Chess sexist controversy: GM Illya Smirin fired from commentary job for saying, “Chess is not for women”.

The very first event of the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix 2022-23 has been mired with controversy, courtesy of some distasteful, sexist remarks by GM Ilya Smirin.

Initially, FIDE were slow to react, with FIDE’s Director General Emil Sutovsky claiming that Smirin will appear again on the official broadcast tomorrow but next day FIDE overruled the words of Sutovsky, with an official statement on their page, that confirmed that Smirin was fired for making “offensive remarks”.

The remarks were made during the live broadcast of the ninth round of the event 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. During the official broadcast, Smirin shockingly said that “Chess is not for women”. That was not all. He continued with, “Why women can play against men and men cannot play against women” and “why a woman would want to get a men’s GM title”

What happened?

When one of the viewers asked whether it was possible for one of the participants (WGM Zhu Jiner) 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?”

Scoring a grandmaster norm has nothing to do with gender but only with obtaining a certain level of 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 continuing laughing, Smirin tried to brush off the remarks, saying: “I didn’t say it openly, sorry. Private conversation.”

American GM and popular YouTube streamer Hikaru Nakamura slammed Smiran for his comments. “What the hell? It’s brutal. It must be really uncomfortable for Fiona to handle it there. It is reasonably rough,” Nakamura says in a YouTube video.

Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova , a Uzbek-born American chess player and Woman Grandmaster, too called out Smiran for his comments. “Isn’t it a pure form of discrimination? How can such a man work in the official FIDE broadcast of such an important women’s event? 2022 was announced (by FIDE) the Year of Women in Chess,” she said.

Susan Polgar too was swift in her response on twitter. “Dear

@FIDE_chess after multiple highly insulting & inappropriate comments during live commentary at one of the most important women’s events, swift action (public apology & immediate removal) must be swiftly taken before the next game. Shockingly unacceptable!”

ECU’s Secretary General Theodoros Tsorbatzoglou commented, “It’s really disgusting what happened today in the official commentary on the Women’s Chess Grand Prix. My full support for Fiona and the way she and all the other women were mistreated. But it’s not the first time this has happened and I have taken a stand many times too.

These behaviours in sports cannot be tolerated and should be automatically sanctioned. They are on the same level as cheating. Let us put a stop to it, otherwise all our efforts will be ruined.”

This is not the first time to hear such comments from a renowned grandmaster. In 2015, Nigel Short had claimed men are “hardwired” to be better at the game than women. Short got the long end of the stick then and was appointed Vice President of FIDE three years later. With the backlash on social media, it seems highly unlikely that Smiran will get a commentary job any time soon.

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