World chess organisers forced into late U-turn over Russian player’s flag

Chess’s governing body was forced into a dramatic late scramble before the first game of the world championships on Friday after being told the Russian challenger’s flag breached World Anti-Doping Agency rules.

Since December 2019 the Russian flag, national anthem and “name in any form” are not allowed to be used at world events as a punishment for doping offences. However Fide, the governing body, had believed that using a flag that said “Chess Federation of Russia” would be within the rules.

However, hours before Ian Nepomniachtchi played his opening move against Magnus Carlsen in Dubai, Fide officials were told that such a flag would also breach Wada rules and therefore would have to be replaced. It meant the governing body had to perform a last-minute switch with Nepomniachtchi’s flag saying CFR when the game began.

The story was confirmed by Fide’s president Arkady Dvorkovich, who said: “Yes, we are in contact with Wada. We checked several times with them. Maybe at some point our team understood that we could have the full name but then they said ‘no, it should be abbreviation’. It’s as simple as that.”

Speaking two days before the world championships started, Nepomniachtchi said he was disappointed not to be playing with a Russian flag next to his name. “The whole situation is really frustrating,” he added. “The country is technically not banned but the anthem and flag has to be replaced. So this is quite sad. But at the same time my patriotic feeling comes from inside.”

The ban on Russia was imposed after Wada ruled that authorities had deliberately erased and manipulated doping data stored in a Moscow laboratory in order to stop its athletes being punished for taking banned drugs.

The ruling applies to chess world championships because Fide is recognised by the International Olympic Committee as the supreme body responsible for the organisation of the sport. Breaching the ban could have serious consequences for Fide.

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