A chess grandmaster was fired from his job as a commentator for the International Chess Federation, or FIDE, for making sexist comments during the Women’s Grand Prix in Astana, Kazakhstan, on Tuesday.
Ilya Smirin, a Belarusian-born Israeli grandmaster, was making his debut as an English-language commentator alongside Luxemburg’s Fiona Steil-Antoni, who was awarded the title of Woman International Master (WIM) in 2010.
Smirin, who was once ranked one of the world’s top 20 players, said during the broadcast that chess was “maybe not for women.” He also appeared to praise a female player for “playing like a man.”
The remarks were made Tuesday, during the ninth round of the tournament, according to chess.com.
Early on Wednesday, FIDE released a statement condemning “some very embarrassing comments” made during the live broadcast.
“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,” the statement read in part.
“Therefore, we unreservedly apologize to all those who were offended,” the federation said, adding that Smirin “will not continue as a FIDE commentator with immediate effect.”
According to the BBC, Smirin, 54, was initially speaking about 19-year-old Chinese chess player Zhu Jiner, who received FIDE’s woman grandmaster title (WGM) in 2020.
WGM is a separate title from that of a grandmaster (GM). While both male and female players can become grandmasters if they have a rating of 2,500 or above, the woman grandmaster titles require a rating of 2,300 or above.
Smirin later also praised GM Aleksandra Goryachkin, a 23-year-old player from Russia, saying that she had been “playing like a man.”
As it happens
Get updates on the coronavirus pandemic and other news as it happens with our free breaking news email alerts.
When Steil-Antoni asked him if only men could play well, he responded that “no… but she’s playing in style, positional style.”
He then added, “OK, I’m always curious, why can women play among men but men cannot play with women in women’s tournaments? Interesting question.”
The comments sparked immediate backlash on social media.
“Gross to see such sexism in the broadcast for a women’s event,” U.S. women’s chess champion Jennifer Shahade tweeted, while WGM Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova wondered whether the comments were “a pure form of discrimination.”
“How can such a man work in the official @FIDE_chess broadcast of such an important women’s event?” she tweeted.
“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,” the federation said in its apology.
“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,” FIDE added.