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KYIV, Ukraine — Russia’s war on Ukraine has even infiltrated the seemingly peaceful world of chess, with a Ukrainian grandmaster bidding to overthrow the powerful president of the Russian chess federation.

representative 195 member states Voting is scheduled for Sunday at a meeting in Chennai, India, to elect the president of the Federation of Chess World Governing Bodies, which govern all international tournaments, determine player rankings and decide where global and continental tournaments will be held. Current President Arkady V. Dvorkovich, former Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, face three challengersincluding 31-year-old Ukrainian grandmaster Andrei Barishpolec, who lives in California.

His bid exemplifies many Ukrainians trying to unravel the country’s deep ties with Russia and challenge Moscow’s global influence after it invaded Ukraine in February.

“There is no doubt that the war is the driving force behind my fight for FIDE change,” said Mr Barishpolec, using the French acronym that the FIDE is well known for.

“It’s a very opaque structure that has been highly reliant on Russian funding and Russian sponsors,” said Mr. Barish Polets, an economist who moved to the United States in 2016. The Russian government is still using the chess federation to project Russian influence on the cultural front, he said.

Mr. Baryshpolets noted that 2020 is the last year for which financial statements are available, Russian state-owned and private companies if More than 90% of the donations go to FIDE, accounting for more than 45% of the organization’s budget.

Chess has traditionally been intertwined with the Russian state and its projection of global power — a legacy of Soviet domination in the sport it funded and nurtured. From the establishment of the first World Championship by the International Chess Federation in 1948 to the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, every champion of the Soviet chess player has won the championship.

Mr. Dvorkovich, 50, was elected president four years ago, replacing the eccentric Russian millionaire Kirsan N. Ilyumzhinov, whose scandal-ridden two-decade reign ended with his suspension by the federation’s ethics commission in 2018.

Mr. Dvorkovich has been saying that his close ties with the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir V. Putin are a thing of the past.

Dvorkovich said in an interview that he “understands the reputational risk that comes with previous ties with the Russian state.” Describing himself as “in between two fires”, he has been criticized in Russia for refusing to publicly support the war and abroad for his ties to the Kremlin.

In an online debate with other candidates for the group’s chairman in July, he called himself “away from the Kremlin” and promise to resign If he has ever been sanctioned by the West. That same month, the president of the Russian Chess Federation called Dvorkovich “our candidate” and predicted he would win easily.

Under Mr Dvorkovich, the federation denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and cut off key sponsorships with Russian-controlled companies. After the invasion, Russian players could only participate in official international competitions under the flag of another country or under the flag of a neutral FIDE.

Mr Dvorkovich, however, responded to the Kremlin’s false statement that it was fighting fascism in Ukraine.

At the same time, his leadership in FIDE is generally well-received, and he remains popular in chess powerhouses such as India and the dozens of smaller national federations that rely on FIDE’s Special Development Fund to fund their operations.

“The FIDE is completely different today than it was four years ago,” said Milan Dinick, editor of British Chess Magazine, referring to the changes he said Mr Dvorkovic had made. “It is more respected both inside and outside the chess world, its finances have improved and it has become more transparent,” he added, while acknowledging that the organisation still needs more change.

Al Lawrence, managing director of the U.S. Chess Trust, a charity that provides chess scholarships to children and veterans, said that while systems were in place to strengthen institutional processes so that decisions did not fall on one leader, the international The chairman of the chess federation still has considerable influence on the fundamental issues.

“Who is president matters,” said Mr. Lawrence, the former director of the United States Chess Federation, speaking in his personal capacity. “Frankly, the federation is very close to Russia right now.”

The impact could serve broader Russian interests almost immediately. The day after the presidential election, the chess federation is expected to present a proposal to lift Russia’s ban on major championships. Chess, like most sports in the world, had a ban on Russian teams following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We want our national team to return to the big stage,” said Andrei Filatov, president of the Russian Chess Federation. Say in July.

On a recent Saturday, in Kyiv, Mr. Barishpolec’s hometown, chess players gathered in Shevchenko Park, laying out plastic pieces on stone tables, waiting for their partners.

Like the league’s contenders, nearly all of them learned to play at an early age.

“For us, it’s not as important as the chess player, but as Ukrainian citizens, we want the Ukrainian to be the president of the federation,” said Vadim Weisberg, a 63-year-old businessman and one of the players.

Others said they left the war behind as they sat on the chessboard.

“This is the civilized world of chess,” said Serhiy Maiboroda, a retired police investigator. “We talk about chess here; we talk about politics in different places.”

Mr. Baryshpolets learned to play chess when he was 6 years old and started competing in tournaments when he was 8 years old. From his home in Los Angeles, he said his campaign platform included pushing for transparency on where the tournaments, many of which are in Russia, were awarded.

“The big problem the federation also sees is that it’s not transparent and it’s not clear what’s going on inside this black box and why some decisions are made that way,” he said. “There is little communication and explanation to the federation and the chess community.”

Mr Baryshpolets ran a low-key campaign, meeting with delegates in Chennai and taking regular shuttles to the venue. Each national federation has one vote in a secret ballot to elect the president, an unpaid position.

One country that doesn’t seem to support him is Ukraine: its federation has already backed another candidate. Meanwhile, India appears to be backing Mr Dvorkovic, whether it’s former world champion Viswanathan Anand or his support for the chess Olympiad where Mr Dvorkovic helped land the relocation. Thanks. The event with 3,000 players and hundreds of delegates will take place in Chennai.

In a statement from its executive director Carol Meyer, the U.S. Chess Federation said it had not yet decided on refunds and would wait to hear from the delegation after meeting all the candidates in Chennai. The U.S. team has two players from Ukraine; one of them, Mariupol native Anna Zatonskikh, said “it would be a mistake to have a Russian as FIDE president”.

Chess analysts said the trio challenging Mr Dvorkovic could split the opposition’s vote, reducing the chances of beating him. Others pointed out that the secret ballot gave voters room to support Mr. Dvorkovich, even as their country opposed the war in Ukraine and, more generally, against Russia.

“Everything that happens is happening behind the scenes,” said Peter Tamburro Jr., senior editor of American Chess Magazine.

“I wonder if we’re going to have an election that is heavily influenced by funding from different places,” he added, noting that many of the federation’s members are smaller and less wealthy nations.

Lev Albert, a former Ukrainian chess champion who defected to the U.S. in 1979 while playing for the Soviet Union, said that while the war meant the chess world was losing support from Russia’s main donor, he believed it could be made up for by other countries. Emerging chess nation with deep pockets.

“For example, in the Arab world,” he said, “the United Arab Emirates is a big sponsor of chess, and the Saudis are becoming a big supporter.”

Mr Albert said he believed the challenges facing chess were only a small part of the consequences of the war between Ukraine and Russia.

“The whole world is likely to freeze, like a new Cold War,” he said. “It’s hard to bring the chess world together under these circumstances.”

Jane Allaf Kyiv, ukraine Ivan Necheplenko From Tbilisi, Georgia.

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