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Chess federation fuming over treatment of Canadian grandmaster at World Cup

MONTREAL — Canada's chess federation says it has filed a formal complaint over the treatment of a Canadian grandmaster at a signature event just minutes before he was to play one of the biggest matches of his career.

Anton Kovalyov, 25, said in a Facebook post he pulled out of the World Cup in Georgia on the weekend because an organizer complained to him about his shorts and called him a Gypsy.

The Chess Federation of Canada has protested Kovalyov's treatment to FIDE — the World Chess Organization — as well as to the organizers of the $1.6-million event.

Kovalyov said an organizer berated him about his shorts just minutes before his third-round match.

The Ukrainian-born Montrealer, currently a university student in Texas, had worn the shorts in previous rounds without incident.

"The issue were not the shorts but how I was treated," he wrote.

He went on to explain that organizer Zurab Azmaiparashvili was hostile and aggressive and used the "Gypsy" slur as an insult. The grandmaster said he was subjected to bullying and racial taunts and decided to leave instead of doing something stupid.

He foreited his prize money in the process and, in a later Facebook post, said his family was out $3,000 because of his decision.

The Chess Federation of Canada representative said it is seeking a diplomatic solution, given the Olympiad — a team chess championship — will be put on next year by the same organizers.

"Our player has definitely been wronged and our federation is very angry about it," Hal Bond, a member of the group's executive, said in an interview. "I'm hoping that an apology will be forthcoming from the organizers."

Kovalyov had a solid shot of making the next round, said Chess Federation of Canada president Vlad Drkulec, adding Kovalyov is arguably Canada's best player right now.

"He's probably Canada's best chance for a super grandmaster," Drkulec said in an interview, noting he knocked off a previous world champion from India in an earlier round.

Kovalyov didn't return a message seeking comment, but did address the shorts issue in his post. He said he didn't bring any pants with him to the tournament because they no longer fit. If told or asked sooner, he would have gone to the mall to buy some.

"But instead I was treated like garbage," he wrote. "I was too stressed out by the way I was treated and the threats of being punished by FIDE no matter what I do, so I choose to leave before I do anything stupid."

While there is a dress code in chess, Bond said those rules aren't spelled out.

"They want the players to appear camera-friendly and photogenic and not dress in a manner that brings the game into disrepute, or dress in a manner that does elevate its status to where we'd like it to be seen," Bond said. "But the code isn't well written and some of the codes are vague."

The outcome is a shame, Drkulec said, because Kovalyov's run could have been a good-news story for chess, particularly in North America.

"It's a very frustrating situation and instead of talking about a Disney-like situation where someone's beating the top players, we're talking about shorts," said Drkulec.

- Follow @sidhartha_b on Twitter.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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