Comments About Women Cost Chess Analyst His Job

Ilya Smirin said in live broadcast of tournament that a competitor was 'playing like a man'
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 28, 2022 7:05 PM CDT
Chess Fires Commentator Who Said Woman Played Like a Man
A woman ponders an opening move as play begins at the London Chess Classic tournament in London in 2015.   (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Ilya Smirin didn't last a full day as a chess commentator. The Israeli grandmaster was making his broadcasting debut, live, on Tuesday at the Women's Grand Prix in Astana, Kazakhstan, when he expressed doubts about women's ability to compete. In discussing one competitor's play, the English-language commentator conceded that he had privately said in the past that chess is "maybe not for women," the BBC reports. At another point, he said one woman was "playing like a man." The International Chess Federation called Smirin's comments embarrassing, apologized for them, and fired Smirin. The grandmaster called the firing an overreaction.

"What I said during the broadcasts was perhaps slightly impolite but nothing more," he told the BBC. "And the most of it clearly was a joke." But Smirin missed chances to walk his comments back when his broadcasting partner, Fiona Steil-Antoni, objected to them. Some of the reaction came from top female players. "How can such a man work in the official @FIDE_chess broadcast of such an important women's event?" grandmaster Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova tweeted. Jennifer Shahade, US women's champion, tweeted that it was "gross to see such sexism in the broadcast for a women's event." Susan Polgar, a former world champion, called for an apology and firing. But she said she's had a good relationship with Smirin for decades. "I would be highly sad and disappointed if this is how he truly feels," Polgar said. (More chess stories.)

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