May 28, 2024


(AFP) – A Russian former deputy prime minister was re-elected head of international chess body FIDE with a landslide Sunday, fending off a Ukrainian challenger who said the incumbent was part of Moscow’s “war machine”.

A total of 157 out of 179 national chess federations voted in India for Arkady Dvorkovich as president, while Ukrainian grandmaster Andrii Baryshpolets won just 16 votes, the federation said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called it “clearly very good news and a very important victory,” Russian news agency TASS reported.

Some Russian officials have been hit with sanctions since the invasion of Ukraine in February, and Russian athletes have been banned by many international sports governing bodies.

But Dvorkovic, 50, who served under President Vladimir Putin as deputy prime minister from 2012-2018 when he was elected FIDE president, has retained his post.

Baryshpolets had said before the vote at the FIDE general assembly in Chennai – held alongside the Chess Olympiad where Russian, Belarusian and Chinese players were absent – that Dvorkovich has “huge ties to the Russian government”.

“You Arkady are responsible for what happened in Ukraine now. You are responsible for building the Russian government and Russia’s war machine. And we as a chess world, how can we afford it?’ said the Ukrainian.

The 31-year-old was supported by Peter Heine Nielsen from Denmark, coach of Norwegian world champion Magnus Carlsen.

But Dvorkovich said he took “a strong position [on the] tragic events in Ukraine’ and that he had advocated reducing Russian involvement in FIDE.

In March, Dvorkovich appeared to criticize the Russian invasion, saying in an interview that his “thoughts are with Ukrainian civilians.”

“Wars don’t just kill priceless lives. Wars kill hopes and aspirations, freeze or destroy relationships and connections,” Dvorkovich told US news site Mother Jones.

The comments caused dismay in Russia, and Dvorkovich later appeared to backtrack, saying there was “no room for Nazism or the domination of some countries over others.”

This was seen as coded support for the Kremlin, which portrays Ukraine as run by Nazis and accuses Western countries of seeking to occupy Russia’s neighbor by stealth.

Russian rule

Russia has exerted a huge influence on chess since the days of the Soviet Union, when the game was one of many areas of contention between the communist bloc and the West.

Before Dvorkovich took over, FIDE was headed for more than two decades by eccentric Russian politician Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who claimed to have encountered extraterrestrials.

Dvorkovich has won praise as a capable administrator, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic and for tough decisions after Russia was banned from international forums because of the war in Ukraine.

Dvorkovic has earmarked five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand of India — one of the sport’s biggest names — as his running mate in the FIDE election.

“We are running on the solid record and achievements of the last four years by Dvorkovic and his team,” Anand told AFP in an interview in July.

“The president’s decisions have clearly shown that he is independent from the influence of the Kremlin. Furthermore… [FIDE] they have developed links with many sponsors and countries and have managed to hold most FIDE events, such as the World Championship… outside of Russia.’

FIDE said in a statement that “Dvorkovic’s landslide election victory shows that he has won the confidence of FIDE’s member federations — and the wider chess community.”

“We will not judge the accomplices of today’s vote, history will,” Baryshpolets’ campaign group Fight for Chess said on Twitter.

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