A proposal has been made to withdraw honorary membership of Northern Ireland’s leading chess organisation from a world-renowned Russian player over the war in Ukraine.
The Sunday Independent has learned a motion requesting the removal of Dina Belenkaya from the honorary position with the Ulster Chess Union (UCU) will be discussed at the organisation’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) tomorrow evening.
No reason for the proposal has been outlined in the agenda for the organisation’s AGM, but sources have said those behind the motion believe it will send a message of support to the people of Ukraine as the Russian invasion of their country continues.
However, Ms Belenkaya told the Sunday Independent she stopped representing Russia earlier this year and now plays chess for Israel.
Chess is a hugely important sport in Russia and its leading players are major stars.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, many Russian players were prevented from taking part in international tournaments in a sign of solidarity with the people of Ukraine.
However, many Russian chess players have also spoken out against the invasion. In April, 44 of the country’s top players published an open letter to Vladimir Putin, highlighting their opposition to the war and expressing solidarity with those suffering in Ukraine.
Ms Belenkaya is a Woman Grandmaster, the highest title awarded to female chess players. The 28-year-old was born in St Petersburg and has won a number of leading international tournaments.
She is also a popular online figure in the world of chess and has her own channels on the YouTube and Twitch platforms.
Her links with UCU, which has 12 affiliated clubs in Northern Ireland, began several years ago when she travelled to Belfast to play against some local chess players. Ms Belenkaya was made an honorary member of the organisation after this event.
Although some UCU members now want to end that relationship as a result of the conflict, it is understood there is little support within the organisation for the proposal.
UCU chair Mark Newman said members were allowed to propose motions of their choice.
“These motions can lead to quite heated but friendly discussion. We are looking at ways we can support Ukraine, for instance, by welcoming Ukrainian chess players. We do welcome all chess players,” said Mr Newman.
When contacted by the Sunday Independent, Ms Belenkaya said she was unaware of the motion to remove her honorary membership of UCU. However, she said she no longer represented Russia.
“I suppose people willing to remove me are not aware that I’ve changed federation to Israel in March 2022. Either way, it’s their call to decide,” she said.
When asked if her decision to change affiliation from Russia to Israel was linked to the war in Ukraine, Ms Belenkaya said she did not wish to comment further because the “situation is very delicate unfortunately”.
“Hopefully peace will come soon,” she added.