Candidates chess: Can visa problems scuttle Pragg & Co’s travel plans to Canada?

Worried FIDE appeals to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to resolve the issue at the earliest

Young Indian grandmaster Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa (photo: Getty Images)
Young Indian grandmaster Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa (photo: Getty Images)

NH Sports Bureau

Chess and diplomacy have a history – remember the Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky game or barely a decade back, the online game between US and Iran?

It’s still early days to say whether politics may rear it’s head again ahead of Canada hosting the prestigious Fide Candidates tournament in Toronto next month, but the delay in issuance of visas to Indian and Russian GMs clearly has the world governing body FIDE worried.

Barely a month is left before the first moves are made in the April 3-22 event, but the uncertainty over visas is set to effect a total of five players from India – Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu, Vidit Gujrathi, Gukesh Dommaraju,Viashali Rameshbabu (Prag’s sister) and Koneru Humpy and three from Russia: Ian Nepomniachtchi, Kateryna Lagno and Alexandra Gorvachkina.

An application for a visitor visa from Russia to Canada goes through an intense review process while for Indians, the current processing time is 27 days – prompting FIDE to take to their X handle with a long post urging to issue the visas for their ‘timely arrival.’

Gukesh Dommaraju
Gukesh Dommaraju

“Regrettably, players from various countries worldwide, who submitted their visa applications few months ago, have not yet received any updates on their status. With only a month remaining till the FIDE Candidates Tournament, there are grave concerns about the timely arrival of the players to Toronto,’’ FIDE wrote in their appeal to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“Ensuring the safe and timely arrival of players is crucial for the success and integrity of the FIDE Candidates Tournament and for promoting Canada as a host of the most important chess tournament of the year, which will be followed by millions of spectators worldwide.

“This is the first time in the history of chess that the most prestigious tournament is due to be hosted in Canada, recognizing the country’s growing role in the chess world,’’ Fide wrote. Viswanathan Anand, a five-time world champion and FIDE deputy president, retweeted the letter tagging the Canadian PM and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

While the FIDE appeal has not named any country, the question mark over the delay stems from the fact that the diplomatic relations between India and Canada (the latter having nearly 1.4 million people of Indian ethnic or cultural origin, as per a 2021 census) had deteriorated last year after the June killing of a Canadian Sikh activist on Canadian soil.

Trudeau alleged last September that Indian agents were involved in the murder – a claim which have been refuted by India as absurd.

Meanwhile, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have also seen their athletes face sanctions which hampered their participation in various international events. Only on February 21, Andrey Filatov, the president of the Russian Chess Federation, was sanctioned by the Canadian government with nine other individuals ‘’who represent nodes of direct and indirect support of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine through finance, logistics, and sanctions evasion.’’

The precedence of FIDE shifting the last Chess Olympiad from Russia to India (Chennai), as a part of the sanctions of sports bodies because of the Ukraine war, is also fresh in memory.

A tournament of the scale of Candidates, which decides on the challengers to play the reigning men and women’s world champions for the next title, requires the players to arrive at the venue city days early to start on their preparations. The winner in the Open category will take on Ding Liren, men’s champion while the women’s winner takes on Ju Wenjun.

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