Chess has long been a revered sport in Russia, thanks largely to the legacy of Soviet dominance in the game. And big-time sport is tightly intertwined with politics in Russia, where top officials have run sports federations and regional governments and state-owned firms subsidize major spectator sports.
This, it seems, proved problematic for the storied Russian club Spartak when it published a commemorative tome feting its iconic athletes and teams. Among the greatest of Spartak's competitors, after all, is an avowed opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin: chess legend Garry Kasparov.
The solution? Airbrush Kasparov from the book.
Veteran Russian chess author and journalist Yevgeny Gik wrote on July 17 that he was commissioned earlier this year to write an entry for the book about Kasparov and another former Spartak player, Soviet Armenian grandmaster and former world chess champion Tigran Petrosian.
Gik says he submitted the text but that when he recently saw the published version of the book, which celebrates the 80th anniversary of Spartak's founding, it included the Petrosian entry but not a single mention of Kasparov.
The editor who assigned him the piece told him that Kasparov was expunged from the book "at the last minute" but that it is unclear who made the decision to do so, Gik wrote.
"I was surprised as well. One of the higher-ups made the effort," he quoted the editor, Yevgeny Bogatyrev, as saying.
After Gik's article was published on the website Chess-News.ru, Kasparov quipped on Twitter: "I suppose if Putin's lackeys want to remove my name from every Soviet/Russian record book it will at least keep them busy for a long time!"
Bogatyrev, deputy editor in chief of the Moscow-based magazine Fizkultura I Sport, told RFE/RL that he “would not politicize this affair.”
“Sometimes contemporary sports executives don’t get along with legendary athletes of the past and try not to mention them,” he said in an e-mail.
Kasparov, an enfant terrible of Soviet chess, became world chess champion in 1985 at the age of 22 by defeating fellow Soviet grandmaster Anatoly Karpov, the Kremlin's favorite player. He held the title for 15 years and is widely considered the greatest player in history.
He has been vilified as a Western stooge in the pro-Kremlin media ever since retiring from competitive chess in 2005 to take up opposition politics.
Currently living in self-imposed exile in the United States, he was a key organizer of the so-called March of Dissent street protests in 2006 and 2007 that resulted in the arrests of numerous opposition activists, including Kasparov himself.
He has continued his relentless criticism of Putin while living abroad, publishing op-eds in major Western publications and testifying before U.S. lawmakers.
Russia has kept up its pressure on Kasparov in the chess world as well. During his 2014 bid to for the presidency of the game's world governing body, FIDE, Russian embassies worldwide contacted national chess federations to lobby for his incumbent opponent and eventual victor, former Russian regional boss Kirsan Ilyumzhinov.
Despite tensions between the two men, Ilyumzhinov, whom Kasparov denounced during the FIDE election as being "fully backed by Putin's regime," criticized the decision to remove him from the Spartak commemorative book as "politically" motivated.
"It's impossible to just erase a world champion from Soviet and world sport," Ilyumzhinov told Dozhd TV.
Kasparov, however, has not been completely excised from Spartak's history. The club's website features a photograph of the grandmaster and calls his 1985 victory over Karpov "brilliant" and "arguably the most significant achievement of a Spartak competitor" that year.