In all of the years that I’ve been doing Uni Watch, I think chess has come up maybe once or twice in the Ticker. But I’m doing a full chess post today, because the International Chess Federation issued a €100 fine (about $111) to a Dutch player named Anna-Maja Kazarian for wearing impermissible “sports shoes” — in her case, a pair of Burberry sneakers — during the recent World Rapid and Blitz Championships in Uzbekistan.
— Anna-Maja Kazarian (@AMKazarian) December 27, 2023
Kazarian went back to her hotel in between games and switched into a pair of heels, but the situation surrounding her fine has become a bit of a cause célèbre in the chess world. I’ve read a bunch of articles about it, the best of which is this one, which I strongly recommend — deep reporting, good writing. But here’s the gist: The International Chess Federation has a dress code, but as that linked article points out, “Generally, sneakers are allowed, but ‘sports sneakers’ are not. The difference between the two is not clearly stated in the dress code.” That ambiguity is at the heart of the situation.
Several other players at the tournament were also cited for inappropriate footwear. Those players all accepted their fines; Kazarian is the only one who objected, and she’s been pushing back against the fine on social media. Here she is making her case on YouTube:
On the one hand, it seems pretty clear to me that Kazarian was wearing fashion or lifestyle sneakers, not sports sneakers. On the other hand, I can see that even fashion sneakers have an informality that goes against the grain of traditional “grown-up” attire. And that really captures how this dispute features so many of the cultural tensions that we see throughout the uni-verse: traditional vs. contemporary; stoicism vs. personal expression; the letter of the law vs. the spirit of the law; “no fun league” officials vs. “look at me” players; and so on.
It’s worth noting that the chess world has also had recent scandals and controversies involving doping, cheating, trans players, and shitting in a hotel bathtub (really). Chess: It’s just like sports, but without all the Nike nonsense.