Chennai: Twenty years after he drove a wedge through the chess fraternity by starting a rival world championship, Garry Kasparov—one of the greatest in the sport ever—continues to get short shrift from the world chess federation, which goes by its French acronym, Fide.
The 50-year-old legend did not get any attention from the organizers of the world championship match underway in Chennai when he arrived in the city on Monday for a two-day visit to cheer for Magnus Carlsen, the Norwegian challenger to Viswanathan Anand’s world title.
Kasparov, a Russian, has briefly coached Carlsen in 2009, keeping their collaboration under wraps for several months until the Norwegian chess prodigy abruptly called it off, saying that he wasn’t comfortable working with him.
On Monday, Kasparov checked into Chennai’s Hyatt Regency hotel, where the match is being played, at around 5.20pm, accompanied by his wife. No one except some hotel officials received him.
Kasparov has come on his own, not at the invitation of the world chess federation, said Fide vice-president D.V. Sundar. “Who are we to welcome or not welcome him?” he asked.
Kasparov will not be allowed to address the media at the venue of the world chess championship match, a key official said.
“I have been advised by the Indian chess federation that he should not be allowed to enter the media centre (from where Fide officials and the two players have been addressing press conferences),” Arvind Aaron, press officer for the Chennai 2013 world title match, said on Monday.
“In my view, this is a PR (public relations) disaster for the Indian chess federation,” said an Indian grandmaster, asking not to be named. “In the light of Kasparov’s plans to contest the Fide elections next year, the Indian chess federation got swayed by the political implications of his visit. But this isn’t any way to treat a player of his stature.”
“I am here as a chess tourist,” Kasparov said arriving at the hotel. “It’s a free country.”
When told that the organizers refuse to take note of his visit to Chennai, he said Fide was “concerned” that he could get a lot of media attention in India and that the Indian chess federation wasn’t backing him as Fide president.
The organizers should only make sure that nothing untoward happens during the visit that could “portray (him) in bad light”, he added.
It isn’t immediately known if the Tamil Nadu government, which is the principal sponsor of the world championship, endorses the Indian chess federation’s stand on Kasparov. Officials in the sports department said on Monday that they had not been briefed on the matter.
Kasparov, who retired from competitive chess is 2005, remains one of the most haloed players ever, having been the world champion for some 15 years till 2000. A part of his reign, though, was disputed because of his rift with Fide. He lost his title to fellow Russian Vladimir Kramnik, whom he tutored for a long time.
Though they passed up the opportunity to pay their respect to Kasparov, the organizers are bracing for a huge turnout of fans at Hyatt Regency hotel on Tuesday when the former world champion turns up to watch Carlsen play Anand in the third of their 12-game match.
Kasparov, who has inspired generations of players, still remains one of the most recalled chess icons anywhere in the world.
A human rights activist who takes interest in Russian politics, Kasparov has announced that he will contest for the president’s post in the Fide election next year. “Unlike with (Vladimir) Putin, at least we can be sure that the votes will be counted,” Kasparov said on Monday, when asked about his chances of winning.
Addressing the media last week, current president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov described Kasparov as a “worthy contestant”, even as he reiterated that he will contest again because heads of national chess federations want him to carry on.
Ilyumzhinov has led Fide since November 2005, having funded the sport since the early 1990s. He committed to bring in at least $10 million for tournaments and for promotion of chess if he is voted to lead the federation for another term.
Like another world champion Bobby Fischer before him, Kasparov has repeatedly rebelled against Fide, demanding more money for winning world championships and better television coverage of chess. In 1993, he broke out and founded the Professional Chess Association (PCA) to launch a rival world championship.
The PCA collapsed after holding two world championships—in 1993 and 1995—after one of its key sponsors, chip maker Intel Corp., backed out. But the world championship remained divided for many years until Kramnik won a reunification match in 2006.
Asked why he wanted to contest the Fide election, Kasparov said the current leadership had “missed a lot of opportunities” and that he could bring about meaningful changes, but quickly added that he was in Chennai only to watch the match and wish Carlsen luck.
“I can guarantee that in the next 48 hours, I won’t be campaigning,” he said.