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Israeli chess commentator is sacked and accused of sexism

An Israeli chess commentator was sacked and accused of sexism after saying the game is ‘maybe not for women.’ 

Ilya Smirin was live on air with Fiona Steil-Antoni in the ninth round of the Women’s Grand Prix in Astana, Kazakhstan, on Tuesday when he appeared to admit to previously making the remark in private.

Speaking about the competition, Mr Smirin, an Israeli grandmaster, initially mentioned the Chinese chess player Zhu Jiner, a woman grandmaster and talked about if she could be a grandmaster.

He said: ‘She’s a woman grandmaster or what?… Why she wants to be like men grandmaster in this case?’

Ms Steil-Antoni replied: ‘You’re saying, you know, ‘chess is maybe not for women.’

But Mr Smirin said that he ‘didn’t say it openly’ and that it was said in ‘private conversation.’

The title is a lower title to grandmaster and requires a lower rating of 2,300.

In the game, all chess players can be grandmasters with a rating of 2,500 and above and is an accolade given to elite female chess players. 

Ilya Smirin, was live on air with Fiona Steil-Antoni in the ninth round of the Women’s Grand Prix in Astana, Kazakhstan, on Tuesday when he appeared to admit to previously making the remark in private

The Belarusian chess ace also seemed to confess to saying that Grandmaster Aleksandra Goryachkin, had been 'playing like a man'

The Belarusian chess ace also seemed to confess to saying that Grandmaster Aleksandra Goryachkin, had been ‘playing like a man’

The Belarusian chess ace also seemed to confess to saying that Grandmaster Aleksandra Goryachkin, had been ‘playing like a man.’ 

He said: ‘That’s true. She played in Russia super final. Small minus she made, but it was very strong tournament. 

‘She also had like 2,600 plus rating.’

His fellow commentator then asked him: ‘What does that have to do with playing like a man, only men can play well?’ 

 But Mr Smirin said: ‘No, no. But she’s playing in style, positional style.’

He then queried why women can play tournaments with women but men cannot play with women in female tournaments.  

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Smirin, pictured, later said that he does not want to hurt anyone and loves and respects chess and women

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Smirin, pictured, later said that he does not want to hurt anyone and loves and respects chess and women

Speaking to the BBC, he later said that he does not want to hurt anyone and loves and respects chess and women. 

But he added that the incident had left him slightly puzzled as he did not believe he had said anything ‘really bad, did not want to insult or hurt anyone.’

Mr Smirin said that since the clip was broadcast live, he had been called ‘racist, sexist and nationalist.’ 

He added that he thought what he had said in the broadcasts was slightly impolite but nothing more.

The grandmaster said that most of what he said was a joke. He added that ‘if we continue like that’ the words man and woman will disappear soon.

But he said he did not mean to hurt anyone, loves and respects chess and women and does not like hypocrisy. 

Mr Smirin, pictured, said that since the clip was broadcast live, he had been called 'racist, sexist and nationalist'

Mr Smirin, pictured, said that since the clip was broadcast live, he had been called ‘racist, sexist and nationalist’

The grandmaster, pictured, said that most of what he said was a joke. He added that 'if we continue like that' the words man and woman will disappear soon

The grandmaster, pictured, said that most of what he said was a joke. He added that ‘if we continue like that’ the words man and woman will disappear soon

While he understands the decision taken to sack him as a commentator, he hoped that ‘common sense will prevail.’ 

But his remarks caused a storm among the chess world, with former female world champion Susan Polgar calling for a public apology.

The chess ace also called for him to be sacked over the comments, which she called ‘highly insulting.’

She said: ‘For the record, I have known GM Smirin for more than three decades, including our college days in Minsk,’

‘I always had a good relationship with him and respected his chess. I hope that this is just a bad day. I would be highly sad and disappointed if this is how he truly feels.’

His remarks caused a storm among the chess world, with former female world champion Susan Polgar calling for a public apology

His remarks caused a storm among the chess world, with former female world champion Susan Polgar calling for a public apology

Further outrage erupted online, with Woman Grandmaster Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova tweeting the clip and writing: ‘Isn’t it a pure form of discrimination? How can such a man work in the official @FIDE_chess broadcast of such an important women’s event?’

A third person, US woman’s chess champion Jennifer Shahade said: ‘Gross to see such sexism in the broadcast for a women’s event… Fiona did a great job in an uncomfortable convo she never should have been in.’

A third person, US woman's chess champion Jennifer Shahade said: 'Gross to see such sexism in the broadcast for a women's event... Fiona did a great job in an uncomfortable convo she never should have been in'

A third person, US woman’s chess champion Jennifer Shahade said: ‘Gross to see such sexism in the broadcast for a women’s event… Fiona did a great job in an uncomfortable convo she never should have been in’

In a statement, the International Chess Federation said: ‘During yesterday’s Women’s Grand Prix live broadcast, one of the announcers expressed some very embarrassing comments.

‘Although we have great respect for Grandmaster Ilya Smirin as a chess player, the views he expressed on air are completely unacceptable, offensive, and do not represent any of the values that FIDE stands for. 

‘Therefore, we unreservedly apologise to all those who were offended. Additionally, GM Smirin will not continue as a FIDE commentator with immediate effect.

‘FIDE not only strives to increase women’s representation in professional sports and official positions but also to change the perception of chess as purely a men’s world.

‘Our community has to be a place where women feel safe and respected. Therefore, any action that carries disrespect, sexism or physical, verbal or emotional assault is unacceptable.’

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