Chess Commentator Sacked For Making Sexist Remarks

The International Chess Federation has removed GM Ilya Smirin from his commentary job at the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix in Astana, Kazakhstan for making sexist comments during a live broadcast. FIDE called the Israeli grandmaster’s remarks “completely unacceptable” and “offensive.”

The remarks were made during the live broadcast of the ninth round of the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix in Astana where Smirin, a Belarusian-born Israeli grandmaster, was making his debut as an English-language commentator alongside WIM Fiona Steil-Antoni of Luxemburg.

When one of the viewers asked whether it’s possible for one of the participants (WGM Zhu Jiner, on 5/9 with two rounds to go) to make a GM norm in this women-only event, Smirin asked: “She’s a Woman Grandmaster or what? Why does she want to be like men grandmaster in this case?” After laughing for a bit, Smirin asked: “It’s possible basically to make a men norm in a woman tournament?”

Since scoring a grandmaster norm has nothing to do with gender but only with obtaining a certain performance in a tournament against strong opposition that must include a number of other grandmasters (of any gender), Steil-Antoni countered: “Of course, why not?”

Smirin: “I don’t know. For instance, why women can play with men and men cannot play with women? Today it would be like everyone for parity!”

After laughing some more, Smirin tried a joke: “I didn’t say it openly, sorry. Private conversation.”

Steil-Antoni then reminded Smirin of an earlier remark: “You said that [GM Aleksandra] Goryachkina is playing like a man, yeah? It’s also not…”

Smirin didn’t take that back, but instead said: “Yeah, it’s true. She played in the Russian Championship Superfinal. A small minus she made, but it was a very strong tournament. Also she had a 2600+ rating recently.”

Steil-Antoni: “Yeah, but what does that have to do with playing like a man? Only men can play well?” Smirin: “No, but she’s playing in positional style, a very strong endgame…”

Smirin’s remarks caused a storm of protest on Twitter, with e.g. former women’s world champion Susan Polgar joining the conversation. 

FIDE’s Director General, the Israelian grandmaster Emil Sutovsky, initially tweeted that Smirin was going to apologize during the 10th round, suggesting that he could keep his job as commentator.

However, the next morning, on Wednesday, FIDE announced that Smirin was sacked. Here’s their full statement:

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.

During the 10th round, Steil-Antoni has been joined by GM Pavel Tregubov, the husband of GM Alexandra Kosteniuk, who is playing in the event.

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