The post-game press conferences of the World Chess Championship have been delayed by more than half an hour as each player, Viswanathan (Vishy) Anand and Vladimir Kramnik, had to take their mandatory drug tests. Anand calls it completely pointless and said drug testing was made for other sports, but not chess. On Tuesday, October 21, 2008, the two players had to have two separate press conferences as Kramnik finished his drug testing before Anand, who had trouble producing a urine sample.
Even the seconds (assistants) for the two Grandmasters were tested for drugs, even though they were not playing. Their drug tests were considered out-of-competition tests.
The drug testing is part of the FIDE chess deal (supported by FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov) to make chess a sport recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) so that chess can be part of the Sports Olympics. Currently, the IOC does not accept chess or other “mind sports” as part of the Olympics because they entail no physical exertion. They are also reducing rather than increasing the number of Olympic sports. Bowling, racquetball, water skiing, polo, ballroom dancing, surfing, billiards, and squash are currently rejected as an Olympic sport.
No drugs have ever proven to enhance chess performance by chess players. And so-called memory drugs (if there is such a thing) are not even tested. Research carried out by the Dutch Chess Federation has not produced a single substance that could be considered performance enhancing. Dr. Helmut Pfleger, a Grandmaster and medical doctor, has been conducting experiments of chess players for over 20 years. He says, “Both mentally stimulating and mentally calming medication have too many negative side effects.”
Chess players are tested for drugs that appear on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned list. There are more than 100 substances on the banned list. This includes steroids, Erythropoietin (EPO), amphetamines, diuretics, tranquilizers, beta blockers, cocaine, Ventolin inhalers, etc. This list also includes excess levels of alcohol and cannabis, and, at one time, coffee (caffeine was removed from the WADA list in 2004). See the 2009 WADA prohibited list at http://www.wada-ama.org/rtecontent/document/2009_Prohibited_List_ENG_Final_20_Sept_08.pdf
Some countries do not recognize the drug testing for chess players. The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) does not consider chess a sport and their chess players are not tested.
The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) also rejects chess as a sport. Mandatory or random drug testing is prohibited at all USCF-rated events. USCF’s FIDE representatives are instructed to campaign against the practices of requiring drug testing at any chess tournament or match.
The first country to support drug testing for chess players was Germany. In 1992, under pressure from the German Sports Federation, the German Chess Federation introduced doping rules in order to qualify for financial assistance for chess.
In 1999, FIDE enforced drug testing in all major FIDE events such as the World championship, Chess Olympiad, or national championship.
The Spanish Chess Federation receives around $320,000 a year from the Council of Sports to test chess players at random during team tournaments and their national championship.
In 2001, a drug test during an Italian tournament resulted in a positive test for an Italian player. He had been taking a common asthma drug. Months later, he was cleared of any wrongdoing after he showed a medical reason for taking the drug.
The 2002 Bled Olympiad was the first to test for drugs through a urine sample. All 802 players passed. GM Jan Timman of the Netherlands refused to play in protest to the drug testing.
In 2004, two players had their scores erased at the 36th World Team Championship (Chess Olympiad) in Calvia, Spain, because they refused to comply with a random drug tested demanded by FIDE. Immediately following her win in the last round, Susan Polgar was “randomly” selected to take a drug test. She had just won the best performance award of the entire Women’s Olympiad in Calvia.
In 2008, Grandmaster Manuel Rivas-Pastor, a three-time former Spanish national champion, was disqualified from the Spanish Chess Championship for refusing to take part in a drug test.
There will be random drug testing at this year’s chess Olympiad in Dresden.
The current FIDE Medical Commission chairperson responsible for enforcing the drug testing is Dr. Jana Bellin.
Historically, drug testing in the Olympics came about after an incident. At the 1960 Summer Olympic Games in Rome, a cyclist died of an overdose of amphetamines. Afterwards, an IOC Medical Commission was born to test athletes for drugs.
Perhaps the only death attributed to drugs is the case of British player Jessie Gilbert. She was a 19-year-old chess prodigy who plunged to her death from her 8th floor hotel room in Prague. Organizers of the chess tournament she was playing in (Czech Open Chess Championship) believe she committed suicide. She left no note, but medication for depression was found in her room. At age 12, she won the Women’s World Amateur Championship, the youngest player ever to do so.
I wonder if chess players should be tested for drugs after playing speed chess all night long.
Before completing in a chess tournament where drug testing is likely to take place, players should visit their doctor and obtain written permission for any prescription or other drugs that might be taking for medical reasons.