October 25, 2011 15:53

Iranian GM refuses to play Israeli opponent, gets excluded from Corsican Circuit

Iranian GM refuses to play Israeli opponent, gets excluded from Corsican Circuit

Iranian GM Eshan Ghaem Maghami was excluded from the Corsican Circuit on Monday after he had told the organizers he refused to play against the opponent he was paired for in the 4th round: FM Ehud Shachar of Israel. "I want to emphasize that personally I don't have any bad relations with anyone from Israel," Ghaem Maghami told us.

Yesterday the traditional Corsican Circuit, which takes place October 22-29 in Ajaccio, reached its 4th round. The pairings showed for board 8:

8 [2½] GHAEM MAGHAMI Ehsan 2583    -  SHACHAR Ehud 2355 [2½]

When he saw these pairings, Ghaem Maghami went to the organizers and told them he refused to play against this opponent because of the political situation between Iran and Israel. The tournament director, Léo Battesti (also Vice-President of the French Chess Federation), decided to exclude Ghaem Maghami from his tournament. The next morning, Battesti sent the following text and video to different chess media:

The Iranian Grand Master Ehsan Maghami Ghaem informed me of his refusal to play against his opponent of the fourth round, the Israeli Fide Master Ehud Shachar. I told Mr. Ghaem Maghami that as an organizer of a sporting International competition, I could not accede to his request to change the pairings, for him to play against another player. The presence of five Israeli players in this tournament is known by all participants since Saturday, October 22. It honors our competition as well as the presence of Iranian players and about thirty other nationalities. The motto of our Federation is Gens una sumus, we develop in Corsica awareness of the positive aspects of chess sport on our youth, being complicity of any form of segregation would be unworthy, and in total contradiction with the foundations of our sport action. So regretfully I have to exclude the player who unfortunately has persisted in his choice, inspite of my imprecations. I regret it. But I could not escape from our responsibilities.

This is not a unique situation. Numerous times it has happened before, in individual tournaments and team competitions, that certain players or teams couldn't play against a certain opponent. One example that comes to mind is that in the 1990s, players from Croatia couldn't play against players from Bosnia, simply because the two countries were at war.

In his 2004 column #73 'An Arbiter's Notebook' (PDF here) for Chess Cafe, international arbiter Geurt Gijssen gave an early example:

First, I would like to mention what happened in 1939. The Chess Olympiad was organised in Buenos Aires. During this Olympiad, World War II began, and many countries refused to play against Germany. FIDE decided not to change the pairings but the results of the unplayed matches versus Germany and “Böhmen und Mähren” were 2-2. The last country was, as a matter of fact, the Czech Republic, which was occupied by the Germans. (...).

These days the situation often occurs when players of Israel are involved. In many sports, players from Arab countries cannot play against their rivals from Israel. In chess, a recent example occurred during the last Olympiad in Septemer 2010 Khanty-Mansiysk. Yemen didn't show up for their match against Israel, and lost 0-4 by default. Our co-editor and Israel-born IM Yochanan Afek has some experience too:

This happens all the time. For example, two years ago Sacha Kaplan encountered it in two different rounds in Biel, and won both games by default, but of course he couldn't score a norm this way. In fact I had the same situation with Mr Ghaem Maghami in the first round of a tournament at the Isle of Man! In my case they just changed the pairings.

In fact this is a much-used procedure: arbiters simply tend to change the pairings, so that a politically problematic situation will be avoided. Afek:

Arbiters normally avoid this in the first place. You can enter certain 'forbidden pairings' in the computer system. As long as you are consistent, it is accepted by FIDE. Experienced arbiters know this in advance. 

Alternatively, the opponent of the Israeli player loses by default, like with Jemen at the Olympiad and with Ghaem Maghami in Corsica. The fact that the Iranian grandmaster was excluded from the tourmament is remarkable. We spoke on the phone with Ghaem Maghami, who plans to travel back to Iran tomorrow.

Gaem MaghamiIt was something normal for me. Time to time it happens that I meet an Israeli player in the pairings. I want to emphasize that personally I don't have any bad relations with anyone from Israel. I respect people from all over the world and I understand very well that we are all sports men.

The fact that I was excluded from the tournament came unexpected. It may happen to anyone that he doesn't want to play a game, but will he be excluded immediately? I would have preferred a loss by default and continue the tournament. This makes the situation more complicated. It's not helpful for chess, or politics.

Chess is my main job and my hobby, I love it. I've played it for almost 22 years. So I'll continue playing tournaments and I just want to give the advice to organizers that we should try to avoid this problem in advance.

So the question remains whether Ghaem Maghami's exclusion by Léo Battesti was really necessary. Some of the top players in Corsica were upset, supported the Iranian grandmaster and tried to persuade the organizer. Yochanan Afek thinks differently:

My opinion is that I respect what Mr Battesti did, as much as I sympathize with the Iranian players and the impossible position they continuously find themselves in. At some point it has to stop; FIDE should take measures. It brutally violates Fide's sportmanship spirit, inserts dirty politics in pure sport and also causes damage, because often players miss chances for a norm after investing money to go abroad and sometimes it has also a direct effect on the final results of the event.

We'll return once more to Geurt Gijssen's 2004 column:

Geurt Gijssen(...) I think that it is better to change the pairings, if possible, and if the change does not affect the normal progress of the event. I know that it is easy to criticise me for my opinion, but let me explain the situation. There are governments who explicitly forbid the players of their country to play against players from a specific country. Let me emphasize that it is the governments that forbid it and that quite often the players have a different view. They would like to play, but they have no choice.

Well, the arbiter can decide not to change the pairings, but he knows in advance that one of the players will not show up and lose his game by forfeit. This is, of course, an unpleasant situation. Yet there is more – a game decided in this way, will not be counted for rating calculations, which is not a very serious problem, but it will also not be counted for a norm. It means, that, for instance in a 9 round tournament, both players do not have the possibility of making norms, because 9 games must be played to qualify for a norm. So both players suffer in such a case.

I hope that everybody agrees that changing the pairings is preferable. And I already know the next question – suppose two tournament leaders refuse to play each other before the last round, because one player is forbidden to by his government. What would you do in this case? Well, in such an exceptional case I would probably have no choice, but this case would be very exceptional.

Update 17:44 CET: After reading the article, Léo Battesti sent us the following reaction:

5 Israeli and 2 Irani were playing among 40 players of their levels. Could you imagine the numbers of forfeits... I have never been informed of his intention before this 4th round. If they had informed me before the open, I would have told them not to take part. It's a special open which qualifies the first 14th with 6,000 € of prizes. Could you imagine the consequences of arranged pairings on the sportive equilibrium of this qualification? So it will be a permanent position considering also, of course, that chess is a sport.

Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers


Lala's picture

It's really embarassing to read the posts of some of you, especially those who have no clue what is the situation between Israel and Iran - though you probably sure you know better than anyone what is the situation and what should be done. Your tries to show that Iran is the peaceful, poor, neglected state are just pathetic. You probably also support North Korea and Syria, don't you Mr. Forta?

I understand that Ghaem Maghami is a professional chessplayer and he should play tournament to earn for living - but he defiently knows that he can not play against Israeli, then he must avoid any tournament where Israeli are played.

There's is lot of tournaments for him to play with no Israeli, and also couple of really good tournament in Abu-Dabi, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia etc. - countries where Israeli can not play - because they are Israeli. Racism as is.

AlvaroFrota's picture

Dear Lala:

My name is Frota, not Forta.

Anyway, Iran is a Religious State. This is the worst thing that can happen in mankind. Tons of mans blood was spent to separate the State from the Religion in the 1700 - 1800 Revolutions. Even the brutal dictatorship of North Korea is a "better" State than Iran becouse North Korea is not a Religious State. This fact, however, does not justify the crimes that the State of Israel have been commiting.

I am talking about States, not persons. I will not blame any common Iranian or any common Korean or not any common Israeli for the crimes of their respectives States.

But you (and the French organizers and others in this forum) are blaming a common Irianian (despite been a GM) for the crimes of the Iranian State. And punishing him.

This is why a wise arbitrer must set the pairing software to not allow Iranians x Israelis games.

S3's picture

Let's take your cowardly solution a bit further and imagine a bunch of countries taking the same stand as Iran. Then Israeli's wouldn't be able to participate in some tournaments because of a lack of opponents. You want arbiters to collaborate with discrimination, that's incredibly sad.

Just like your comment on Iran and religious states by the way. You think that the Vatican City State or former Tibet are worse than North Corea just because it are (your words/defenition) "religious states" !

AlvaroFrota's picture

Give me a break! I am talking about the Iluminism. And if a bunch of countries take the same stand as Iran perhaps Israel cease to be an Aparthaid State, as occurred with South Africa.

S3's picture

Do you really not understand that this could happen to other countries and nationalities as well? Making sure that there is no inequality in your own tournament is the best thing an organizer can do. Regardless what you think of Israel or Iran. In your case it's obvious, your personal opinion on the Israeli state is clouding your judgement.

andi's picture

For whom that don't live in Iran maybe it was wery strange but if you live in Iran you can simply understand this behaviuor.Simply it's like to USSR government superintendency on sportsman movments.If Ehsan also play this game he simply can encounter with severe Iran gov reaction.Money...Her several Chess school's and his fixed place in iran national chess team simply lost!!!and now I think that he not so sad about situations happened in Corsica.He back to Iran like a Hero(!!??)and gain gifts that be worth very much than price that he can get to him in end of tournament.Be sure!!

Martin's picture

Tough spot for both sides if you ask me. Ghaem Maghami simply can't risk to play, so he doesn't. He'll take the consuquences of his decision, so that's good.

The chess world would like to stay out of politics. So the ideal scenario would be to do what Battesti did. However, it is very well possible that Battesti did this for all the wrong reasons (PR or so). The FIFA does this as well by the way. Any federation that is governed by politics will be banned. Unfortunately, the chess world won't be listened to as much as people listen to FIFA (Money, money, money...).

Also, chess is an individual sport. So I dont think it's really fair that an individual gets punished for actions by his government. Of course there are boundaries to being flexible, but as long as it remain corner cases, I would say that changing the pairing would be the most smooth solution (given that the FIDE accepts this, according to Gijssen). When it would become more common - and you couldnt support this anymore - then I would suggest to settle for a subtle loss by default. Why? Next to the fact that the Iranian player remains safe, I would prefer that there wouldn't be as much attention to this. It seems to me that the iranian government couldnt wish for anything else then this PR 'scandal' (even though it's only chess-scale).

Knighk's picture

The act of sitting across the board of the player that your government prohibits you to play is simply too big deal to do. Its pretty dangerous for both players to do that. The Iranian GM made a sacrifice. The other party accepted it. Unfortunately GM Maghami was just too optimistic about his position and miscalculated things and did not consider the other variation: he was thrown out.

Estragon's picture

FIDE rules should not allow such discrimination; it is against the very essence of chess. The rule on voluntary defaults should be changed: rate them as if they were played and count them for norms. Those who wish to play politics with chess cannot be rewarded in any way.

As to the specific case of the Iranian government rule, their federation should be punished.

Wael Abdelghani's picture

As an arab citizen, I would just like to say that the arbiter did the right decision. It must also be stated that Maghami has every right to refuse to play against any Israeli player given the political differences between both countries..if i was in his place i wouldn't have entered the tournament in the first place knowing there are many israeli players participating, he surely should've expected the consequences of his withdrawal.

Rubi's picture

how sad, politics turn grand-masters to pions.

sara's picture

I dont agree with the exclusion

kim's picture

Of course politic and sport should be separated .But did he have any other choice? By playing the game (As the Iran’s best chess player) then he should have prepared himself to continue playing chess in jail or (being optimistic) not to be able to play anymore. And it’s not possible to just avoid any tournament with an Israeli in it .You should be professional chess player to understand that. There are many Israeli players in many good tournaments.
Excluding him from the event was disrespecting to chess and him individually. Those of you who are agreed with the exclusion what are you trying to achieve? Changing a country’s political behavior or what?Should sportsmen and women pay the penalty of their governments’ actions and behaviors? People who don’t live in Iran can’t just blame other people to simply obey their country’s rules mostly when they don’t have a better option. Believe me you would do the same thing if you were in his shoes.

sirschratz's picture

i thank chessvibes for deleting my post above by generally refering to "terms".... let's be less emotional, more matter-of-fact. i'm afraid, though, that this is even worse for mr maghami.

may i just say again that mr maghami makes himself the spokesman of iranian antisemitism which like any anti-human behaviour is inhuman. if he does that on purpose this is really a serious problem, if he does it accidentally this is extremely dangerous, indeed.... pointing at rules of his country is no excuse at all but nothing less than positivism which in the history of law is associated, i'm sorry to remind this discussion, with the very dark chapters of the 20th century.... to all those who, even so, say that mr maghami was forced by the rules of his country: would you then also accept the rules of, say, some african dictatorships in tournament halls? you would have to! this is hardly comforting, i'd say....

mr maghami wanted to impose his political will and his ready compliance towards antisemitism upon the participants and the organizers.... in psychological terms: mr. maghami used aggressive behaviour (before deleting: one might want to check this in the publications of the well-known psychologists anderson & bushman, you might want to look that up in e.g. "human behaviour" (2002))

anybody to defend mr maghami defends (from a psychological point of view) aggressive behaviour. there would have been several ways out for mr maghami. but he went for the confrontation, obviously he wanted to practice his aggressive behaviour, obviously he wanted to show this act of antisemitism.

let us clear about this: mr maghami started the problem, not the organizers who only wanted to keep their tournament within democracy and human rights. the organizers didn't want to be bullied. they made it clear that tolerance terminates where aggression towards people starts. additionally it was the organizers' moral responsibility to protect their guest (mr maghami's opponent) from any such behaviour, and protecting their guest, they did!

thanks to the organizers chess won over politics by not tolerating mr maghami's violation of "gens una sumus"!

Iman Khandaker's picture

I take it that all those who applaud the organizers in this case, also think that Panno should have been expelled from the 1970 Interzonal for refusing to play Fischer ... & Fischer defaulted from the 1972 WCh for missing G2 against Spassky & Kramnik defaulted from the 2006 WCh against Topalov etc.? I take it that they think that the Czech team should have been expelled from the 1939 Buenos Aires Olympiad & Nazi Germay awarded a 4-0 victory?

It seems that chess once respected political conscience ... but now chess is expected to be above everything.

S3's picture

Panno, Fischer and Kramnik had no racist/political or even individual motives for their withdrawals-they had beef with the organization. The only event remotely similar was the olympiad in 1939, but there players were actualy representing their countries, which is not the case here.

Now an individual was being treated differently because of racist and political views, so the organizer were completely right to take actions.


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