When Ian Nepomniachtchi won the Candidates Chess last week, there was renewed hope that a Grandmaster from Russia, traditionally a powerhouse in the game of black and white squares, has a chance, after a long time, to be crowned world champion, when the world title clash is held at the end of the year in Dubai. But a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) ban and subsequent Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruling has thrown cold water on that prospect.
The WADA had earlier decreed that no sportspersons from Russia can take part in any world championship match or Olympics under the Russian flag because of the dope scam involving the country.
The CAS upheld the doping sanctions, but halved the initial four year ban to two years in December 2020. The ban is in place till December 2022.
“The decision affects all world championship events of any signatory to the world anti-doping code. It means the athletes are neutral, not representing Russia and the flag cannot fly nor the anthem play,” a WADA spokesperson told TOI on Sunday.
The rule actually applies to athletes taking part in the Tokyo Games too. The Russian athletes will be treated as neutrals with no Russian flag hoisted and no National anthem played in Tokyo during the Olympics in July-August.
Coming back to chess, the Chess Federation of Russia did not wish to comment on the rule but a World Chess Federation (FIDE) official confirmed the no-flag no-anthem clauses and the fact that Nepmniachtchi will not be able to play officially as a Russian in the world championship match.
“FIDE can confirm that, due to the WADA sanctions against Russia, Ian Nepomniachtchi will not be allowed to play under the Russian flag at the World Championship match in Dubai. This ban forbids Russian athletes and event organizers to display publicly the flag of the Russian Federation, the name ‘Russia’, (in any language or format), or any national emblem or national symbol of the Russian Federation, including on their clothes, equipment, or other personal items, at any event under the denomination World Championship,” FIDE’s chief marketing and communications officer David Llada was quoted as saying by chess.com.
Nepomniachtchi earned the right to challenge Magnus Carlsen, the reigning world champion, by winning the 14-round Candidates in Yekaterinburg, Russia, with a round to spare.
“It’s a huge milestone in my career and perhaps in my life. I am extremely tired. It was one year of thinking about this tournament, one year of preparation. I am extremely happy to qualify for the match and I am extremely thankful to all and everyone who supported me, especially to my team,” said Nepomniachtchi later.
The 30-year-old Russian champion, however, is considered an underdog against Carlsen. One betting company put the odds at 72-28 in favour of the defending champion from Norway. The 14-game World Championship match will be held in November-December in Dubai.
For the record, a Russian has not won the world title since Vladimir Kramnik in 2006. Viswanathan Anand from 2007 to 2013 and Carlsen since 2013 have kept the Russians at bay.