The Ukrainian grandmaster tries to overthrow the Russian leader of the world chess body

KYIV, Ukraine — Russia’s war against Ukraine has taken hold even in the seemingly quiet world of chess, where a Ukrainian grandmaster is trying to overthrow the powerful Russian president of the International Chess Federation.

Representatives from 195 member states are scheduled to vote Sunday at a conference in Chennai, India, for the president of the federation, the world’s governing body for chess, which regulates all international championships, determines player rankings and decides where World and continental championships will be held. The current president, Arkady V. Dvorkovich, a former deputy prime minister of Russia, faces three rivals, including Andrii Baryshpolets, a 31-year-old Ukrainian grandmaster who lives in California.

His offer is an illustration of the attempt by many Ukrainians to unravel their country’s deep ties with Russia, as well as to challenge Moscow’s global influence, after Ukraine’s invasion in February.

“The war was definitely an impetus to fight for changes in FIDE,” said Baryshpolets, using the French acronym by which the chess federation is commonly known.

“It is a very non-transparent structure and it has relied heavily on Russian money and Russian sponsors,” said Baryshpolets, an economist who immigrated to the United States in 2016. He said the Russian government was still using the chess federation to project Russian chess. influence on the cultural front.

Baryshpolets pointed out that in 2020, the last year for which financial statements are available, Russian state and private companies contributed more than 90% of all donations to FIDE, contributing more than 45% of the organization’s budget.

Chess has traditionally been entwined with the Russian state and a projection of its global power, a legacy of Soviet domination of the sport that it financed and fostered. From the establishment of the first International Chess Federation world championship in 1948, until 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, Soviet players won all but one of the championships.

Dvorkovich, 50, was elected president four years ago, succeeding eccentric Russian millionaire Kirsan N. Ilyumzhinov, whose scandal-plagued two-decade reign ended with his suspension by the federation’s ethics commission in 2018.

Dvorkovich has been saying that his close relationship with the Kremlin and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is a thing of the past.

In an interview, Dvorkovich said he “understands the reputational risks” emanating from his previous affiliation with the Russian state. He described himself as “between the two fires”, drawing criticism both in Russia for refusing to openly support the war and abroad for his ties to the Kremlin.

In an online debate with other candidates for the organization’s presidency in July, he described himself as “far from the Kremlin” and vowed to resign if he was ever sanctioned by the West. That same month, the head of the Russian chess federation referred to Dvorkovich as “our candidate” and predicted that he would win easily.

Under Dvorkovich’s leadership, the federation condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine and cut sponsorship ties with Russian-controlled companies. After the invasion, Russian players were able to compete in official international tournaments only under the flag of another country or the neutral FIDE flag.

However, Dvorkovich has echoed the Kremlin’s false claims that he is fighting fascism in Ukraine.

At the same time, he is generally well regarded for his leadership of FIDE, and remains popular with chess powerhouses like India and the dozens of smaller national federations that rely on grants from a special FIDE development fund to operate.

“Compared to four years ago, FIDE today is completely different,” said Milan Dinic, editor of British Chess Magazine, referring to the changes he said Dvorkovich had made. “It is much more respected both inside and outside the chess world, and its finances have improved and become more transparent,” he added, although he acknowledged that the organization still needs more changes.

Baryshpolets learned to play chess when he was 6 and was competing in tournaments by the time he was 8. Speaking from his home in Los Angeles, he said his campaign platform included promoting transparency in the location of tournaments, many of them in Russia. . They are awarded.

“A big concern that the federations also see is that it is not transparent and it is not clear what happens inside this black box, why some of the decisions were made as they are,” he said.

Baryshpolets has campaigned quietly, meeting delegates in Chennai and taking a regular shuttle to the site. Each national federation has only one vote in the secret ballot to elect the president, an unpaid position.

One country that will not support him, it seems, is Ukraine: his federation has backed a different candidate. India appears to have lined up behind Dvorkovich, both in the person of Viswanathan Anand, a former world champion who competed on the Russian ticket, and in its gratitude for Dvorkovich’s help in getting the Chess Olympiad relocated, a major event with 3,000 players and hundreds of delegates, to Chennai.

The United States Chess Federation said in a statement from CEO Carol Meyer that it had not decided which ticket to support and would wait to hear from its delegation after meeting with all the candidates in Chennai.

Lev Alburt, a former Ukrainian chess champion who defected to the United States in 1979 while playing for the Soviet Union, said that while the war meant the chess world was losing support from major Russian donors, he believed it could be compensated by others. emerging chess countries with deep pockets.

“In the Arab world, for example,” he said, “the United Arab Emirates is a big sponsor of chess, and the Saudis are becoming big supporters.”

Alburt said that he saw the challenge of global chess as only a small part of the consequences of the war between Ukraine and Russia.

“The world in general is likely to freeze, like a new Cold War,” he said. “And in such a situation it would be difficult to keep the chess world together.”

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