Mike Rowbottom

Travis Tygart, head of the US Anti-Doping Agency, has written an op-ed commentary piece for the New York Times this week asserting that Russia should be “indefinitely banned” from all international sporting competition if doping allegations during the Sochi 2014 Winter Games are proven - allegations that, if substantiated, he regards as a “violation of the very essence of sport".

The sporting schism between the two old Cold War protagonists is becoming wider as accusations and counter-accusations have been exchanged in what feels like a familiar game of diplomatic chess.

Let’s remember at this point what Bobby Fischer, the late, often late, and very great, former world champion said about the game which obsessed him: “Chess is like war on a board".

If it were an actual game of chess, you would have to say Russia currently appears heavily on the defensive, at least a rook and a bishop down, and with its sporting queen herself ominously threatened.

Meanwhile, chess itself is currently proposing a course of action which might help heal the US-Russia schism. For this week, the Russian President of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), Kirsan Ilymzhinov, has requested permission for this year’s World Chess Championships - a biennial event which is due to be held in New York - to be held at Trump Tower, the Manhattan skyscraper that bears the name of its developer, a man currently seeking to be President of something even bigger than FIDE.

Travis Tygart, head of the US Anti-Doping Agency, has made an aggressive move towards Russia's continuing involvement in international sport ©Getty Images
Travis Tygart, head of the US Anti-Doping Agency, has made an aggressive move towards Russia's continuing involvement in international sport ©Getty Images

The first reaction, of course, is that it should not be the World Chess Championships, but the World Bridge Championships, taking place in Trump Tower. But we’ll pass on that for now.

"We have sent a letter to billionaire Donald Trump with a request to allow holding the match in Trump Tower," said Ilyumzhinov.

Perhaps Ilymzhinov’s opening will be welcomed by the man bent on Making America Great Again.

But perhaps not, given the Russian’s addition last November to the US Department of Treasury’s sanctions list on the basis of claims that he had been "materially assisting and acting for or on behalf of the Government of Syria, Central Bank of Syria".

While Ilyumzhinov maintains he will have no problems attending the Championships in New York this September, it looks as if his hopes of bagging Trump Tower are as realistic as the aspiration he voiced this time last year for chess to become part of the Winter Olympics.

Ilyumzhinov suggested that the game, which failed to make the Summer Olympic programme 20 years earlier, would be a strong addition to the Winter Games.

The Olympic Charter states “only those sports which are practised on snow or ice are considered as winter sports".

The FIDE President attempted to vanquish that challenge en passant by suggesting that players could use pieces made of ice. Bold. Very bold. But surely they would need to play on an ice board too. And perhaps be seated on carved snow thrones. With play being timed by a controlled melting of stalactites…

The FIDE vice-president, Boris Kutin, effectively threw hot water on all the winter wondering. “It's not easy," he understated.

In truth, the problems chess has with earning Olympic status go a little deeper than the question of whether it is best suited to a winter or a summer setting. Here’s the big question - is chess a sport?

The International Chess Federation wants to hold this year's World Championships in Trump Tower. Now it's Donald Trump's move ©Getty Images
The International Chess Federation wants to hold this year's World Championships in Trump Tower. Now it's Donald Trump's move ©Getty Images

I’m going to do the equivalent of castling here, but please bear with me.

In 1992, Ingrid Kristiansen, the former world 10,000 metres champion and winner of marathons including London and Boston, won Norway’s coveted Egebergs award for athletes excelling in more than one sport. Kristiansen, coming to the end of a glorious career, was already doubling up as a superb cross-country skier.

Fair enough. But if Kristiansen hadn’t been so honoured in that year, the award might well have gone instead to a man whose grandfather Reidar Jorgensen once earned it, also for cross-country skiing and running. Only the twin accomplishments of Simen Agdestein were more unusual. He was a footballer who played at centre forward for the Norwegian team. And, at 24, he was a Chess Grandmaster.

No-one else in the world could know, as Agdestein could, what it was like to have faced Franco Baresi, perhaps the world’s greatest defender, who had marked the young Norwegian on his international debut against Italy in 1988, and Anatoly Karpov, Russia’s former world chess champion with whom he drew 2-2 in a 1991 challenge match.

At football, Agdestein was an opportunist - a Garry Kasparov. In chess he was influenced by the safer positional play of Karpov.

“There is something very fascinating, very aesthetic in the slow movement towards a victory,” said the footballer who, it is now clear, provided the recently released Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal with his tactical inspiration.

He didn’t go so far as to describe chess as a sport. But in reflecting upon the common features of the two activities at which he had excelled, he added: “You learn in both to prepare yourself carefully, to be not too nervous and never to give up.”

It is a sentiment he has doubtless long since shared with the 25-year-old fellow countryman who he once coached and who will be defending his world title against Russian challenger Sergey Karyakin in New York later this year - Magnus Carlsen.

Come to think of it, that advice might be very valuable for the FIDE President as he continues to strive for the opening which will break the defences of the International Olympic Committee….