and by the age of 8 he was already participating in tournaments. awarded in Russia.

“A big concern that the federations also see is that it is not transparent and unclear what is going on inside this black box, why some decisions were made the way they are,” he said. “Almost nothing is communicated or explained to the federations and the chess world.”

Mr. Baryshpolets campaigned discreetly, meeting with delegates in Chennai and commuting regularly to the venue. Each National Federation has one secret ballot to elect the President, which is an unpaid position.

The only country that will not support him seems to be Ukraine: its federation supported another candidate. Meanwhile, India appears to have supported Mr. Dvorkovich, both in the form of Viswanathan Anand, the former world champion running for the Russian, and in gratitude to Mr. Dvorkovich for helping organize the relocated Chess Olympiad, a major event with 3,000 players and hundreds delegates in Chennai.

The United States Chess Federation said in a statement from its chief executive Carol Meyer that it has not yet decided which ticket to choose and that it will wait to hear from its delegation after meeting all candidates in Chennai. The American team has two players from Ukraine; one of them, a native of Mariupol, Anna Zatonskikh, said that “it’s wrong when the head of FIDE is a Russian.”

Chess analysts say that if Mr. Dvorkovich is challenged by three people, it’s possible that they will split the opposition’s vote, diminishing the chances of defeating him. Others noted that the secret ballot gave voters the opportunity to support Mr. Dvorkovich, even if their countries oppose the war in Ukraine and Russia in general.

“Everything that happens, happens behind the scenes,” said Peter Tamburro Jr., senior editor of American Chess Magazine.

“I wonder if we will have elections that will be heavily influenced by the injection of money into various places,” he added, noting that many member states of the federation are smaller and less wealthy countries.

Lev Alburt, a former Ukrainian chess champion who fled to the United States in 1979 while playing for the Soviet Union, said that while the war caused the chess world to lose the support of major Russian sponsors, he believed others could make up for it. developing chess countries with deep pockets.

“For example, in the Arab world,” he said, “the United Arab Emirates are big sponsors of chess, and the Saudis are becoming big supporters.”

Mr. Alburt said he sees the challenge to global chess as only a small part of the consequences of the war between Ukraine and Russia.

“The world as a whole will probably freeze like a new cold war,” he said. “And in such a situation it would be difficult to save the chess world.”

Jane Arraf reported from Kyiv, Ukraine, and Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia.

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