Chess king Carlsen ‘unsure’ about ban on pro-Putin rival
Norwegian chess great Magnus Carlsen says he fundamentally disagrees with Russian rival Sergey Karjakin’s stance on the conflict in Ukraine, but has questioned whether the ban issued to the Russian star was the right decision.
Karjakin was slapped with a six-month suspension by global chess federation FIDE last month after posting a series of messages backing President Vladimir Putin and the Russian military offensive.
Five-time world champion Carlsen – who defeated Karjakin in a tense title battle in New York in 2016 – says the Russian’s attitude “cannot be accepted,” but questioned whether a ban set a dangerous precedent.
“It is difficult to assess, because this situation is completely new,” said Carlsen to Norwegian outlet VG.
“There aren’t many parallels in history. Of course, I don’t agree with Karjakin on anything, but whether it’s right to ban people for opinions that we don’t tolerate? I’m not sure. It may pay off at a difficult time, but you also set a precedent for what might come later.”
Carlsen, 31, claimed that banning Karjakin could turn him into a “martyr” in his homeland, even suggesting that the Russian star would welcome the step.
“Now he’s allowed to tell that story at home – and that’s a good thing there. We’ll help him willingly with that [by banning him]. We’ll let him have what he wants. I don't know if it's good or not, I’m not sure.”
Karjakin, 32, was born in Crimea but switched allegiance to Russia in 2009.
He was a staunch supporter of the reunification of the peninsula with Russia in 2014, and at the onset of the military operation in Ukraine in February expressed his unreserved support for Putin.
“Karjakin… has always been consistent about where he stands politically,” said Carlsen, who has faced the Russian numerous times since their teenage years.
“It is also human that if you have an opinion that is extreme, and meet resistance, then you go even harder on it. In that sense, it’s not surprising.”
Karjakin has suggested that the FIDE ban was a ploy to prevent him from appearing at the Candidates Tournament, the winner of which will meet Carlsen in a world championship contest.
The Russian star – who is a former world rapid and blitz champion – has said he could set up a rival organization to FIDE, should he remain ostracized.
When asked if he thought Karjakin could return to the international fold, Carlsen replied: “I doubt it.”
Back in Russia, Karjakin was recently praised by Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin for showing “courage” and providing an example “for all sportspeople, for all Russians, how to defend sport and to defend the position of our government, without hesitation.”