Withdrawals, organisational 'mishandling' force FIDE to defer Women's Grand Prix in Delhi by a day
The tournament was postponed by 24 hours after an extraordinary sequence of events culminated with multiple contestants withdrawing from the meet.
CHENNAI: THE New Delhi leg of the FIDE Women's Grand Prix, a qualifier for the Candidates, descended into farce even before the first move. The tournament was supposed to begin on Saturday but was postponed by 24 hours after an extraordinary sequence of events culminated with multiple contestants withdrawing from the meet.
A good 10 days before the tournament was supposed to begin, Ukraine's Muzychuk sisters, Anna and Mariya, withdrew. While both parties remained tight-lipped over the withdrawals, it was speculated that the sizable number of Russians in the draw (three) was the reason behind it.
The drama began on the morning of March 24 as Kazakhstan's Zhansaya Abdumalik withdrew a day before the event's original start date. According to her version of events, she arrived on Friday morning but wasn't greeted by anybody at the airport. In a statement to ChessBase India, she had said: "I arrived at the airport at 1.30 am and they forgot to meet me," she claimed. "I tried to contact the person who was supposed to wait for me. He didn't check his messages for one-and-a-half hours. I did everything they said in our email before we arrived but there was nothing at the airport." Abdumalik also alleged that the hotel the players were put up in wasn't great.
Following Abdumalik's withdrawal, several of the non-Indian players in the draw sent a letter to FIDE urging them to reschedule the event. "We are composing this letter to underline that things in women's chess, especially regarding professional organisation and care of tournaments in the past went in a very unfortunate way. Some of us are emotionally down and upset. >From the professional point of view as well as speaking to our colleague Zhansaya Abdumalik, we would suggest to cancel and postpone the event." (This letter, signed by contestants Elisabeth Paehtz, Aleksandra Goryachkina, Kateryna Lagno, Bibisara Assaubayeva, Polina Shuvalova and Abdumalik, is on Paehtz's instagram page).
This letter was drafted by the competitors after it emerged that Abdumalik was withdrawing even as the ceremonial lighting of the lamp took place during Saturday's Opening Ceremony. With the event already in disarray, FIDE had no choice but to move it by a day.
In a statement issued to the remaining players in the draw, FIDE president, Arkady Dvorkovich, said: "I would like to extend our sincerest apologies for the mishandling of the Women's Grand Prix tournament in India," he had noted. "We deeply regret the problems and inconveniences you have experienced, which has led to one player withdrawing from the tournament. We highly appreciate your openness and would like to assure you that we are committed to addressing the issues that have been raised regarding this tournament and FIDE women events in general. We are also determined to improve the level of communication with the participants."
However, FIDE rejected the idea of a postponement because of the cramped nature of the calendar. "In case of postponement, the current FIDE calendar does not allow space for strong assurances when the tournament can be held. It is also important not to create a precedent that the whole event can be terminated and other players’ plans influenced due to the decision of a player to withdraw."
While FIDE was firefighting to save the event, Assaubayeva launched a stunning broadside at her compatriot. On her Instagram page, she accused Abdumalik of making up lies (Paehtz defended Abdumalik on her Instagram page) and directly held her responsible for placing the tournament in jeopardy. Her attack was bizarre to say the least as she was one of the signees in the letter sent to Dvorkovich.
A few hours later Abdumalik issued a strong rebuttal to Assaubayeva "... despite all the ugly lies and hypocrisy of Bibisara Assaubayeva, I do not regret my decision and am convinced that chess players deserve to play in safe and decent conditions."
One hour before Sunday's rescheduled round one, Paehtz also withdrew as she felt the new rules would be unfair vis-a-vis 11 players as opposed to 12. In a statement to ChessBase India, she said: "I cannot accept that every player does not start the tournament with the same conditions," she said. "The intended solution of new pairings with a fair distribution of colours failed... Even though I would get 6 whites and 4 blacks, it is unfair for the other players. I wanted a fair and equal tournament for everyone..."
Her no show meant R Vaishali, who was drafted in as a late replacement following the withdrawal of the Muzychuk sisters, won her game via a walkover. The other Indians in the draw, Koneru Humpy and Dronavalli Harika, played out a draw against each other. Round 2 is on Monday.