Canada’s chess federation is preparing to lodge a formal complaint with the sport’s world governing body after the country’s top prospect was berated for wearing shorts and called a “gypsy” by an official at a recent World Cup.
Anton Kovalyov, a Ukrainian-born Montrealer, travelled to Tbilisi, Georgia, earlier this month to take part in the international tournament. Minutes before one of the biggest matches of his career, an official asked the 25-year-old to change out of the plaid shorts he was wearing.
Kovalyov, who had already played several rounds in the same pair of shorts, replied that he hadn’t packed any long trousers.
He was soon approached by another organiser, Zurab Azmaiparashvili – the president of the European Chess Union – leading to a confrontation that saw Kovalyov storm out of the $1.6m tournament.
In a Facebook post written shortly after he forfeited the tournament, Kovalyov said Azmaiparashvili had threatened and insulted him. “He was very aggressive, yelling at me and using the racial slur ‘gypsy’ to insult me,” he wrote. “The issue [was] not the shorts, but how I was treated.”
He was told by Azmaiparashvili that the World Chess Federation, known as Fide, would punish him for his sartorial choices.
While the dress code set out by the world chess federation does not prohibit shorts, it stipulates that players are expected to maintain a “dignified appearance” and those with “unkempt or greasy hair should be admonished, as well as those wearing old or torn jeans and battered attire generally”.
Azmaiparashvili refused to back down, said Kovalyov. “At this point I was really angry but tried not to do anything stupid, and asked him why he was so rude to me, and he said because I’m a gypsy,” he said.
He continued: “So imagine this, the round is about to start, I’m being bullied by the organiser of the tournament, being assured that I will be punished by FIDE, yelled at and racially insulted. What would you do in my situation? I think many people would have punched this person in the face or at least insulted him. I decided to leave.”
Kovalyov, who was awarded the title of grandmaster in 2008 and is currently studying at a university in Texas, said the decision cost him $3,000 in prize money.
He added that he hadn’t thought to bring any trousers with him to the tournament as recent weight gain meant he didn’t have any that fit him. “If the organization of the tournament would have warned me sooner I would have taken a cab to the mall and bought pants, without any problems whatsoever,” he said. “But instead I was treated like garbage.”
Speaking to media after the tournament, Azmaiparashvili dismissed the fact that Kovalyov had already been allowed to play several matches in shorts. “If there is a rule, everybody has to follow the rule, including the players, or arbiters or officials, it doesn’t matter,” he told ChessBase.com.
Canada’s chess federation has sent emails protesting Kovalyov’s treatment to various entities in the World Chess Federation as well as to organisers of the tournament.
“I was shocked,” said Vladimir Drkulec, the federation’s president. “If you want to enforce a dress code, you do it after the game or at the beginning of the tournament. Not after he’s already played four games in the same attire.”
The row ended up overshadowing the fact that the Canadian player had managed to knock out the five-time world champion, Viswanathan Anand, in the previous round, said Drkulec.
On Wednesday, his organisation issued a statement calling for Azmaiparashvili to be disciplined over what they deemed “the abusive treatment” of Kovalyov as well as barred from the playing hall for future events.
“You can’t have your players be treated with such disrespect,” said Drkulec. “Because if our top player isn’t welcome there, then we aren’t welcome there.”