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FIDE fires GM Smirin for sexism at the Women Grand Prix

At the Women’s Grand Prix held in Astana, Kazakhstan, FIDE’s official commentator Ilya Smirin made some “completely unacceptable” sexist remarks publicly but also privately as revealed by his co-commentator WIM Fiona Steil-Antoni.

Photo by Anna Shtourman / FIDE

While the cheating scandal is still ongoing, GM Ilya Smirin decided to shock the chess world with his sexist comments. The Belarusian-born Israeli made his debut as an English-language commentator at the Women’s Grand Prix and made sure it was his last, at least under FIDE’s flag.

During the coverage, GM Smirin admitted saying “chess is not for women” and “why women can play against men and men cannot play against women?” Smirin also asked, “why a woman would want to get a men’s GM title?”

WIM Steil-Antoni said to him: “You’re saying, you know, ‘chess is maybe not for women’,” and Smirin replied: “I didn’t say it openly... in private, private conversation.”

Immediately WGM Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova tweeted the incident, with the Director-General of FIDE Emil Sutovsky replying: “I spoke to GM Smirin. He sincerely apologized, and promised to bring an apology on air tomorrow.”

Sutovsky’s response though wasn’t enough with the journalist John Hartmann commenting: “That’s laughably inadequate, Emil Sutovsky. This guy should have been fired without delay.” and Ecuadorian WGM Carla Heredia saying: “Apology is not enough. He shouldn’t have been invited and paid to broadcast in a Women’s event since he has misogynistic views.”

Later, WIM Steil-Antoni who handled this outrageous situation with great professionalism and dignity, tweeted:

Today, FIDE stated: “Although we have great respect for Grandmaster Ilya Smirin as a chess player, the views he expressed on air are completely unacceptable, offensive, and do not represent any of the values that FIDE stands for. [...] Additionally, GM Smirin will not continue as a FIDE commentator with immediate effect.”

FIDE’s full announcement

During yesterday’s Women’s Grand Prix live broadcast, one of the announcers expressed some very embarrassing comments.

Although we have great respect for Grandmaster Ilya Smirin as a chess player, the views he expressed on air are completely unacceptable, offensive, and do not represent any of the values that FIDE stands for. Therefore, we unreservedly apologise to all those who were offended. Additionally, GM Smirin will not continue as a FIDE commentator with immediate effect.

FIDE not only strives to increase women’s representation in professional sports and official positions but also to change the perception of chess as purely a men’s world. Our community has to be a place where women feel safe and respected. Therefore, any action that carries disrespect, sexism or physical, verbal or emotional assault is unacceptable.

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