All about the Dress Code Scandal in Tbilisi
The Chess World Cup was marred by an unfortunate controversy this year. The 25-year-old Canadian-Ukrainian GM, Anton Kovalyov decided to drop out of the event after an argument over his attire with the tournament's organizer, Zurab Azmaiparashvili. Kovalyov later stated in his Facebook post that he had dropped out because Azmaiparashvili had insulted him with racial slurs.The incident attracted a lot of reactions from all corners of the chess community. Organizations like the Canadian Chess Federation, the ACP, etc. openly protested against and condemned the way Azmaiparashvili treated Kovalyov. But Azmaiparashvili stood by his decision of not letting Kovalyov play in shorts while apologizing for inadvertently using a racist slur which he did not intend to use in that connotation. Here's a comprehensive report on the scandal in Tbilisi.
Game one of the third round of the 2017 Chess World Cup was scheduled to be played on the afternoon of September 9. Only thirty-two out of the one hundred and twenty-eight combatants had survived the onslaught of the first two rounds and gathered in the Hualing Hotel for yet another bloodbath.
En route to round three, Kovalyov, like all of the other surviving participants, had to go through vicious acid tests in his first two rounds. In fact, in round two, he had faced and survived against the five-time World Champion, GM Vishy Anand without having to go into tie-breaks; he was having the tournament of his life!
Surely, he must have come to the venue with high hopes as the third round was about to commence. But just a few minutes before the round, he was approached by Chief Arbiter Tomasz Delega who informed him that his attire did not conform to the tournament’s dress code policy. Kovalyov had worn the same shorts in his last two rounds as well as in his last World Cup in 2015. So, it surprised him that he was told about this only now. Besides, he protested about being assigned the wrong color – he thought he should have had the white pieces, but according to the pairing, he was to play with black.
Delega checked the pairing once again, and confirmed to Anton that he was black. Kovalyov was surprised but accepted this. In his Facebook post he mentioned that although not in depth, he had prepared a few things with black. Meanwhile, Zurab Azmaiparashvili entered the tournament hall and saw Kovalyov in shorts. After a brief altercation Kovalyov stormed out of the tournament hall.
In his statement immediately after the incident, Azmaiparashvili said he intervened because he saw that the Chief Arbiter was not able to solve the situation and as a member of the Appeals Committee and as the Tournament’s organizer, he felt it was his responsibility to do so. He further said that he asked Kovalyov to follow the dress code rule. Kovalyov then mentioned that he had played wearing the same shorts not only in the previous rounds but also in previous World Cup in Baku. But Azmaiparashvili insisted that Kovalyov followed the rules and changed his attire. You can see Zurab Azmaiparashvili’s full interview with IM Sagar Shah below.
Kovalyov’s side of the story, however, was not yet heard. He was last seen checking out of his hotel, a couple of hours after the incident, and had refused to talk. But it wasn’t long before he took to Facebook to explain why he had withdrawn. He stated that it was not because he was asked to change but because of how he was treated that he chose to drop out instead of doing something stupid. In this post, he also mentioned that Azmaiparashvili had insulted him using the racial slur “gypsy”.
With Kovalyov’s revelation, a huge backlash against the ECU President ushered in. The most pronounced was IM Greg Shahade’s blog post which he wrote he had written “out of rage for the injustice that was suffered by GM Anton Kovalyov”. Further, Shahade appealed tor the top players in the world to band together and refuse to play until Azmaiparashvili was removed from his role as an organizer.
Besides this, the Chess Federation of Canada filed a formal complaint about Kovalyov’s treatment by the organizers. Hal Bond, a member of the Federation’s executives said, “ Our player has definitely been wronged and our federation is very angry about it. I’m hoping that an apology will be forthcoming from the organizers”. Bond further complained that although there is a dress code, it is not very well written and some of the codes are vague.
With that being said, the Chess Federation of Canada will be seeking a diplomatic solution since some other prestigious events like the Olympiad, a team chess championship etc. will be conducted next year by the same organizers.
The Association of Chess Professionals (ACP) also stood in support of Anton Kovalyov and published a petition against his mistreatment at the World Cup. In their petition, the ACP Board condemned the actions of Zurab Azmaiparashvili in his capacity as the organizer of the World Cup. The board also stated that bullying and threatening a player is unacceptable and that doing it right before the game is an even bigger sin.
They also detested the fact that Azmaiparashvili was both the organizer of the event as well as the Chairman of the Appeals Committee, the only body which could correct the actions of arbiters and organizers. This, in their opinion, should not have happened. The board has blamed FIDE for letting this happen. But with that being said, the board also believes that the governing body of international chess will do nothing to remedy the situation. It is therefore, they said, that they were appealing to the global chess community and national federations. The petition has more than exceeded its goal of reaching 1000 signatures and has more than 1200 signatures on it, within just six days of its publication.
Amid this swarm of criticism that was directed at Mr. Azmaiparashvili, ChessBase India’s co-founder caught up with the ECU President once again to get the situation clarified. Azmaiparashvili defended himself saying that he did not use the word gypsy with a racist connotation. He used it as a slang for ‘homeless’ and did not intend to insult Kovalyov’s race or nationality. In fact, he even apologized for using his words that could've been interpreted in the wrong way. However, he said that he strongly supported the Chief Arbiter’s decision of asking him to change his trousers, even if it was ten minutes before the game.
Whether or not the action taken by the organizers against Kovalyov was right, fact remains that he was inappropriately dressed for an event as prestigious as the World Cup. On the other hand, had the dispute been settled a bit more amicably by the organizers, the entire controversy would perhaps have been avoided. Nevertheless, what resulted was a debacle for both sides. While the World Cup lost a participant who had upset a five-time world champion – and who could potentially have grabbed even more eyeballs – Kovalyov lost a big opportunity to advance further in this prestigious event, not to mention putting his prize money in jeopardy.