Why must it be that chessplayers always suffer for the errors and arrogance of officials and bureaucrats? It is a shame for any team to miss out on the Olympiad for technical reasons out of the players’ control. I am a candidate to be a president of FIDE who represents all the federations, not only potential medal winners from powerful federations. But of course the Russian women’s team is not just any team. The Olympic champions! So of course all the attention is on their exclusion, because it is a tragedy not only for the players, but also for the organizers and the fans.
I cannot explain the bizarre statements of FIDE vice-president Israel Gelfer. What would I or the Norwegian organizers have to gain from excluding the celebrated Russian women’s team? And he wants to cancel the Olympiad in retaliation? Punish 175 teams for the mistakes of one? Such absurd arrogance! This matter does not involve me or my campaign for FIDE president. This is a transparent attempt to look for excuses and scapegoats for a self-inflicted disaster. The Russian Federation’s statement doesn’t address the obvious question of why they didn’t submit their women’s team on time, as they did with the men’s team. It’s obvious they were waiting for Lagno’s transfer to strengthen their team and intentionally allowed the registration deadline to pass to do so. Would permitting this devious maneuver be fair to all the other teams that followed the rules and registered on time?
Back in September 2006 Garry Kasparov did an hour-long analysis session with the then
16-year-old Kateryna Lagno. His diagnosis: this girl will go to the top of women's chess.
I’m sure the Russian Federation believed, and had been told, that FIDE would let them violate the rules and receive an exception. As the Norwegians’ open letter to Freeman attests, FIDE tried this by citing the President’s “nuclear option” of statute 6.1, the magic rule that says no other rules matter and that the President can do whatever he wishes, regardless of contracts or partnerships. (For me this brings back sour memories of 1985, when FIDE president Florencio Campomanes used the equivalent rule 6.11 to terminate my first world championship match with Karpov.)
That’s the real danger here, the real threat to the global chess community. Either we have rules and accountability and professionalism or we do not. Either we have consistency and transparency or we have instability and prejudice. I have often criticized the FIDE “zero tolerance” rule that forfeits a player for even a moment’s delay in reaching the board. But allowing for common sense and dignity is not the same as intentionally violating the rules. The Russian Federation is neither ignorant nor innocent in this case. The have sacrificed their players by seeking unfair advantage and FIDE attempted to bully the Norwegian organizers into allowing it.
I have nothing but sympathy for all of the players on all of the teams excluded due to the incompetence or misconduct of their federations. All lovers of chess share their disappointment and outrage. It is very tempting to chant “Let them play!” at the organizers, deadlines and regulations be damned. It is correct to be outraged! But we must focus our frustration on those who break the rules, not on those who respect them.