Olympiad Dresden: The Ivanchuk Files

12/2/2008 – The events surrounding the failed attempt to get Vassily Ivanchuk to submit to a doping test have hit the broadsheets and news services. A number of chess players, most publicly Alexei Shirov, have expressed fears that Ivanchuk may be banned from competitive chess and the medals redistributed. Before you make up your mind where you stand, here are all the details of the case.

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38th Chess Olympiad Dresden 2008

The Olympiad took place from November 12th to 25th, 2008, in the Congress Hall in Dresden, Saxony, Germany. 156 teams from 152 nations participated, with most of the top players present.

The "Doping Affair" in Dresden

The events surrounding the final round match Ukraine vs USA and the failed attempt to get Vassily Ivanchuk to submit to a doping test have made the broadsheets and non-chess magazines. In Germany the newspapers Frankfurter Allgemeine and Berliner Zeitung carried stories, and the biggest illustrated weekly magazine, Stern, ran a report under the title: "Doping Scandal Shakes the Chess World". In the latter the tournament director of the Olympiad, Dr Dirk Jordan, is quoted as saying that he expected the medals to be redistributed after FIDE had examined the case.

Let us take another look at exactly what happened. After ten rounds, with one to go, the top teams in direct contention for the medals were:

Rk. SNo Team Team
Gms
  + 
  = 
  - 
 TB1 
 TB2 
 TB3 
TB4
1 9 Armenia ARM
10
8
1
1
17
339.0
128.0
28.5
2 2 Ukraine UKR
10
7
3
0
17
309.5
133.0
25.0
3 8 Israel ISR
10
7
2
1
16
315.5
123.0
25.5
4 3 China CHN
10
7
2
1
16
291.5
122.0
25.5
5 1 Russia RUS
10
7
1
2
15
309.0
127.0
25.0
6 20 Netherlands NED
10
7
1
2
15
292.0
116.0
26.0
7 12 Spain ESP
10
7
1
2
15
270.0
112.0
25.5
8 10 USA USA
10
7
1
2
15
266.0
114.0
25.5

For the second seed Ukrainian team everything was looking great: a victory over the tenth seed USA in the final round would give them Gold, a draw would secure Silver and even a 1:3 loss to the US would result in a Bronze medal. However, the final result was ½:3½ and subsequently Ukraine did not win any medal at all, losing Bronze to the US on tiebreak points. Here are the final standings:

Rk. SNo Team Team
Gms
  + 
  = 
  - 
 TB1 
 TB2 
 TB3 
TB4
1 9 Armenia ARM
11
9
1
1
19
400.5
152.0
31.0
2 8 Israel ISR
11
8
2
1
18
377.5
149.0
28.0
3 10 USA USA
11
8
1
2
17
362.0
146.0
29.0
4 2 Ukraine UKR
11
7
3
1
17
348.5
163.0
25.5
5 1 Russia RUS
11
7
2
2
16
375.0
156.0
27.0
6 4 Azerbaijan AZE
11
7
2
2
16
359.5
147.0
29.0
7 3 China CHN
11
7
2
2
16
357.5
150.0
27.0
8 5 Hungary HUN
11
7
2
2
16
341.5
140.0
27.5
9 37 Vietnam VIE
11
7
2
2
16
340.0
137.0
29.0
10 12 Spain ESP
11
7
2
2
16
337.5
142.0
27.5
11 17 Georgia GEO
11
8
0
3
16
321.0
138.0
28.0

For the Ukrainians this was the most traumatic turn of events possible. As we previously reported, Vassily Ivanchuk, who lost his game against Gata Kamsky, left the playing area in a highly emotional state, and began to vent his feelings. The Australian blogger Shaun Press describes the scene: "I was standing outside the playing hall, alongside New Zealand delegate Bob Gibbons, and witnessed Ivanchuk kick a large concrete pillar, then bang his fists on the food service counter a couple of times, before storming past where we were standing, into the cloak room area of the venue, all the time being followed by a couple of officials."


Aronian, Gelfand and Kamsky cross the finishing line in Dresden, Ivanchuk falters.
Cartoon by José Diaz © – permission to reproduce must be obtained from the author

As fate would have it, FIDE had nominated the top Ukrainian player (not the entire team, as stated in our earlier report) for a doping control. This could not be implemented, since nobody was able to restrain Ivanchuk and convince him to participate. This put FIDE in a quandary. The FIDE Anti-Doping Regulations define doping violations as including:

2.3. Refusing, or failing without compelling justification, to submit to Sample collection after notification as authorized in these Anti-Doping Rules or otherwise evading Sample collection.

Article 6: Consequences of Doping of the FIDE Regulations give the punishment:

A. Automatic disqualification of individual results
B. Sanctions on individuals

For A the regulations specify that a violation may lead to "Disqualification of all of the Player’s individual results obtained in that Event with all consequences, including forfeiture of all medals, points and prizes." In B sanctions are defined as a two-year ban for a first violation and a life-long ban for a second violation.

Officials and participants at the Olympiad speculated that FIDE would be obliged to disqualify the Ukrainians, as they had done to other teams in the past. Shaun Press, who plays for Papua New Guinea, wrote ominously: "In 2004 both myself and Bobby Miller (Bermuda), refused to provide a sample to doping control at the Calvia Olympiad. We were then subject to a highly flawed disciplinary hearing (one member of the panel being a player I defeated earlier in the event), and at the end of the hearing we were both found guilty and had our points removed from the teams total (eg PNG went from 23 down to 15.5 points in the final standings). So faced with a higher profile name then either myself or Bobby, and the possibilty that the 4th place team would be effectively disqualified, FIDE finally did what they should have done all along. They simply ignored Ivanchuk's offence and declined to hold a hearing. I'm not sure how they will explain this to WADA (World Anti Drug Agency), but I'm sure they'll find a way."

We ourselves assumed that FIDE had taken a decision to ignore the offence, since four hours later the medals were distributed and the official web site carried all the results unchanged. We had witnessed Boris Spassky's passionate appeal to FIDE Vice President Israel Gelfer not to cancel the results of the Ukrainian side, but it turns out that this was not the reason why no on-the-spot action was taken. Gelfer was not involved in the decision, which was in the hands of others. The FIDE Treasurer Nigel Freeman explained it to us:

"The procedures are well known to Jana [Dr Jana Bellin], David [Jarrett, the Executive Director of FIDE] and myself, but probably not to other members of the Presidential Board. All matters have to go to the Medical Commission and there was no time for them to hold a Meeting in Dresden. They will hold it in due course and Ivanchuk will have the right to state his case should he wish to do so. They will then advise what action should be taken. I had no knowledge of any views that Boris Spassky had: they had no effect on the action taken."

Which was, quite wisely, to do nothing for the time being. If FIDE had penalised Ukraine – disqualified the top board or team and given all of Ivanchuk’s games to his opponents – the final medal distribution would have been different: Armenia would still have obtained Gold, and Israel Silver, but Hungary (!) would have taken Bronze. And a two-year ban from chess competition would be a disaster for Ivanchuk and for top-level chess as well (Ivanchuk is the third-highest rated player and one of the most active in the world).

The case is now pending: a five-man medical commission of FIDE has to convene and decide on the consequences, no later than three months after the incident. The quandary remains: FIDE can penalize a top player and redistribute the medals, or alienate the IOC Doping Commission and endanger recognition of FIDE as a IOC sport (which is why the rather nonsensical drug-testing for chess players was instituted in the first place).

However: there is a way out: in Article 6.1 (a) the FIDE Anti-Doping Regulations state: "If the Player establishes that he or she bears No Fault or Negligence for the violation, the Player’s individual results in the other Competition shall not be disqualified." One can only hope that Vassily Ivanchuk and FIDE will find a way to establish just this.

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