Author: Sanan NADIROGHLU
The best sportsman of 2019 in Azerbaijan, Teymur Rajabov, was the winner of the World Cup, which made him qualified for the Candidates Tournament. But in early March 2020, the entire chess community was surprised by Teymur’s unambiguous decision not to join the tournament. The were concerns for Rajabov’s health and his expected failure to miss the chance...
Due to the coronavirus epidemic, Rajabov asked the International Chess Federation (FIDE) to postpone the tournament. In reply to the ultimatum of Rajabov and his request to FIDE to postpone the event, Radjabov was expelled from the Candidates’ Tournament.
Rajabov was right
It will be appropriate to make a brief tour to the history of the Candidates’ Tournament. Back in 2012, FIDE initiated the tournament thanks to a newly set system to identify the world champion. The first tournament was held in 2013 in London, where Teymur was the last among the eight participants. A year later, the strongest chess players in the world gathered in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, where Shahriyar Mammadyarov became the fourth strongest. We were not represented at the 2016 Moscow tournament though. At the 2018 tournament in Berlin, Mammadyarov was very close to victory, hence to a duello with the incumbent holder of the chess crown, Magnus Carlsen. But lagging behind Fabiano Caruano at the very end of the tournament, Mammadyarov became only the second. Finally, one of the participants of this year’s Candidates’ Tournament held on March 15 in Yekaterinburg, Russia, had to be Teymur Rajabov, who won the World Cup last year. However, the organisers expelled him from the competition at the very last moment.
But after the start of the tournament, it became clear that Rajabov was right. From the very first day, the players declared their unwillingness to play due to the coronavirus pandemic. For example, Alexander Grischuk condemned the holding of the competition during a pandemic. Chinese Ding Liren, who entered the competition after a 14-day quarantine, was surprised that the tournament was not rescheduled. Spectators were not allowed to the tournament, and the whole world wondered: why the timing of the tournament has not been changed?! As a result, it was not possible to finish it. In late March, quarantine was announced in Russia, followed by the cease of air traffic in the country. That’s why the FIDE leadership had to interrupt the tournament, urgently sending the participants back home...
The above narrative shows that Teymur Rajabov was right about the timing of the tournament. That is why the world chess community demanded that FIDE return Rajabov to the competition. Having found itself in a stalemate, FIDE officials are still looking for the solution. The Azerbaijani chess team and the Azerbaijan Chess Federation supported Teymur Rajabov and sent an open letter to FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich, asking him to protect Teymur’s rights and ensure his participation in the tournament. Nevertheless, FIDE is still reluctant to make an official statement.
Law or justice?
In our study of the issue, we addressed the FIDE officials first. Here is the opinion of the FIDE Director General, Emil Sutovsky, about the prospects for the return of Teymur Rajabov to the Candidates’ Tournament: “We think that we did everything right legally. We have managed to hold the first round of the competition. Unfortunately, we could not achieve more because of the well-known decision of the Russian government. That’s why we had to interrupt the tournament with only seven rounds played so far. Of course, we could not have foreseen such an ending. Nevertheless, we did everything to protect the health of athletes and prevent unpleasant consequences. The decision to launch the tournament was logical, but at that moment we did not have the necessary information. Rajabov deserved the right to participate in the tournament. We can understand his concerns. But this was not a simple excuse, paving the way for failure. In legal terms, everything was done in order. We consulted with our lawyers once again. But in FIDE, our key principle is holding to justice. That is why we discussed the option of inviting Rajabov to the Candidates’ Tournament scheduled for 2022. However, his return to the current competition is impossible. After the first round, the continuation of the tournament with the same players and the points scored was agreed with the participants. At the same time, we are looking for balance for the 2022 cycle. There is currently no definite solution. But we are discussing various options.”
Feast in time of plague
World Chess Champion, Assistant to the FIDE President, Vladimir Kramnik, also expressed his opinion on the scandal around Rajabov. In his interview with R+, the famous grandmaster pointed out the fallacy of the decision to hold the Candidates' Tournament amid the coronavirus pandemic: “I also noted this in private conversations with FIDE officials. The decision to hold a tournament under such conditions was a mistake. As Alexander Grischuk said in his interview, it looked like a feast in time of plague. I agree with him. Is it possible to play chess in such a situation? That’s why the appeal of Teymur to postpone the tournament was absolutely correct. Teymur was right in this matter. The termination of the tournament was expected. Now the situation looks extremely complicated. FIDE must make a decision that suits everyone.”
Kramnik believes that FIDE should ensure the participation of Rajabov in the tournament: “I am speaking as an outside observer. The issue should be resolved by the highest chess body. It's not about Teymur. I would say the same about Shahriyar or any other chess player. Justice must be restored. First, the participants in the Candidates' Tournament and FIDE should apologise to Rajabov. I think there are two options to get out of the situation. First is to ensure Teymur’s participation in the next tournament, giving him the right to join the event without competition. This is an issue that can be resolved between FIDE and Rajabov. The second option is to restore Teymur’s participation in the current Candidates’ Tournament. This requires that the other participants demonstrate their position. It is difficult to say whether the competition will continue or a new one will be held.”
R+ also contacted Sergey Karjakin (Russia), who is helping Teymur Rajabov prepare for the competition. “I was very disappointed that none of the participants supported Teymur’s refusal from the tournament. I always wanted chess players to act as a united front. Had two-three more chess players said it was impossible to hold the tournament at that moment, the organizers would agree. Unfortunately, chess is an individual game. We play not for a team or club, but for ourselves. We should bear this in mind. But I understand the position of the organizers. The tournament cost them $1.2 million, and therefore they did not want to postpone it. Rajabov also invested a lot of money in preparation. We spent 30 days in a hotel in Barvikha. Add to this my fees and the fees of two more coaches, flight costs, etc. This is a very large amount." Karjakin expressed confidence that Rajabov will participate in the competition anyway.
FIDE will likely give Rajabov a chance to take part in the Candidates’ Tournament in 2022. Failure to restore Rajabov’s opportunity to try himself in the current competition means to miss a big chance. After all, Teymur was one of the favourites. But time will tell how well Rajabov will be in two years.