Russia women to miss 2014 Olympiad?

A major story has broken in the chess world yesterday as Norway Olympiad Committee (NOC) have disqualified the Russian women’s team who are the defending champions. This has caused quite a stir because FIDE is seeking to overturn the decision despite the admission that the Russian Chess Federation (RCF) missed the June 1st deadline for submitting the rosters of the teams. Russia along with eight other federations are affected. Those nations are: Cambodia, Central African Republic, Gabon, Cote d’Ivoire, Oman, Pakistan and Senegal and Afghanistan (women).

Russia… 2012 Olympiad Champions!
Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

Ironically, the RCF submitted the men’s team roster. The RCF’s hope rides on the fact that they had paid for both teams on July 7th while only submitting the men’s roster. They also contend that since the Olympiad was having financial difficulties they were not certain that the June 1st deadlines was still in effect. The statement from the RCF…

In April it became clear that serious financially difficulties holding the Olympiad had arisen for the Norwegians. For a long time the situation remained unclear, FIDE had to get involved, and it was only on 5 June that the organising committee officially declared that the event would take place in Tromsø on the dates declared earlier (1-14 August 2014). In that situation it’s at the very least strange to demand that national chess federations strictly observe point 3.7.1 [of the Olympiad regulations] according to which they’re obliged to give a detailed list of players and delegation members before 1 June.

Yet the other federations complied including the RCF (for the men)!

According to the article at chess24.com, the Norwegian organizers sent a letter to FIDE’s Executive Director Nigel Freeman that gave the background of the decision and the Olympiad regulations. It states,

Teams that failed to submit their participation within the deadline of 1st June will not be accepted as participants in the Tromsø Chess Olympiad.

The organizers made a distinction between those federations that informed them of difficulties and those that did not. Apparently, the RCF made no contact with the Norwegian committee informing them of any problems. Of course, this disqualification received a strong response from FIDE and the RCF. Let’s get to the root of why the RCF was late in submitting the women’s roster.

The issue of Kateryna Lagno

The RCF attempted to register the women’s team a month late. Why? Kateryna Lagno’s application for switching federations (from the Ukraine to Russia) was being debated and objected by the Ukrainian Chess Federation (UCF).

GM Kateryna Lagno
Photo by FIDE.com.

In lieu of the already contentious political relationship between the Ukraine and Russia, the UCF accused FIDE and the RCF of bending the rules to allow Lagno to transfer and immediately play for Russia. The UCF contends that Lagno was already representing the Ukraine (see letter) and objected strongly to her transfer.

Generally, (without consent) there is a minimum one-year period of clearance after application if the player has not represented their former federation in the last five years and a two-year wait if they had. (see regulations) Lagno has represented the Ukraine on several occasions within five years including the 2012 Olympiad in Turkey, the 2013 Women’s Team Championship in Astana, Turkey (which the Ukraine won) and most recently at the Women’s Grand Prix tournaments. Thus, sorting out player transfer regulations may have delayed the team application resulting in their disqualification. However, how would Lagno be eligible given the regulation? (Note: There is a three-month waiting period if the former federation agrees. Yet Ukraine included Lagno on their Olympiad roster.)

After informing Fide of our interpretation and position, we have received mails and phone calls from the Fide Secretariat and Vice President Gelfer asking us to allow the Russian women’s team to participate. Of course, we can understand the embarrassment it can create when a significant and powerful federation like RCF does not submit a team within the deadline. Still, we as Organizers have a duty to treat all federations alike (see regulations).

FIDE has attempted to execute Clause 6.1…

The FIDE President represents the interests of FIDE and is empowered to take the final decision on all questions relating to the Olympiad as a whole. (see regulations).

Are all nations equal?

The Russian women’s team are the sitting Olympiad champions, but it is the organizers’ contention that all countries are bound by the same rules and expected to comply. Is it then fair for FIDE to overturn such a decision? This would set a precedent for FIDE being able to decide which teams can register late and which cannot. For the FIDE/RCF they also cite 3.7.1 and 3.7.2 as a gray area. Clause 3.7.2 reads,

Late notification of team particulars shall be accepted up to 20 hours before the start of Round 1 (PB ’98), but subject to a late submission fee of 100 euros per name.

This seems contingent on the earlier condition of submitting the team rosters. This issue occurs every single Olympiad. If Guatemala, Ghana or Fiji would have been the only federations in violation, would they have received exemption for failing to meet the deadline? Despite the democratic structure of FIDE’s General Assembly, it is apparent that not all federations are treated alike. It will be interesting to see if FIDE will overrule this decision, move the Olympiad or cancel altogether. If it does, it will brew over to a political fight affecting the election.

Is FIDE a democracy or meritocracy based on status?
Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

Injection of Election Politics

In a sidebar, FIDE has injected politics into the fray stating that Norway is disqualifying nations who are knowingly supporting Kirsan Ilyumzhinov in the FIDE election. Israel Gelfer expressed his disappointment that the NOC seems to have a political motive. He said the Norwegian Olympiad committee is denying visas to nations supporting Ilyumzhinov.

Here is Israel Gelfer’s contention (starting at 02:05)…

Some of Gelfer’s contentions seem dubious on a few accounts.

  • Firstly, the NOC does not issue the visas, but to suggest the the NOC is influencing this decision is a bit presumptuous. All nations received the same invitation letter (see invitation) and were aware of the regulations (see regulations).
  • Secondly, the teams disqualified also includes several who are backing Kasparov. Again… those disqualified nations are: Russia, Cambodia, Central African Republic, Gabon, Cote d’Ivoire, Oman, Pakistan and Senegal and Afghanistan (women).
  • Thirdly, Kasparov would have nothing to gain by disqualifying the above nations. He has responded to these charges (see statement).

The injection of politics seems to muddy the waters of the real issue which is a federation’s responsibility to meet deadlines. Either one has to admit that FIDE is not a democracy (but a meritocracy), or that it is a democracy and all federations have to be treated equally. Which is it?

Richard Conn, a dapper Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov on the floor during the FIDE Assembly. FIDE's Nigel Freeman and Kirsan Ilyumzhinov at the head table. Ilyumzhinov would win another term as FIDE President. Photo by Europe-Echecs.com.

Richard Conn, a dapper Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov on the floor during the FIDE Assembly. FIDE’s Nigel Freeman and Kirsan Ilyumzhinov at the head table. Ilyumzhinov would win another term as FIDE President, but the 2010 election season pails in comparison to 2014. Photos by Europe-Echecs.com.

The political overtones of this decision are clear. Garry Kasparov has been at odds with the RCF which has thrown its support behind the incumbent Ilyumzhinov. Thus, there is a lot at stake here. However, it is quite desperate to inject politics in this case when the evidence already shows that these disqualified federations did not meet the deadlines that were stated well in advance. Ilyumzhinov releases a statement on his FIDE First website. Following are a couple of excerpts…

The Russian Chess Federation has already expressed its official reaction on this matter. Experts hold the unanimous opinion that the leaders of the Olympiad Organizing Committee are beholden to Garry Kasparov, and the attempt to block national teams from the tournament is nothing but a political provocation and an attempt to put pressure on the incumbent FIDE President.

also

The Chess Olympiad Organizing Committee explained its decision to remove the Russian Women’s team from the tournament to be held from August 1 through 14, 2014, in Tromsø, Norway by the Russian team missing the June 1 application deadline for the tournament. After June 1, FIDE VP Israel Gelfer asked the Organizing Committee to admit the Russian women’s team to the Olympiad as an exception, but his request was denied.The Russian women’s team won the two most recent Chess Olympiads in 2010 and 2012.

This is clearly about Russia and the influence it wields. FIDE is asking for an “exception” implying that Russia had indeed done something wrong. It is hard to have it both ways… to claim Russia was within the rules and to admit them, yet also ask for an “exception” and forgive a breach of rules.

The Norway Olympiad was already teetering on the brink of disaster back in June when the threat of cancellation was real. Recently we had an announcement of the visa issue warning federations that they will have to travel to countries with a Norwegian diplomatic station. Now this controversy combined with its political overtones will put a larger cloud over the celebrated event. We will see how this latest saga plays out.

19 Comments

  1. FIDE President turn-up the heat on Norway with a July 21 ultimatum.
    Who will blink?
    I think Norway will call, as good poker players often do, and force Kirsan to all-in; cancel or move the Olympiad to Sochi.
    For Norway, it’s now a matter of national pride.

  2. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has issued a July 21st ultimatum for the NOC to allow the nine disqualified teams to participate without penalty. He mentions Gabon and Afghanistan both of whom had been tied up in controversy since their elected boards had been mysteriously replaced by another board.

    The Federations of Afghanistan, Gabon and Pakistan are only three examples, out of many, legitimate federations that are denied access to the online registration system of the Olympiad, and even today they are still not allowed to register their full delegation. The Organizing Committee had instead given the Afghanistan and Gabon access to the registration system to people who are connected to Gary Kasparov and falsely claimed to represent the real federations of Afghanistan and Gabon! This is an issue resolved by the Electoral Commission of FIDE since 14 July and the Organising Committee is aware of this.

    In the Gabon case, the board put in by FIDE has produced no evidence of election, but have been made the rightful delegates. This episode is a mess. If Norway doesn’t comply, then what happens??

    Olympiad Tromsø: FIDE President issues a deadline
    https://en.chessbase.com/post/olympiad-troms-fide-president-issues-a-deadline

  3. Did the UCF receive notice that Lagno was transferring federations? They included her on the Ukrainian roster, so they initially rejected the idea. They claimed they were told in March 2014 and stated their objection in June 2014. Did they change course?

  4. What is also interesting is Karpov’s support of FIDE, while Kasparov is diametrically opposes FIDE position, and yet, Karpov is Kasparov’s running mate. Strange political chess bedfellows.

    1. Yes… he was his running mate in 2010, but Karpov is certainly an “establishment man”… Russian to the bone. I believe while he is a critic of Ilyumzhinov, he is going to side with his decision. Karpov did not have much of a platform that offered a value proposition.

  5. Remember my poker analogy (above) on the FIDE Olympiad crisis? Well, as predicted, Kirsan did All-in by issuing an ultimatum to the Norway Chess Federation to admit the Russian women champions by July 21 or else.
    My poker smart-money is on the Norway Chess Federation to also All-in (call) by standing their ground and continue to refuse to admit the Russian ladies.
    Of course, Norway could relent, in the interest of chess, capitulate to Russian tyranny, and suffer a massive blow to Norwegian national pride.

  6. With a day to go to the July 21 FIDE ultimatum issued to the Norway Chess Federation, I fully expect the Norwegians to tell Krisan and his boss, Ras Putin, to take your Olympiad and shove it up your Sochi.

  7. Is Russian President Putin from the bloodline of the infamous Rasputin? There seems to be some similarity to their opening and middle game repertoire.
    Maybe President Putin, recognizing the historical unpopularity of the name Rasputin, dropped the “Ras” but kept the Putin hoping no one would notice.
    We have noticed.

  8. Rasputin was one of the most hated man in Russian history for his pivotal role in Tsar Nicholas’ reign over Russia so Putin would not want to be in any way associated with his infamous ancestor.

  9. I fully expect the Norwegians to tell Krisan and his boss, Ras Putin, to take your Olympiad and shove it up your Sochi.

    Or not.

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