PARIS (Reuters) -Sergey Karjakin, who last year was banned for publicly backing Russia's invasion of Ukraine, is unlikely to take part in the World Cup after his social media followers urged him not to participate without the Russian flag or anthem.
World number 11 Karjakin missed last year's Candidates Tournament after the international federation (FIDE) handed him a six-month suspension for breaching its code of ethics.
Since his ban expired, Karjakin has only played competitively in Russia.
Athletes from Russia and Belarus, including in the world of chess, have been banned from competitions following Russia's February 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine which Moscow calls a "special military operation".
They have since returned to competition as individual neutral athletes. Teams from both countries are still banned from competitions.
On his Telegram page, the 33-year-old Karjakin posted a video in which he said: "I’ve received an invitation from FIDE for the World Cup. It’s my favourite tournament, with a knockout format. I’ve played well there in the past. But in the upcoming tournament I can’t represent my country, play under my (country’s) flag, and if I successfully perform, I will not hear my country’s national anthem.
"I am categorically against this. My position doesn’t change and I have voiced it many times. It's my position and I want to know what my followers think."
Under the video is a poll, asking: "Play without a flag and anthem."
On Thursday, the ongoing poll showed 90% of the participants saying 'No'.
FIDE responded by saying that Karjakin had not been "invited" but was instead eligible based on his results, and it reiterated its neutrality rules for Russian and Belarusian participants.
"He keeps using it for his patriotic agenda. FIDE is very clear - and that is a policy for 15 months already - neutral flag for only Russian/Belarus athletes, and they can't participate as a team - only as individuals," FIDE CEO Emil Sutovsky told Reuters.
"Additionally, it is wrong to claim that FIDE 'invited Karjakin' as some did. He earned his spot for the event back in 2021, and it is not a matter of inviting or not - it is our legal obligation."
Sutovsky's reaction was too soft for Dane Pieter Heine Nielsen, however, the coach of world number one Magnus Carlsen and a frequent critic of FIDE who called for another ban on Karjakin and hit out at the organisation for its lack of action against Russian players.
"I have spoken to people from the FIDE Council, and the FIDE management board, and encouraged them to sanction Karjakin. But to no avail," Nielsen, who won a record nine consecutive world titles as coach with India's Vishwanathan Anand and Norway's Carlsen, told Reuters.
"It is obvious there is a decision within FIDE, not to press charges against Karjakin, despite he keeps violating the same rules.
"Karjakin is incredibly useful in terms of (making Russian chess federation president Arkady) Dvorkovich look more civilised and balanced. And the (2022) ban gave the impression that FIDE reacted towards Russians, while in reality FIDE have some of the least sanctions towards Russian players."
The World Cup runs from July 30-Aug. 24 in Baku.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; editing by Pritha Sarkar and Hugh Lawson)