Ian Nepomniachtchi and Magnus Carlsen were all set to get underway in their €2million world title chess match, only for WADA officials to intervene at the 11th hour.
The World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) intervening before a world championship chess match over a flag row – not a sentence that sports fans would have heard too often.
However, it was that exact scenario which delayed a meeting between Russian player Ian Nepomniachtchi and Norway’s Magnus Carlsen in Dubai on Friday.
All was in place for the two rivals to face off in the first of a 14-game showdown to determine the world title in a tournament which had an overall $2million prize pot.
However, shortly before the action on the board could get underway there came a warning from WADA, to tell chess governing body FIDE that it was in contravention of the rules.
AFP via Getty Images)
The row centred around the Russian flag, which had been placed in front of Nepomniachtchi’s table position.
The 31-year-old, ranked No 5 in the world, has never been found guilty of any doping offences himself, but Russia is currently serving a two-year ban from major tournaments at world-championship level for alleged sponsored state doping.
As a result, the country’s flag and national anthem is prohibited at international events.
Therefore, Nepomniachtchi is officially representing Chess Federation Russia (CFR) for his match-up with Carlsen.
As a result, the chess grandmaster and commentator was told he could not use a flag which included the word ‘Russia’ – and it was hastily changed to the abbreviation CFR in order to allow the match to start.
AFP via Getty Images)
FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich, also a native of Russia, insisted the authority had checked the correct rules and procedure before allowing the original flag to be displayed.
“We checked several times with them. Maybe at some point our team understood that we could have the full name but then they said ‘no, it should be an abbreviation’. It’s as simple as that,” he told The Guardian .
When the game did get underway it proved a tense affair, ending in a draw as Nepomniachtchi held his own against the world No 1, with 13 further games now scheduled over the next three weeks.
The title decider has prompted huge interest, with the sport having surged in popularity following the Netflix series titled ‘The Queen’s Gambit’.
According to Chess.com , its website had more than four million active users watching the game, more than double the 2018 audience.