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Russian Chess Federation Applies For Asia Switch As Row With Europe Deepens
RCF President Andrey Filatov. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Russian Chess Federation Applies For Asia Switch As Row With Europe Deepens

Leon_Watson
| 88 | Chess.com News

Russia's powerhouse chess federation, the biggest in the world, is pressing on with its historic move to formally switch from the European Chess Union (ECU) to Asia, it was revealed on Tuesday.

In the latest development in a row that has exposed the deep divide in the chess world over the Ukraine war, officials from the ECU told the Russian federation it must relinquish membership of its association before accepting membership of the Asian Chess Union (ACF).

The ECU said it expects the RCF's application will be confirmed by the next ACF General Assembly which takes place between February 26 and March 3.

A political organization?

The ECU restated that it considers the RCF, which represents more than 35,000 players and 200 grandmasters, to be "politically exposed." The ECU also reiterated its opposition to the RCF annexing Crimea into its official structure. Both positions have put it on a collision course with the Russian federation, which has been suspended from the ECU since March last year.

The ECU statement said: "The ECU has taken a clear position, expressing its concern about the high-ranked Russia Security Council officials who are part of the RCF’s constitutional structure (Board of Trustees), including the Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu and the Press Secretary of the Russian President Dmitry Peskov.

"This makes the RCF, a sports entity, not only politically exposed, but also exposed to the consequences of the war. We firmly believe that in such crucial moments for peace and safety in Europe, each federation should protect its independence as a sporting body."

ECU members were informed of Russia's decision at its General Assembly in July. Footage of the discussion is here (3 hours and 2 minutes into the meeting):

As the chess world reacted to Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24 last year, chess federations were forced to act.

FIDE, the Russian-led world governing body of chess, initially stripped Moscow of the 190-nation Chess Olympiad, due to take place last July. Chennai eventually replaced Moscow as the host. Then, three days after Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, FIDE took the momentous step of effectively banning Russia and its neighbour Belarus from the game.

Suspension of Belarus and Russia

The two countries were banned from holding official FIDE chess competitions and events; Russian and Belarusian players were also banned from displaying national flags at FIDE-rated events and FIDE said it would terminate all sponsorship agreements with Russian or Belarusian sanctioned and/or state-controlled companies.

In doing so, FIDE followed some of the recommendations from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), of which FIDE is a member. (It didn't go as far as follow the recommendation to ban players from Belarus and Russia from competing internationally.)

On March 3, the ECU followed suit. It suspended the Russian and Belarusian chess federations after an extraordinary meeting of the board. However, the ECU Board stopped short of accepting a proposal from the Ukrainian Chess Federation to expel the RCF. Russia and Belarus remain suspended.

Since then, the ECU has offered support to Ukrainian players affected by the war and Russians who have requested to play under the FIDE flag, transferred to other European federations or moved to Europe.

The ECU added: "While the ECU acknowledges the great Russian chess history and contribution, the invasion and war in Ukraine, has obliged the IOC and international sports federations to take difficult decisions and firm positions. The IOC have repeatedly stated that the intention of sanctions is not to punish individual athletes. Accordingly, the ECU was among the federations that have allowed from March 2022 the participation of individual athletes under the status and clear terms of neutrality that have been set by the ECU Board and approved by the General Assembly. Especially those players who have not acted against the peace mission of sports. 

"Several players belonging before to the RCF have been transferred, at their request, to the FIDE flag under the FIDE special status arrangement and they have permanent residence in Europe. The planned move of the RCF to Asia could result in many difficulties for these players. To support them, the ECU would accept any of these players who wish to remain members of the European chess family as participants in the forthcoming European Championships under a special status to be agreed with FIDE."

The RCF reportedly expects its transfer to the ACU to be a mere formality and expects no opposition.

'Break the blockade'

In December, the recently re-elected RCF president Andrey Filatov told the Russian news agency Ria Novosti: "I hope we will be the first federation to break the blockade. Russia is strong in chess today."

He added: "We have applied, the expectations are positive so far. We hope that the vote will take place soon. And I do not see any obstacles yet. The voting date has been set, but it is constantly changing. For technical reasons, we are waiting for the first quarter of next year, so far all federations support us and I do not know a single federation that will say that it does not want to see Russia in ACU."

Filatov has been RCF president since 2014 when he replaced Arkady Dvorkovich, the current FIDE president. Dvorkovich is a former Deputy Prime Minister of Russia and he headed the local organizing team that was responsible for 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

The International Chess Federation has faced further scrutiny over its links to Russia this week as links emerged between the Russian energy giant Gazprom and NIS, the "General Sponsor" for the first FIDE Chess Olympiad for People with Disabilities held in Belgrade, Serbia.

FIDE had hailed the event as "a watershed moment for the chess world as it inaugurates the biggest chess event dedicated to people with disabilities."

Also on Tuesday, reports emerged of a chess club in Ukraine being bombed. GM Sulypa Oleksandr, Ukraine's head coach, claimed on Twitter that Kherson Chess Club, in the southern city that has been on the front line of fighting, had been fired on by Russia.

Early in the war, chess grandmaster and captain of the Ukrainian team Oleksandr Sulypa posted this photo with the caption: "I am defending my land from enemies and 'peacekeepers'. The truth will win!"

The 51-year-old grandmaster, who was famously pictured holding a gun in defense of his country during the first days of the war, posted images showing the damage.

Chess.com cannot independently verify GM Oleksandr's claims but did contact him seeking comment.

The ECU, founded in 1985, is an independent association that represents 54 national federations. It organizes around 20 events a year, including the European Club Cup and the European Individual Championship.

Chess.com has also approached both the RCF and ACF for comment.

Leon_Watson
Leon Watson

Leon is an award-winning former national newspaper journalist now working for Chess.com, having previously been chess24 and Chessable. His main mission is to spread the word about chess, but he is also a keen league player and secretary of Battersea Chess Club in London. In his previous career as a reporter/editor, Leon worked for The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, and The Sun, breaking many chess stories as well as writing general news and features. As an ex-hack, Leon is still always on the hunt for a good chess tale.


Contact him at leon.watson@chess.com.

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