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Russian chess queen Kosteniuk switches to Swiss federation

Russian chess queen Kosteniuk switches to Swiss federation

Russian chess grandmaster Alexandra Kosteniuk, a former women's world champion and one of the top 10 women players in the world, completed her switch to the Swiss chess federation on Friday, she said on Twitter.

She had been seeking to change federations in the aftermath of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which has had a severe impact on chess, given the huge influence of Russian and Ukrainian players.

"Now it's official. Representing Switzerland since 03.03.2023," Kosteniuk wrote, embedding an image of her new player profile page on the Swiss chess federation website.

Rule change allows earlier switch than planned

Already a dual Russian-Swiss citizen, 38-year-old Kosteniuk and the Swiss federation had announced in January that the 12th women's world champion would be making the switch starting in 2024.

However, a recent change in rules by world chess governing body FIDE has facilitated an earlier move.

In normal cases, players who switch federations are expected to pay a fee in compensation to the federation they are leaving.

FIDE recently decided that it would waive this fee for Russian players — but provided they were joining another European federation — who wanted out as a result of President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine. Typical waiting periods were also waived.

"Players previous belonging to the CFR [Russian chess federation] will be allowed to represent their new federation with immediate effect, from the next day of submitting their application, without any restrictions. All transfer fees, to FIDE or CFR, are waived," FIDE said when announcing the decision late last month.

Kosteniuk became women's world champion in 2008 and lost the title in 2010, but she's still among the top 10 women players by rating and was the overall winner of last month's Munich International Tournament, part of the FIDE Women's Grand Prix series.

Is Russia banned from chess games or tournaments?

Chess has taken a similar approach to sports like tennis but a milder one than sports like football responding to the invasion of Ukraine.

Russia as a country is banned from international team tournaments, but individual Russian players are still eligible to compete in all competitions under a neutral flag.

Russia's chess federation also recently moved from the European group of federations to the Asian group, after the European Chess Union suspended the Russian and Belarussian chess federations in the aftermath of the war. This will eventually mean Russian players are no longer eligible for Europe-only tournaments, but it will likely also pave the way for Russian teams to return to international team competition.

"We are the first sport to see its governing body facilitate its federation in Russia to evade sanctions by switching to Asia," European Chess Union vice president Malcolm Pein said of the decision. World governing body FIDE's ties to Russia are well documented and close.

Several high profile Russian grandmasters have left the country since the war broke out, and others who have stayed have also made critical comments. Those who have left include Dmitry Andreikin, Vladimir Fedoseev, Alexander Predke and Alexey Sarana.

Forty-four top Russian players published an open letter to President Vladimir Putin calling on him to stop the war in April last year, Kosteniuk among them, as well as Russian world championship hopeful Ian Neopmniachtchi.

Kosteniuk told the website late last year that she was "completely in shock" when the war broke out.

"In Russia there are people who like to repeat that Russia 'has never attacked anyone in history,'" she said. "I used to gladly believe such stories, that Russia had never invaded other countries, but unfortunately, it's not true. Of course, at the beginning of the year, we were following the news, and there were rumors about a possible invasion, but we refused to believe for a single moment these stories. That's why we were so shocked when it actually happened."

Kosteniuk is also an ambassador for the Monaco-based charity Peace and Sport, which says she had launched several programs looking to use chess teaching as a tool for peace, particularly in Colombia and Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Edited by: Richard Connor