By attacking one of the kings of the game, the world’s chess bureaucrats have backed themselves into a corner.
The International Chess Federation, known by its French acronym FIDE, is weighing a two-year playing ban for popular Ukrainian Grandmaster Vassily Ivanchuk, the world’s third-ranked player, for failing to take a mandatory drug test after a painful loss at the Chess Olympiad held in Dresden, Germany, in November.
The drug-testing policy, adopted by FIDE in a so far futile attempt to qualify chess as a sport for the Olympic Games, has been widely criticized by players. Many argue that the Olympics quest is misbegotten, and ridicule the idea that “performance-enhancing drugs” can improve one’s ability to play chess.
“Can we believe such news?” Latvian-born Spanish Grandmaster Alexei Shirov, once a challenger for the world title, wrote in an open letter on the Ivanchuk case. “A player who has been at the very top for more than 20 years … gets banned simply because he wanted to calm down after a lost game?”
…Veteran German star Robert Huebner, one of the best players in the West during the latter years of the Cold War, has stopped competing altogether in FIDE events to protest the drug-testing policy.
…FIDE officials, led by mercurial President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, beg to differ. They say that qualification as an Olympic sport would give the game badly needed prestige, media exposure and sponsorship opportunities.
Mr. Ilyumzhinov, who is also the president of the Russian republic of Kalmykia, defends the drug-testing program as a matter of fairness, not just a hurdle that must be cleared to be considered by the International Olympic Committee.