Two Chinese are among the eight players who are to determine Magnus Carlsen’s challenger in Yekaterinburg (Russia) from mid-March to early April. But because of the spreading corona virus, Russia has recently closed its border with China, completely stopped the train traffic between the two countries and most of the air traffic. The issuance of visas for Chinese was severely restricted. Travel activity within China is also severely restricted.
Can grandmasters Ding Liren and Wang Hao leave their home and go to Yekaterinburg under these circumstances? Both live some distance from the city of Wuhan, the center of the corona crisis, Wang Hao (who is in Tokyo currently) a good 1,100 km away in Beijing, Ding Liren a good 800 km away in the coastal city of Wenzhou. Nevertheless, there is no longer a province in China that is not affected.
Journalist Ian Rogers is now spreading on Twitter that the Chinese Chess Federation has asked Ding Liren and Wang Hao to arrive 14 days before the tournament starts in order to serve the virus’ incubation period. The World Chess Federation contradicted this: Currently all scenarios would be considered that could make it difficult or impossible for the two Chinese to enter Russia in order to be able to solve them. FIDE claims it has not asked the two players to arrive early.
Not yet, at least.
It is still unclear where the request to the two players came from. FIDE states that none other than their legal advisor is in contact with Ding Liren and Wang Hao so that their candidate contracts will be closed as soon as possible. Rogers said the Chinese Association only forwarded the request, but did not identify its origin.
An email from the FIDE legal advisor to the players shows that the world association is considering at least asking the players to arrive early. In any case, according to Rogers, both players are under the impression that they should be present in Yekaterinburg two weeks before the tournament starts. Which would be quite a handicap.
The acute question is whether the two World Championship candidates have a Russia visa that is valid for the weeks of the candidate tournament. If they don’t have one, they have a problem – that FIDE might be able to solve. “We could help them get one,” tweeted FIDE. With a FIDE president who was once Russia’s deputy prime minister, there should be room for maneuver in this regard.
Update, February 5th: According to chess.com both Chinese players claim they haven’t been asked to arrive 14 days early.