Kovalyov: The Canadian Case

by ChessBase
10/8/2017 – The Chess Federation of Canada will present their case on behalf of Anton Kovalyov on Monday morning at the Ethics Commission hearing during the 88th FIDE Congress, in Antalya, Turkey. Before heading East, Canadian delegate to FIDE, Hal Bond, gave us a preview of some of the issues that are likely to come up in the meeting. | Pictured (clockwise from top left): Zurab Azmaiparashvili, Francois Strydom, Anton Kovalyov, Rajesh Hari Joshi, Willy Iclicki, Ion Dobronauteanu, Pedro Dominguez Brito | Photos: FIDE.com (except Kovalyov: Amruta Mokal)

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


Anton Kovalyov: What comes next?

Yesterday, in "Kovalyov case moves to Ethics Commission", we set the stage for tomorrow's Ethics Commission hearing in Antalya, as part of the 88th FIDE Congress. Today we'll look at the position of the Chess Federation of Canada (CFC). What's their argument, how might it play out, and what do they hope to accomplish?

Going to bat for Kovalyov

The CFC got involved in this case immediately, first contacting the World Cup Appeals Committee, and then reaching Kovalyov while he was at the airport preparing to leave Tbilisi on September 9th. He was alone at that point, after his compatriot Bator Sambuev had been knocked out in the first round and left town.

Since then, they have been acting as an intermediary between Kovalyov and both the World Cup organisers and FIDE officials. They also initiated a formal complaint with the Ethics Commission (also known by the abbreviation EC and ETH).

Hal BondHal Bond, the CFC Delegate to FIDE, sent a letter on September 13th, declaring their intention to pursue a complaint on Kovalyov's behalf:

The issue is the behaviour of chief organiser Zurab Azmaiparashvili in taking it upon himself to insult and threaten our young Canadian player just minutes before his scheduled third round game, resulting in the latter's withdrawal.

The reply, from FIDE's Deputy President Georgios Makropoulos, echoes Azmaiparashvili's perspective and frames the question as one of "respect", while strongly implying that his actions were justified while Kovalyov's behavior was not. Makropoulos:

You can also understand that under such psychological pressure to secure [funds for chess], especially for the Chess Olympiad next year, it is not strange that an organiser expects the players to have a proper appearance and show respect to sponsors and the public. This does not mean that organisers cannot be held accountable for their actions:

FIDE has regulations and procedures in all top events allowing players to appeal against any action or decision of any FIDE official.

This response was obviously regarded as unduly dismissive by the Canadians, who promptly circulated a more strongly worded "open letter" signed by CFC President Vladimir Drkulec in return, castigating Makropoulos for placing the focus on the alleged dress code violation:

I am certain I don’t need to point out that this has brought a great deal of unfavourable attention to chess and FIDE in the worldwide press coverage.  Please do not stoop to explanations which attempt to justify the unjustifiable.  We can accept the idea that there can be a dress code for chess competition.  Given everything that has gone on before and during this World Cup, we cannot accept that a young Grandmaster deserves to be distracted and insulted moments before a game that is part of the qualification for the World Chess Championship, merely because the organizer doesn't like his pants.

In an interview with ChessBase last week, Bond elaborated on the position of the Canadian Federation in defense of Kovalyov's decision to forfeit his third round games and withdraw from the tournament.

On the FIDE EC process:

Hal Bond (HB): They would like to conduct an oral hearing with various parties to understand the situation better, because the various written accounts — they feel they'd like some clarification directly. We have heard that much. Anton is reluctant to get a whole lot more involved in this. It remains a very upsetting incident for him, and I think rightly so. It's not clear that we'll be able to satisfy the requirements of the Ethics Commission in terms of the investigative phase.

Macauley Peterson (MP): In other words, him being able to give some kind of oral testimony...

HB: Right. They would like him to attend the Congress in Turkey. I can understand — I know that people on the Ethics Commission are good people and they want to do a thorough job. I don't know how practical it will be for us to meet that requirement.

At the Ethics Commission, a set of procedural rules apply. Among them is a provision regarding giving testimony remotely:

The EC may exceptionally authorize the hearing of witnesses and experts, even via tele- or videoconference.

We asked two members of the committee (the Chairman Francois Strydom, and Ion Dobronauteanu) whether there was any precedent for this in practice.

[Update October 9: An arbiter from the United Kingdom wrote in to note a 2006 precedent in the so-called "Moroccan Arbiters" case. One of the arbiters, Youssef Boukedir, gave evidence by telephone.]

[Update October 9: Mr. Strydom replied, "CFC has indicated that GM Kovalyov is not available to come to Antalya on the given date and the possibility of taking his evidence over Skype is currently considered, but there is no commitment from GM Kovalyov yet to participate in such a procedure.
At this stage it remains unclear whether the complaint will be judged admissible and if so, whether the proposed hearing will proceed."] 

HB: Anton remains pretty upset about it, and he doesn't want to participate in this because he doesn't trust the process. Here we have Zurab — the chair of the Appeals — sort of judge, jury and executioner, and he's rather skeptical of any tangible results coming from the appeal. So in that sense it's a slight impediment for us to try to achieve anything via the Ethics Commission.

MP: What is the connection between an appeal in the context of a tournament ruling by an arbiter involving the Appeals Committee from the event, and the Ethics Commission?

HB: They're two separate things. Typically an appeal has something to do with the laws of chess or some kind of chess incident. This could have been appealed however, because the Appeals Committee is there to hear grievences against any officials during the event. But I think Anton was aware that Zurab was the chair of the Appeals and he just didn't see any point in going down that road. He was humiliated and threatened right before the round. He was infuriated, and so he thought, "I've just got to remove myself from the situation".

MP: So once the tournament is over, then is there even still a role for the Appeals Committee in the event?

HB: No, the Appeals Committe has specific timelines. You only have so much time after a game to file an appeal.

MP: Very limited time, actually.

In fact the regulations stipulate: "All protests must be submitted in writing to the Appeals Committee not more than two hours after the relevant playing session, or the particular infringement complained against." In theory, Kovalyov could have appealed his treatment by Azmaiparashvili at the time, or appealed his third round forfeiture. Within the purview of the Appeals Committe are:

c) a complaint alleging false interpretation of the regulations,
d) a request for the interpretation of specific regulations,
e) a protest or complaint against any participant

Appeals Committee

The World Cup 2017 Appeals Committee: Azmaiparashvili, Jorge Vega, D.V. Sundar | Photos: tbilisi2017.fide.com

In addition to acting quickly, any protest Kovalyov could make would have needed to be accompanied by a deposit fee of USD $500 (or equivalent in local currency) which is at risk of forfeiture to FIDE if the protest is rejected.

This underscores the stark conflict of interest problem inherent to Azmaiparashvili's serving as the Appeals Committe Chairman, as he was also the principal organiser of the World Cup, as well as FIDE's Continental President for Europe. While it is apparently completely acceptable under FIDE's rules, it certainly seems dubius on its face when one considers the potential ramifications. In many other (non-FIDE) events, the Appeals Committee is comprised of disinterested volunteers, often elected at the technical meeting that precedes a tournament.

MP: The other thing that could be appealed, would be over his prize. From what I understood from Kovalyov's public Facebook post he doesn't seem to have a great deal of interest in pursuing his prize money. Has that changed?

HB: No. I think FIDE would release his earnings without a whole lot of fuss, but Anton doesn’t want it. He’s sticking to his principals and he doesn’t want anything to do with them. I can’t get his money for him — I mean I can, but he doesn’t want it — so I believe those earnings could be gotten.

MP: [The lack of witnesses] poses a problem because essentially what this boils down to is a characterisation of a conversation which is very much a question of perspective. You have to kind of get inside the heads of the people in a way which is very difficult to—

HB: Cleary [Gypsy] was an intent to insult. If it wasn’t a racist comment it was certainly an insulting one. So that’s problem enough. He was threatened with fines from FIDE for violations of the dress code, which he really didn’t understand — Zurab just started telling him you can be punished for this. Referring to him as a Gypsy — that’s like saying “you look like a slob” — I mean that’s the best possible light you can put on it.

FIDE has a Code of Ethics, and there are a couple of terms which could be applicable in this case:

2.2.3 Organizers, tournament directors, arbiters or other officials who fail to perform their functions in an impartial and responsible manner.

2.2.4 Failure to comply with normally accepted standards of courtesy and chess etiquette. Misbehavior of a personal nature which is generally unacceptable by normal social standards.

On the other hand, we could see that Kovalyov himself may be in some jeopardy for violations of other provisions of the code, namely:

2.2.6 Players withdrawing from a tournament without valid reason or without informing the tournament arbiter.

2.2.8 In any top level tournament, players, delegations or teams must comply with a high standard dress code. 

In both cases, these provisions of the code are open to interpretation by EC members.

Aronian cat t-shirt

Contrasting styles: Suit and tie or "cat t-shirt" (Click or tap to expand) | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Relavant to the first point, Bond stresses the emotional strain that Kovalyov was placed under:

HB: Obviously in a perfect world, Anton recovers from this ambush quickly, gains his composure, appeals the decision, sticks around, wins the next game or something and fights the good fight. But he was so insulted and so upset by the incident that, rather than do something regrettable like punch him in the nose or something, he just left. And OK, he's a young guy — you know it's tough — you put yourself in his shoes and what would one do? I can certainly understand his reaction. I mean he didn't throw the first punch. He was the one who was attacked. This article from this journalist [referring to the Qipshidze report -Ed.] there were so many people talking about the dress code. The dress code is not the argument, but if you want to go down the dress code route, he wasn’t the only guy dressed casually. There was abundant precedent for his mode of dressing being OK. He even asked specifically in Baku if what he was wearing was OK, because he was ready to change if necessary.

MP: Sure, although there they would have a different player agreement, and different arbiters. There are a number of variables.

HB: Fair enough, but there was no intent on his part to discredit or rebel with some kind of goofy clothing. As far as he knew he was keeping it between the lines — and he had every reason to believe that. It's also curious to me if anybody else was approached about the manner of dressing. He wasn't the only person in casual dress. Zurab was wearing capri pants one day, and he was always dressing casually, with jeans and an open golf shirt or something, so this dress code issue is completely specious.

Below: Nona Gaprindashvili (seated) chatting with Zurab Azmaiparashvili, Magnus Carlsen | Source: Chess-News YouTube

Nona Gaprindashvili, Zurab Azmaiparashvili, Magnus Carlsen

HB: The bigger part is the organizer has no business being on the floor before the start of the tournament talking to players. This is the arbiters' territory now. The arbiter is looking after the room, so if the organiser has a problem he should go to the arbiter and say, "fix this". You don't take it upon yourself to impose on a player right before the game.

All it would have taken was for the chief [arbiter] to say, "Mr. Kovalyov can you please upgrade your mode of attire for tomorrow's game?" That was the appropriate phrase to say at the start of the third round. If he was going to say anything to Anton it should be like this. You know, "can you do this for the next game?" And then we're done.

MP: Instead of implying he should do it immediately.

HB: Yes.

MP: What would you say is a good outcome? What are you seeking as the endgame here?

HB: Procedurally, we would like to make sure that the chief organiser of an event is not on the Appeals Committee. But specifically that Zurab take a time out from being in the tournament halls, because this was really the infraction. He stepped into the playing hall and took matters into his own hands and that was inappropriate. So we would like to see him removed from the playing halls for a period.

MP: Is that something which is within the purview of the Ethics Commission to do?

HB: I believe so, yes. The Ethics Commission is quasi-legal stuff and I'm not an attorney whatsoever, but I believe that could be a result that they could impose. Anton would like to see Zurab banned for life from organising tournaments, but I don't know that that's going to happen. He said if I could achieve that, then he would be willing to continue playing, but short of that he can't forgive the incident...that's another tall order because Zurab is also the kingpin with the Olympiad, so getting him to sit in the penalty box during the next Olympiad would be quite a trick.

Nevertheless, Bond expects to have a fair hearing on Monday:

"I have great respect for these guys. They’re not looking for an easy out. They really do try to remain independent of the rest of the FIDE Executive and Delegates — the whole community. I really think they try to perform at a legal professional standard."

One issue to watch for is weather Ion Dobronauteanu will recuse himself as he did in 2015 in another case involving Azmaiparashvili, on account of Dobronauteanu's position as Deputy President of the ECU. Responding to our emailed question he declined to comment, deferring to the chairman Mr. Strydom to release any information to the public.

Hearings of the Ethics Commission are generally open to the public, unless the EC decides otherwise. In an unusual move, the EC has indicated to the Canadians that they wish to resolve this case during the FIDE Congress, rather than having a more typical months-long deliberation. Watch this space!

Correction October 9, 13:50: Francois Strydom, the EC chair, did reply via email to our inquiry prior to this story being published, and the relevant portion has been quoted above. 

Update: October 9, 09:55 (CEST): From the start of the meeting, we've learned from someone in attendance:

1. Kovalyov isn't interested in pursuing it and wants no part of a complaint.
2. Azmaiparashvili has offered to apologize, and gave reasons for his losing his temper
3. A large majority agree that Kovalyov should have been better dressed and saw no excuse for his not bringing trousers and more than a few t-shirts.

Update: October 9, 11:15 (CEST): The FIDE Ethics Commission drafted the following statement prior to its Monday meeting, which was read at the start of the meeting and subsequently published on the FIDE web site at approximately 11:00:

This statement is released on occasion of the meeting of the FIDE Ethics Commission (EC) in Antalya, Turkey on 9 October 2017. Its purpose is to make known the EC’s decision in case no. 2/2017 and the reasons for the decision in the light of the wide-spread interest in the matter.

On 9 September 2017 and shortly before the start of the third round of the FIDE World Cup in Tbilisi, Georgia, an unfortunate altercation took place between the head of the organisers GM Zurab Azmaiparashvili (“the organiser”) and one of the players GM Anton Kovalyov of Canada (“the player”). This resulted in the decision by the player to withdraw from the tournament.

On 27 September 2017 the EC received a formal complaint against the organiser of alleged breaches of the FIDE Code of Ethics from the Chess Federation of Canada (CFC). The CFC asserted that it was acting “in and for itself and on behalf of GM Anton Kovalyov”. The complaint was not supported by any statement by the player.

The EC chairman requested from CFC a power of attorney or letter of authorisation under the signature of the player enabling the CFC to represent his interests. The CFC’s submissions were also sought on the issue of whether CFC in its own capacity enjoys standing to act as the complainant. 

In addition, the EC chairman announced to the parties in terms of Rule 8 of the EC’s Procedural Rules that an oral public hearing was necessary and that such public hearing would take place at the FIDE Congress in Antalya on 12 October 2017. 

Subsequently the CFC advised that the player is not willing to participate in the public hearing, whether by his personal appearance in Antalya or by way of video-conferencing. The player also failed to provide the CFC with written authority for the federation to represent him.

At the outset the EC wishes to make it clear that the decision of the player not to participate as a complainant in the proceedings before the EC is the player’s prerogative. No doubt GM Kovalyov has his reasons and his decision must be respected.

However, without authority from the player, it is not possible for his federation to proceed with the complaint on his behalf. Also, the standing of the CFC to act as the complainant in its own capacity, is dubious. It is required that a complainant must have a direct and personal interest which was adversely affected. CFC claims that the negative sentiment arising from this incident will prejudice its efforts in Canada to popularise the game and to find sponsors for future events. It is debatable whether this represents a sufficiently direct interest, but in the light of the further consideration mentioned hereafter, it is unnecessary for the EC to decide the issue of CFC’s locus standi and the issue is left open.

The major obstacle to this matter proceeding before the EC is the lack of a statement from the player as to what exactly transpired between him and the organiser and his unwillingness to give evidence in this regard at the hearing. One only has an idea of the player’s version from remarks made by him on facebook. This does not form part of the evidence before the EC. In any case, these remarks lack important details and do not constitute a reliable factual account on which the EC can be expected to make findings against the organiser. The EC cannot decide disciplinary matters on hearsay evidence or third party constructions as to what has happened. Although the EC is not a court of law and there is no requirement for sworn evidence, at the very least the EC must be satisfied that a truthful and factually accurate version has been placed before it. 

The result is regrettably that the complaint by the CFC, raising important issues of general concern for the better functioning of FIDE, cannot be admitted for want of a prima facie case due a lack of reliable evidence. This is not a decision on the merits of the complaint.

However, it is obvious that the incident between the organiser and player has revealed a number of grey areas in tournament administration and every-one agrees that there is a need for greater regulation on matters such as the dress code for players and officials at different types of events, clarity regarding the responsible persons to enforce such regulations and the appropriate handling of a situation where a player is held to be in violation of the regulations. All of these aspects will receive attention in the meetings of various FIDE Commissions currently taking place here in Antalya.


Reports about chess: tournaments, championships, portraits, interviews, World Championships, product launches and more.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register