Over the years, there have been many bad examples of athletes taking performance enhancing drugs in professional sport. Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Floyd Landis to name but a few. Vassily Ivanchuk is now set to be added to this list.
In November, at the Chess Olympiad, in Dresden, Germany was played, with 146 nations taking part in the “Open” section. The favourites were, of course, Russia, with defending champions Armenia looking to defend their title. Other countries that had chances of medals included China, United States, Azerbaijan and Hungary.
The tournament is called the “Olympiad” thanks to a special rule from the IOC, of which chess is a member. FIDE President, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has been working for a decade now to get chess into the Olympic Games proper, and this is the compromise. Generally, the players despise the notion that their game can be brought down to the level of the Olympic Games. The fans of sport despise the notion that chess warrants a place in the Olympic Games. Still, Ilyumzhinov continues relentlessly towards something that no one wants.
Being a member of the IOC however means there are other rules that chess has had to bring in. Deeply unpopular is the rule that a player must be present at the start of a game. Professional chess is known for its lack of punctuality. Players rarely turn up on the dot for the start of the game, and drift in a few minutes late. However, this was banned by FIDE, to draw it into line with other sports. If you were late, you lost. The day after this was forced, it is perhaps ironic that due to an error with the draw, the round was postponed by an hour.
The last round saw the other IOC rule rear its head. United States were drawn to play Ukraine, with Ukraine needing to avoid a defeat to win a medal, and could win it altogether if they beat the United States. They had a shocker, though. They lost 3½ - ½. On board 1, Gata Kamsky beat Vassily Ivanchuk. Ivanchuk was, to put it mildly, annoyed. As the reigning World Champion, Viswanathan Anand states, Ivanchuk is mad at the best of times, and lives on “Planet Ivanchuk.” As Ivanchuk stormed off to get his coat, he was pursued by a bunch of FIDE officials, who required Ivanchuk to give a drugs test. Sadly, Ivanchuk wasn’t paying attention, and stormed out. So, according to the IOC, Ivanchuk should be banned for two years, because by not giving the test, he is assumed to be guilty of taking performance enhancing drugs. Furthermore, all of Ivanchuk's results should be scrapped according to the rules, and as a result, all the medal positions at the Olympiad alter.
Which drugs can help a chess player though? Caffeine is the obvious one, but that isn’t on the IOC banned list. Most chess players drink coffee. It’s part of the game. Apart from that, no drugs help in chess. The games are so long and drawn out that timing their impact to help you is a needle-in-a-haystack job. Generally, players are enraged by this, and consider the notion of drugs testing as pathetic.
So, the world of chess is in uproar. FIDE aren’t exactly popular with the players as it is. The 2010 World Championship was supposed to be the winner of the Chess Grand Prix v the Winner of the Chess World Cup, and the winner of that playing defending champion, Anand. However, FIDE changed all that, half way through the Grand Prix. That didn’t impress Magnus Carlsen (#4 in the world), who immediately withdrew. Chess is civilised though, so rather than moan about it, the top players are all publishing anti-FIDE open letters. The Grand Prix itself is becoming the Elista Grand Prix, in that two of the events have been cancelled, and moved to Elista, which is where the FIDE President also happens to be in charge politically.
Ivanchuk will get away with it, because of a loophole in the regulations, but the idea that a chess player could be banned is ridiculous. Indeed, if there weren't such ramifications, then the player may well have ended up banned.
Chess is a sport of the mind. Should it be in the Olympics? No.
Should it be a member of the IOC? Well, the money is nice, but no.
Should players be drugs tested? No. It's a stupid concept.
Should Ilyumzhinov continue as FIDE President? No. He’s making a mockery of chess.
For the record, Armenia defended their title, ahead of Israel and the United States.