Key Players Respond To Kovalyov Incident
Two weeks after the most famous missing fabric in chess, the principal participants and some associated parties have responded. Mostly, they've dug in to their positions.
On September 9, 2017, GM Anton Kovalyov of Canada left the 2017 World Cup before his scheduled game with GM Maxim Rodshtein. It wasn't anything on the chess board than instigated his leave; a wardrobe malfunction of sorts began the controversy.
As first reported shortly after the incident, Kovalyov entered the playing hall early. Arbiter Tomasz Delega inquired about his shorts, explaining that pants were required for the dress code.
Kovalyov explained that he had worn the same shorts for his previous two rounds. Then, organizer GM Zurab Azmaiparashvili accosted the Canadian. According to Kovalyov, the exchange was tense and included several uses of the ethnic epithet "gypsy."
Kovalyov summarily left the event without making a move in his game. He said then he would not appeal, and indeed in the last two weeks, no formal appeal was lodged. Make sure you read the entire first news report on the event for an explanation of the tournament rules and FIDE laws.
GM Anton Kovalyov walks off after his exchange with GM Zurab Azmaiparashvili. He would not return. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com
Many of the key players and interested parties have made statements since the sartorial incident. Below is an amalgamation of them, including exclusive quotes from Vlad Drkulec, President of the Chess Federation of Canada (CFC).
GM Zurab Azmaiparashvili, posting an open letter on the World Cup's official web site:
Azmaiparashvili began his letter by explaining how he has raised "around 20 million USD" for chess. He focused on the need for media attention and private sponsorship for chess events, and his role in securing funding for the World Cup.
"It is not a private or local tournament! It is not a youth event!" Azmaiparashvili stated. "Such attitude is harming the organization through media and is preventing any future sponsor to invest in chess. This is a big damage to chess and its funding."
Azmaiparashvili explains his view of the incident. | Photo: Official site.
He continues: "It is not appropriate for a chess player to declare a day before that he intentionally came with only one shorts and that he is ready to leave, because he has other more important obligations." (Kovalyov said afterward that if he had known that pants were required, he would have gone shopping immediately to purchase a pair. In his statement, Azmaiparashvili stated that the organizers would have provided the car for this shopping to take place.)
Azmaiparashvili clarified that no forfeit of Kovalyov's game would have taken place if he had stayed to play Rodshtein.
Any contrition toward how he handled the situation, or his treatment of Kovalyov, was seemingly conditional on Kovalyov remaining in the tournament: "If I said some words, during a minute of an emotional conversation which followed, that insulted Mr. Kovalyov, I am ready to apologize and I would do it here as well as, in front of him if he were here in his position, playing his games, as he was supposed to do. I have always been ready in my life to correct any mistake and I have no problem to do it in this case as well...I am waiting for Mr. Kovalyov to also apologize for this disrespect towards the organizers and towards his colleagues for withdrawing from the tournament and affecting its results."
GM Anton Kovalyov, who refused all media requests, posted several times on his Facebook account:
Kovalyov asked supporters not to create crowd-funding campaigns in his name (he stands to lose $3000 USD in expenses for withdrawing from the event, plus prize money). He began one long post by stating that he was early for every round, and he often walked around in view of many arbiters who could see what he was wearing.
He explained that on the day of the incident, Arbiter Tomasz Delega approached him. "He immediately asked me to change my shorts, his tone wasn't the nicest but he choose the right words to do so," Kovalyov stated.
He added that there some confusion over the color he was playing, but that turned out to be a misunderstanding and unrelated to the main controversy. Kovalyov did not protest; instead he merely inquired if the colors set up were correct (they were).
Kovalyov heads for the airport in Tbilisi, his World Cup over. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com
Kovalyov then explained the confrontation between him and Azmaiparashvili: "Zurab used the word 'gypsy' when referring to me multiple times. First he said that I look like one. Later on, when I inquired why he was so rude to me he did indeed respond, 'BECAUSE YOU'RE A GYPSY' (emphasis Kovalyov's) and I believe he repeated this again when I was standing there in shock thinking what action to take. This was all done in a very condescending tone. If you don't know what somebody means when they call you a 'gypsy' in a condescending tone and yet you claim it's not a big deal, then I recommend you informing yourself better."
Kovalyov said he exited rather than continue the escalation of the situation. "I remained respectful till I couldn't take it anymore, and before doing anything impulsive I thought about the consequences and decided to leave. It was clear that Zurab was provoking me, it was obvious that I was upset and he kept repeating the same threats and insults."
He went on to explain that he'd worn shorts at the previous World Cup without incident, and that while fashion is not his forte, he considered the shorts acceptable and proper, but would have been flexible and changed after being given the chance to purchase a pair of long pants.
On leaving early, Kovalyov stated that he felt he had to make the principled decision: "Dignity is way above any money and fame, if you don't see this I recommend you to do some soul searching."
Canadian FIDE Delegate and Zonal President Hal Bond, in an open letter to FIDE:
"The Chess Federation of Canada protests in the strongest terms the abusive treatment of the Canadian player Anton Kovalyov at the 2017 World Cup at Tbilisi," Bond wrote. He added that the dress code itself was not the issue, but rather the treatment of one of his federation's players.
"Mr. Azmaiparashvili's behaviour in this case clearly violated the rules and norms of FIDE. The perpetrator must be subject to appropriate discipline to ensure this sort of thing never happens again."
Bond stated that a formal complaint to the FIDE Ethics Committee would be forthcoming.
FIDE Deputy President Georgios Makropoulos, replying to Bond's letter:
Makropoulos buttressed the position of FIDE and defended Azmaiparashvili. He first cited the vague FIDE rules about being dressed "properly and in a dignified way." He did not contradict any of the events themselves.
Instead, he offered an explanation and supposed justification for Azmaiparashvili's behavior: "You can understand how better positioned our sport would have been, worldwide, if chess had more fundraisers like Mr. Azmaiparashvili on a global scale," Makropoulos wrote. "You can also understand that under such psychological pressure to secure these funds, especially for the Chess Olympiad next year, it is not strange that an organiser expects the players to have a proper appearance and show respect to sponsors and the public."
While allowing for "psychological pressure" of the organizer, he did not offer any acknowledgment that Kovalyov may have had similar pressures after being berated just before a game.
He then invited Bond to appeal under the normal channels FIDE offers.
The Association of Chess Professional's response (an open letter from their web site):
The ACP board created a petition on the grounds that one of their members was treated unfairly, and their lack of faith in FIDE responding adequately.
"No player can be treated this way and this is unacceptable," the letter states.
The ACP also cited the conflict of interest in Azmaiparashvili's two roles at the World Cup.
"Incidentally, Mr. Azmaiparashvili is not only the Organiser, but also the Chairman of the Appeals Committee. The Appeals Committee, that is the only body that can correct the actions of arbiters and organizers! This should not have happened, and we strongly blame FIDE for creating this conflict of interest."
Chess Federation of Canada President Vlad Drkulec, in a letter to FIDE, and also an interview with Chess.com:
Drkulec expressed hope for a remedy at the outset, but his letter then also offered some additional evidence that showed Azmaiparashvili himself wore shorts at the World Cup a few days before the incident. In front of current World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen and former Women's World Champion GM Nona Gaprindashvili, Azmaiparashvili is wearing three-quarter length "capri" pants, albeit in a skittles area and not in the main playing hall.
Drkulec said if Kovalyov saw Azmaiparashvili wearing this clothing, and he'd worn the same shorts for multiple earlier rounds, then "Anton could be forgiven for not anticipating that there would be a problem if he wore them."
Later photographs also showed GM Vassily Ivanchuk wore capri jeans in the tournament hall during a tiebreak round in which he wasn't playing.
Drkulec stated that many chess media sites showed pictures of players in short and t-shirts, including the now-finalist GM Levon Aronian.
"One example of this is Grandmaster Aronian’s cat tee shirt, which I will not criticize, but which does seem to me to be no less problematic from a FIDE dress code perspective than Anton’s attire," Drkulec wrote. "If it tries to reframe this episode as a question of a dress code which is vaguely formulated and sporadically enforced at this tournament FIDE will make itself look ridiculous and hypocritical to all independent observers."
If the reason for proper dress is to attract positive media coverage, Drkulec said the incident has produced the exact opposite -- ridicule from the press.
"We can accept the idea that there can be a dress code for chess competition. Given everything that has gone on before and during this World Cup, we cannot accept that a young Grandmaster deserves to be distracted and insulted moments before a game that is part of the qualification for the World Chess Championship, merely because the organizer doesn't like his pants."
Drkulec said that a "sincere apology" from Azmaiparashvili toward Kovalyov would be the first step toward reconciliation.
Speaking to Chess.com, Drkulec pointed out that the most immediate beneficiary of the entire incident was Rodshtein, who plays for Israel, which is a member of the European Chess Union. In addition to his two roles at the World Cup, Azmaiparashvili is also president of the ECU.
"The net result was to advantage a player from the ECU who advanced to the next round without having to play a game," Drkulec said. "This situation is really not about the shorts but about an organizer's decision to make this about him rather than the competition."
When asked about the upcoming Olympiad in 2018, also in Georgia and also assisted in the organization by Azmaiparashvili, Drkulec did not offer much optimism.
"To say that we are very, very angry about this situation would be understating the obvious," he said. "We have not assessed yet the full damages of this situation. Certainly I hope the situation can be resolved so that Anton is willing to play in [Georgia] again in 2018 but this may be hoping for too much."
When asked what would be the "ideal resolution" to the entire episode, Drkulec said, "My ideal resolution would be that Anton gets the prize money due to him, a sincere apology from Zurab without equivocation, and a clear expression that this type of situation will never be allowed to happen again. An appropriate wild card seeding into the next world cup for Anton. A censure from FIDE for Zurab for his behavior in this incident. The organizer while being essential is not above the competition and FIDE needs to send a clear message that this is the case. Zurab should refrain from being at the same time an organizer and a member of the appeals committee for any competition. He should also not be addressing a player moments before an important game. He should not threaten any player with retaliation from FIDE. He should not engage in bullying behavior against players or anyone. It is not difficult to find examples of past misconduct by this individual but our ideal outcome does not require the condemnation of Zurab the individual. We need to condemn the actions of Zurab at this tournament which have brought the game of chess into disrepute."