Saturday, April 4, 2020

Chess – Corona exposes the hubris of sports – sport

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The pandemic also mats the last international sporting event with the candidate tournament. Far too many officials have acted irresponsibly in dealing with the virus – but nothing changes in spite of the sport.

For almost a week and a half a luxury hotel in the Siberian city of Yekaterinburg was the scene of an absurd sporting event. Despite the rampant corona pandemic, eight of the world’s best chess players sat there every day to find the next challenger to world champion Magnus Carlsen in a long tournament. The World Federation Fide simply wanted to do this against all criticism – until it finally had to stop the farce on Thursday morning after seven of 14 rounds played.

The Russian government had decided that flights abroad would no longer be possible in the future. So the world association could no longer guarantee foreign athletes and officials a safe journey home; everyone had to see that they somehow made it out of the country by midnight.

This is how the story of the tournament ended, which those responsible celebrated as the last bastion of sporting events. Somewhere in Nicaragua and at the Belarusian despot Lukashenko football games are still running. But international sport is now at a standstill and nobody knows when it will go on. The big football leagues have been stopped until further notice, the European Football Championship and the Summer Olympics are postponed until next year, hundreds of events across all disciplines have been canceled.

2020 is also the year that exposed the hubris of sport to be above everything. But far too many officials have shown in their handling of the corona pandemic and its consequences that they do not (want to) understand this. In addition to the representatives of the International Olympic Committee, those responsible for chess deserve a top position.

It is one thing which bizarre pictures they sent into the world when the world was already at a social distance from one another; for example that of the 2000 guests crowded at the opening ceremony. The other is what influence the attitude had on the sport and the players.

Favorite Caruana said: “Everyone is extremely paranoid here”

Azerbaijani Teymur Radjabov decided not to take part because of the dangers. The Chinese Ding Liren had to go to a sanatorium for two weeks after entering the country, which was certainly one of the reasons for his unexpectedly weak performance. The players felt like barracked, most of them lived upstairs in the hotel and only drove down to the game room. There was a fever check twice a day. There was hardly any distraction so necessary after the thinking hours. So it was no wonder that many active people were uncomfortable.

American favorite Fabiano Caruana, for example, said: “Everyone here is extremely paranoid.” The Russian Alexander Grischtschuk: “The entire atmosphere is hostile.” The Chinese thing: “I don’t really want to play or be here.”

Fide didn’t care about all that. It is clear that the seven rounds, after which the Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and the Russian Jan Nepomnjaschtschi were surprisingly ahead, did not run under regular conditions. But when the organizers saw themselves forced to abort on Thursday, that was not an issue for them. At some point later, the tournament should continue, they said, with the score after round seven, and preferably in the same place. Despite the sport, Corona doesn’t change anything.

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