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27 Nov, 2021 10:19

Doping bosses intervene in chess world title clash between Russia’s Nepomniachtchi & Norway’s Carlsen

Doping bosses intervene in chess world title clash between Russia’s Nepomniachtchi & Norway’s Carlsen

There was drama even before the first game of the world championship meeting between Ian Nepomniachtchi and Magnus Carlsen got underway in Dubai as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) stepped in to resolve a flag row.

Russian Nepomniachtchi and Norwegian defending champion Carlsen are facing off in a 14-game showdown to determine the world title with a $2 million total prize fund at stake.

But just hours before the action on the board began on Friday there was an intervention from WADA, which warned chess governing body FIDE that it was in contravention of the rules because of the flag placed in front of Nepomniachtchi’s position.

Russia is currently serving a two-year ban from major tournaments at world-championship level for alleged doping offenses, meaning the country’s flag and anthem is prohibited.

Nepomniachtchi is officially representing Chess Federation Russia (CFR) for his clash with Carlsen.

The issue with the original signage for Nepomniachtchi was that it included the word ‘Russia’ – which WADA said was prohibited under the rules. Instead, it was hastily changed to the abbreviation CFR to remove any mention of the country. 

“We checked several times with them. Maybe at some point our team understood that we could have the full name but then they said ‘no, it should be an abbreviation’. It’s as simple as that,” FIDE president Arkady Dvorkovich, who is Russian, explained to the Guardian.

When the game did finally get underway it ended in a draw after four hours of intrigue.

“I wouldn’t say I was ever particularly optimistic in the sense of winning the game,” said Carlsen, who is the heavy favorite and regarded by many as among the greatest players of all time.

“I do feel like I was a little bit shaky at times. [There were] certainly things that I could have done better but overall I think the result was fair enough,” the 30-year-old added.

Known as ‘Nepo’, Nepomniachtchi is the underdog for the title and is ranked fifth in the world.

“I was very slightly optimistic during the whole game because this was quite a curious line from black,” the Russian said after drawing the first game.

“But while he was down a pawn in the endgame it was very hard to win something for white.”

The clash between the pair has drawn huge interest, not least on the back of the surge in popularity for chess following smash-hit Netflix series ‘The Queen’s Gambit’.

According to Chess.com, interest on its website for the last world championship in 2018 was under half a million daily active users on its site. For the Nepo vs Carlsen showdown, that has risen to more than 4 million.  

Nepomniachtchi and Carlsen will battle it out across the next three weeks, and the second meeting of the 14-game series takes place in Dubai on Saturday.

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