I Stand With Anton – Reflections on the Disaster in Tbilisi

For anyone who hasn’t heard, yesterday in Tbilisi Canadian GM Anton Kovalyov quit the World Cup in protest.

So what happened?  Well, ostensibly GM Kovalyov showed up at the playing hall and an arbiter informed him that he would not be allowed to wear shorts as it was against the dress code.

There are two main problems that I have with this.  The first is that Anton says that he checked at the last World Cup to make sure that shorts were OK and was told that they are.

The second is that he wore the same shorts to the first two rounds and there were no issues at that time.  And it’s not like he flew unnoticed under the radar here…this is the guy who took out five time World Champion Vishy Anand in round two.

I say “ostensibly the issue” since the real issue appears to run much deeper.  I’ll let Anton tell that story in the statement which he released a few hours after the incident.

“I wanted to wait a little till I calm down, but I’m tired of seeing lies everywhere. So here’s what happened:

The issue were not the shorts but how I was treated. I came to the game and was approached by the arbiter asking me to change (first time). I told him that I don’t have pants with me, and then I noticed that I was playing black instead of white, which came as a surprise for me and asked him to check that. He and the other arbiters checked and confirmed to me that I’m playing with black, we talked a little and everything was fine. Then came Zurab, he was very agressive, yelling at me and using the racial slur “gypsy” to insult me, apart from mentioning several times that I will be punished by FIDE. I told him that I had asked before at the previous world cup if what I was wearing was OK and I was told by somebody from the organization that yes. Zurab, in a prepotent way, said he doesn’t care, he’s the organizer now. At this point I was really angry but tried not to do anything stupid, and asked him why he was so rude to me, and he said because I’m a gypsy.

So imagine this, the round is about to start, I’m being bullied by the organizer of the tournament, being assured that I will be punished by FIDE, yelled at and racially insulted. What would you do in my situation? I think many people would have punched this person in the face or at least insulted him. I decided to leave.

Worth pointing out, I didn’t take any pants with me because I gained some weight and they were to tight. If the organization of the tournament would have warned me sooner I would have taken a cab to the mall and bought pants, without any problems whatsoever, but instead I was treated like garbage. I was too stressed out by the way I was treated and the threats of being punished by FIDE no matter what I do, so I choose to leave before I do anything stupid.

Another point worth pointing out, Zurab never asked me to go and change, the conversation consisted of threats, insults, and agressive behavior from Zurab. He was clearly provoking me.

I will not appeal anything. I am disgusted by this type of people. I don’t want the money. I’m coming back home.”

This paints a much darker picture than the initial speculation.

Of course, when you are dealing with someone like Azmai in the chess world you shouldn’t be surprised at that.

Here are two reactions regarding that angle.  The first was WGM Tatev Abrahamyan’s reaction on Twitter.

Later, when Azmai “clarified” that he wasn’t being racist by calling Anton a gypsy, but rather that he meant tramp as in “dressed like a tramp” Tatev had this to say.

Another pundit who was rightfully critical of Azmai’s behavior is IM Greg Shahade, who sent this tweet linking to his blog post where he spared no criticism.

So what should the average chess fan make of all this?  My thoughts run as follows…

First, I think that dress codes at top events make perfect sense.  After all, we all talk/dream/hope for the day when chess attracts numerous big dollar sponsors.  There’s a reason why athletes have dress codes for how they need to show up looking when they get to the venue.  With so much money on the line the league insists on projecting a certain image so as not to chase off sponsors and potential sponsors.

It may not make the most sense in the world to talk about having a dress code at your average weekender, but this is an official event which is part of the world championship cycle, so come on guys, let’s look the part.

However, if you are going to have a dress code then it needs to be enforced evenly and consistently.  It’s improper to allow a player to wear shorts in the first two rounds, then suddenly take issue on day seven of the event.

If the decision is made that something needs to be said, then it should not be said at the beginning of a round (possibly with the exception of the beginning of the first day) but rather should be addressed after the offending player’s game has concluded.

Also, I don’t think that any valid excuse can be given to not having said something to Kovalyov on either of his two rest days.  Why not inform him then so that he can do something in a way that won’t interfere with his play at all?

Although I have not met him personally, from everything I have heard about him he’s a stand up guy.  I don’t think that he would find the request unreasonable if it were made in a sensible way.

That brings us to Azmai.  There’s nothing I can say that Greg didn’t say better in his blog post, but I would like to point out that a discussion I often take place in is the discussion of how to attract sponsors to chess.

The sorts of ideas that always seem to be kicked around have to do with formats and time controls.

Fine, but isn’t any discussion of time controls, etc. rendered moot automatically when an official like Azmai is involved?  Again, as mentioned above, sports leagues require certain images to be projected so as to not drive off sponsors.  Yet with chess the league is FIDE, and Azmai is a high ranking FIDE official.

What self-respecting Fortune 500 level company is going to put themselves in a position to deal with a guy like that?

So with all of this in mind, my conclusion here is that I stand with Anton.  I think that he made the correct decision to not play after the way he was treated, and I hope others see it that was as well.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

 

 

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