Chess grandmaster fired for sexist comments at women’s tournament

Ilya Smirin stands in front of a white background.

Screenshot: FIDE

At its highest level, the game of chess is male-dominated activity. There are currently only 39 women who hold the International Chess Federation (FIDE) highest grandmaster title, compared to more than a thousand great male masters. Even “Woman Grandmaster”, a sort of FIDE consolation prize that requires a score of 2300 instead of Grandmaster’s 2,500, only has a few hundred recipients. This story is what made Israeli grandmaster Ilya Smirin’s nasty comments about a “female grandmaster” during a live broadcast of the Women’s Grand Prix on September 27 so hurtful to female players, and why FIDE decided to immediately remove him as an official commentator.

Smirin won the grandmaster title in 1990 and once edged then-world champion Vladimir Borisovich Kramnik in 2002. Match Russia vs rest of the world. In an interview leading up to the Grand Prix, the general manager noted that the show would be its “first time debuting in English”, a challenge, as he usually provides commentary in Russian. Unfortunately, Smirin’s comment sounded like he wasn’t happy with the few inches of gender equality and chess progress, and his first English broadcast doubled as his last.

“Why does she want to be like the Grandmaster man then?” Smirin asked casually during 19-year-old Grandmaster Zhu Jiner’s match with Grandmaster Aleksandra Goryachkina in one of the two clips which circulated on Twitter. Although Jiner was playing with a female Grandmaster, Smirin wondered if it was even possible to receive a “male”. Grandmaster Standard in a competition reserved for women. He also dismissed Goryachinka’s Grandmaster title as a product of his playing in a supposedly manly way, with “a very strong endgame”. He then asked “Why can women play with men and men can’t play with women?”

“Question for another day”, Luxembourgish Woman International Master and co-commentator Fiona Steil-Antoni, who did not return immediately Kotaku, replied for Smirin’s request for comment, seeming to want to bring the conversation back to the game in progress. But Smirin continued, lamenting and laughing, saying “everyone for parity today”.

“But […] you say, you know, maybe chess isn’t for women? Steil-Antoni replied.

“I didn’t say it openly,” Smirin said.

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Smirin’s remarks were disconcerting. After these comments surfaced, they were put alongside another clip from the Women’s Grand Prix broadcast where Smirin tells Steil-Antoni that the Grand Master “Maybe he didn’t do much” because she has never played Sicilian Defense before, a chess opening or a first group of moves at the start of a game. In response, chess pros like American Woman Grandmaster Jennifer Shahade expressed disappointment at the sexism so blatantly displayed during an official FIDE broadcast.

“Disgusting to see such sexism in the broadcast of a women’s event”, Shahade wrote on Twitter“Fiona did a great job in an uncomfortable conversation she should never have been in.”

FIDE quickly responded to chess players’ frustrations by writing in a news blog that “While we have great respect for Grandmaster Ilya Smirin as a chess player, the views he expressed on air are totally unacceptable, offensive and do not represent any of the values ​​that FIDE stands for. “

“FIDE not only strives to increase the representation of women in professional sports and official positions, but also to change the perception of chess as a purely male world,” the organization continued.

Director of Marketing and Communications David Llada told me on Twitter DM that

Smirin, who, although FIDE Director General Emil Sutovsky says he expressed remorsedid not follow the seven-page document that FIDE provides to its commentators.

“It is obvious that something has gone very wrong here, and we will have to re-evaluate our selection process,” he said. Otherwise, FIDE “usually tries to have some rotation for the role of commentators, giving different people an opportunity. We make our decisions based on their ability to explain chess concepts, which is no easy task.

Going forward, Llada says FIDE will continue to enforce corporate social responsibility guidelines listed in its manual, and wants people to understand that “chess is as global as it gets and is played by people of all ages, cultures and backgrounds. This diversity is something we cherish. But it also implies that from time to time, a member of the chess community expresses an opinion which is simply not acceptable to the majority, and which is not in line with the FIDE values ​​expressed above.

“It is our duty to do everything in our power to prevent this. We will continue to work to raise awareness and combat these “obsolete” opinions in the best way: by making members of the chess community more educated. »