Not widely reputed as a game of belligerence and bellicosity, women’s draughts almost sparked a diplomatic incident between Warsaw and Moscow after a Polish official removed a Russian player’s flag during a world championship match.
Damian Reszka, the president of the Polish draughts federation, apologised following outrage on Russian social media, but said organisers had no option but to comply with international sporting rules barring Russians from competing under their flag.
Russia’s Tamara Tansykkuzhina, a six-time world champion, went on to lose the round on Tuesday to Poland’s Natalia Sadowska. The two are competing for the nine-game world title in Warsaw until 3 May, with Sadowska currently ahead.
The president of Russia’s Olympic committee called the intervention a “gross mistake”, while Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov blamed Tansykkuzhina’s defeat on the flag move, saying she had lost “largely due to that incident”.
The official who removed the flag, Jacek Pawlicki, told Reuters news agency organisers were “really under pressure and we were afraid”, adding that it might have been a good idea to “turn the cameras off” so the incident was not broadcast.
“There’s this position on the board called zugzwang – which means there’s no good move to make,” Palicki said. “And that’s what we had yesterday, a zugzwang.” He added: “I’m sure that many Russians are upset, and for that I am truly sorry.”
The World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) banned Russian athletes from competing under their national flag at major international events until December 2022 after finding Russia had not complied with its rules on lab testing to detect illegal doping.
Wada confirmed to Reuters it had requested action over the flag, but said it had neither “asked nor intended” for it to be removed during an actual match. “The manner in which it was removed is not a question for Wada,” it said.
In solidarity with her opponent, Sadowska subsequently removed her Polish flag. Reszka said the Polish draughts federation would have risked being excluded from Wada if it had not acted. “Such was the need of the moment,” he said.
The incident follows a full-blown diplomatic spat between Warsaw and Moscow last week after Czech authorities expelled 18 Russian envoys over suspicions Russian agents were behind a 2014 blast at an ammunitions warehouse that killed two people.
Moscow soon afterwards said it was expelling 20 Czech diplomats, releasing a video showing the Czech ambassador being summoned to the foreign affairs ministry to be told that four-fifths of his diplomatic envoys had 24 hours to leave the country.