The World Chess Federation (FIDE) does not come to rest. After the allegations of fraud by world champion Magnus Carlsen against his opponent Hans Niemann, another case is now causing a stir.
FIDE has suspended commentator Ilya Smirin for making sexist comments. “While we have great respect for Grandmaster Ilya Smirin as a chess player, the views he expressed on air are totally unacceptable, offensive and do not represent any of the values that FIDE stands for,” the federation said. During the broadcast of a women’s tournament in Astana, Kazakhstan, Smirin made “some very embarrassing comments”.
The Belarusian-Israeli grandmaster’s comments go against FIDE’s efforts not only to increase women’s representation in professional sport and official posts, but also to change the perception of chess as a purely male world. “As such, any act involving disrespect, sexism, or physical, verbal or emotional assault is unacceptable,” the world governing body wrote, “apologizing unreservedly to anyone who has been offended.”
In a dialogue with co-commentator Fiona Steil-Antoni, the expelled man mocked Zhu Jiner, a Chinese women’s grandmaster. When asked if she had the potential to become a grandmaster, Smirin answered laconically: “She’s a women’s grandmaster, isn’t she? In that case, why does she want to be like a male grandmaster?”
A statement that Steil-Antoni apparently reminded of an earlier statement by Smirin on the subject. When she remarked that he once said that maybe chess is simply not for women, Smirin replied: “I didn’t say that publicly, I said it in a private conversation.”
According to her own opinion, the co-commentator also received her unfiltered judgment from the grand master. When she confessed that she didn’t play the Sicilian opening herself, Smirin suggested: “Maybe that’s why you haven’t achieved so much?” A probably not entirely serious claim.
Steil-Antoni acknowledged the statement with a laugh. A little later, however, she later wrote on Twitter: “I laughed, but maybe it would have been more appropriate to cry.”
After numerous complaints from chess players, the federation reacted quickly and suspended Smirin. The Grand Master himself reacted in surprise. He was “a bit confused”. He said he didn’t say anything really bad and didn’t mean to offend or hurt anyone, he told the BBC. He doesn’t show any insight: “What I said during the broadcast was maybe a bit impolite, but nothing more. I love and respect chess and women.”
The World Chess Federation has another uncomfortable topic after the Norwegian world champion Magnus Carlsen has been repeatedly raising allegations of cheating against his American opponent Hans Niemann for weeks. Fide has now set up a commission of inquiry into this.