Israeli chess commentator fired for sexist remarks at women's tournament

Ilya Smirin, previously ranked among top 20 best chess players in the world, airs comments questioning whether sport suitable for women during live broadcast, sparking furor

Israeli chess grandmaster Ilya Smirin was expelled on Wednesday from his position as a commentator at the 2022-2023 Women's Grand Prix Series due to sexist comments he made on air.
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  • Among the problematic comments made by the Belarusian-born chessmaster during the live broadcast, Smirin admitted he privately wondered at times whether the sport was fitting for women.
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    איליה סמירין שחמטאי ישראלי בשידור חי של תחרות שחמט נשים ב קזחסטן
    איליה סמירין שחמטאי ישראלי בשידור חי של תחרות שחמט נשים ב קזחסטן
    Ilya Smirin makes sexual comments during chess game broadcasting
    (Photo: FIDE)
    Smirin's comments stirred uproar, prompting the International Chess Federation (FIDE) to terminate his employment as a commentator in the ongoing event in the Kazakh capital of Astana, and called his remarks "completely unacceptable" and "offensive."
    Smirin, 54, was previously ranked among the top 20 best chess players in the world and was Israeli champion in 1992 and 2002.
    Smirin made the comments when a spectator asked him whether one of the female players, China's Zhu Jiner, had a chance in advancing in the women's series.
    Zhu holds the title of Woman Grandmaster which is separate from a regular grandmaster title and requires a lower ranking.
    During the back-and-forth with the spectator, Smirin said: "She's a woman grandmaster or what? Why does she want to be like men grandmasters in this case?"
    His female co-commentator called him out and asked him if he thinks chess is a game for women, to which he responded: "I didn't say it openly, sorry. Private conversation."
    She reminded Smirin of an earlier remark: "You said that [Grandmaster Aleksandra] Goryachkina is playing like a man, yeah?"
    Smirin didn't retract his comment but rather doubled down: "Yeah, it's true. She played in the Russian Championship Superfinal. A small minus she made, but it was a very strong tournament. Also, she had a 2600+ rating recently."
    Hungarian-American chess grandmaster Susan Polger, who was named Women's World Champion from 1996 to 1999, took to Twitter to lambast Smirin.
    "Dear @FIDE_chess after multiple highly insulting & inappropriate comments during live commentary at one of the most important women’s events, swift action (public apology & immediate removal) must be swiftly taken before next game. Shockingly unacceptable!" she wrote.
    Following furor, the FIDE announced Smirin's removal from his commentary job and released a statement condemning his sexual remarks.
    "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," it reads.
    "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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