A palace coup at the Afghan Chess Federation has resulted in teh Afghan women's team being kicked out of the ongoing Chess Olympiad in Turin, where 150 national teams are competing. While the Iranians seem proud of their team (despite some clerics including Al Sistani proclaiming chess an abomination), which though seeded 51st, is now holding down 20th place. Iraq's team, like the Afghan men's team, are not doing too badly, hanging around in the top 100. USA has not been paired against Iran, Iraq, Palestine or Afghanistan, and are not likely to be, since the Americans are firmly in the top 10. China is in second place and unlikely to be paired against Taipei. Armenians, especially in Southern California, are celebrating, as Armenia is in first place. The favored Russians sit in third place.
The removal of the Afghan women may indicate further Taliban or fundamentalist control, or may be due in part to the political circumstances. The original Afghan delegation supported the opposition ticket in the World Chess Federation election, but the new team switched the vote to support the incumbent Kirsan Ilyumjinov, who is also the President of Kalmykia and who has been accused of many crimes against journalists. Kirsan, whose oil interests tied him to Saddam Hussein (and he wanted some years ago to hold the World Chess Championship in Baghdad) is a very controversial figure and the election is being closely watched.
The Afghan situation is corroborated by Australian International Master David Smerdon's account in his daily email newsletter. Here is what he wrote (as found at this blog:
"The other big controversy of the day was the withdrawal of the Afghan women's team, who were in tears at the board when their arbiter [Australian] Gary Bekker was forced to tell them that they were not allowed to play. Apparently the Afghan Chess Federation had just acquired a new President who claimed that he would get in trouble back home if he let the women's team play because they were not Afghan residents. (They were registerd with FIDE as Afghans and one had represented Afghanistan before at a World Age Championship.) His credibility was further reduced when he told took a place in the Open team while other stronger Afghan players were told they could not compete. As you might have guessed, the Afghan Chess Federation coup has installed a Kirsan Iljumzhinov supporter ahead of Olympic veteran Jamshedi who was planning to vote for Bessel Kok at the upcoming FIDE Presidential election."
Ever since Bobby Fischer took on and defeated Soviet star Boris Spassky the chess world has often intersected global politics, and this year's Olympiad is no exception. I have not heard of any official position being taken by the American delegation at the event regarding the Afghan women.