Russian chess body’s switch to Asia a challenge, boost for game
Published: Mar 01, 2023 11:48 PM
Illustration: Hang Dachuan/Global Times

Illustration: Hang Dachuan/Global Times

 The Russian chess body, which started the application process for the transfer in April 2022, joined the Asian Chess Federation (ACF) in a general-assembly vote which saw 29 delegates vote for the move, one delegate vote against, and six delegates abstain. The final transition is scheduled to take place officially on May 1. 

This is the first time in history that a chess superpower has switched to another continent. Currently, Russia has 190 grandmasters listed by the FIDE, the most of any country in the world. Geographically, around 77 percent of Russia's landmass is in Asia.

The influx of those highly rated Russian grandmasters to the Asian region may affect the chances of Asian players, such as those from China and India, to qualify for the World Championship cycle. 

However, this influx will also increase the quality of Asian chess competitions, which will benefit Asian players in the long run.

Such a change also means the 2023 World Chess Championship has become an intra-continental event rather than inter-continental one. 

China's world No.3 Ding Liren will face Russian chess grandmaster Ian Nepomniachtchi, who is now sitting at second place in the world ratings by the FIDE, in the 2023 World Chess Championship after incumbent champion and world No.1 Magnus Carlsen decided not to defend his title. 

Russian chess organization's transition to Asia has been magnificently exaggerated by Western media, which calls it a totally politically driven move to evade sanctions. But it is not a move like what they have described. Continental switches are not new in sports. Australia, located in the Pacific region, moved to the Asian soccer governing body in 2006, while Kazakhstan became a European soccer member in 2002 even though geographically it is located in Central Asia. 

Following the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, many Russian athletes have become geopolitical victims of sanctions as they are barred from competing internationally, especially in Europe. But in chess, the European chess body allows the participation of individual athletes under the status of neutrality. 

The switch also means Russian players will no longer be eligible to play in European chess events. Those who wish to compete in Europe will now have to take the exhausting process of abandoning their home country and changing federation.

On February 28, 2022, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued recommendations to international sports federations to bar athletes from Russia and Belarus from taking part in international tournaments. 

But the rights of the athletes in the two countries deserve to be protected as they should be allowed to compete. For example, like the way professional tennis bodies allow tennis players who hold passports from either country to compete. 

The Olympic Council of Asia has offered athletes from Russia or Belarus access to Asian competitions under a neutral banner. The IOC says it will "explore" the Asian proposal but has not reached a final decision. 

Some fans worry the swift switch from Europe to Asia will set a precedent for Russian sports bodies to get Asian membership as such an influx of Russian players to Asia will dampen the prospects of Asian athletes qualifying for international competitions.

However, Acting President of the Olympic Council of Asia Randhir Singh has promised that competitors from the continent will not miss out on medals and places for the Paris 2024 Olympics due to Russian participation.

Not all Russian sports organizations are willing to transfer their affiliation to Asia. 

In December 2022, the Russian soccer governing body stated it is seeking talks with the European soccer body UEFA after being banned from international competitions rather than seek membership with the Asian Football Confederation.