By Emil Danielyan
Armenia’s top male chess players were rewarded handsomely with government cash on Thursday for their victory in the 37th Chess Olympiad in Turin that has made them objects of nationwide popular admiration.
A statement by the Armenian government said the six grandmasters and their coach Arshak Petrosian will be each be paid 7.5 million drams (about $18,000) from the state budget for their triumph in the game’s prime team competition.
The most highly rated of them, Levon Aronian, had already been awarded 5 million drams by the government last December following his victory in the individual Chess World Cup held in Russia. Aronian, 23, is currently third in the world chess rankings.
The Armenian chess team was given a hero’s welcome as it returned to Yerevan from Turin early on Tuesday. Hundreds of people, many of them dancing and singing, gathered in the city center to greet its members.
The Olympiad victory, as it turned out this week, was marred by a violent dispute between some of the Armenian players and a member of England’s national chess team, Danny Gormally. Reports in the British press said Gormally punched Aronian as the latter danced with an attractive female player from Australia at a chess party in Turin. The English grandmaster is said to have been fond of the 19-year-old Arianne Caoili and attacked Aronian out of jealousy.
Aronian’s team-mates reportedly confronted and hit Gormally the next morning, before they were told that England captain Allan Beardsworth apologized to Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, the Armenian Chess Federation chairman who was with the Armenian players throughout the two-week tournament. Gormally was promptly sent home and is now expected to face disciplinary action by the English Chess Federation.
“I have spoken to several people who were there, and there is no doubt that Danny was in the wrong,” London’s “The Times” newspaper quoted Beardsworth as saying on Wednesday.
Sarkisian and Armenian team members said nothing about the incident on their return from Italy. Aronian, who spends most of his time in Germany, did not fly back to Yerevan with them for what friends described as family reasons.
“Aronian is a lovely guy and at the very peak of his national sport. I have been told that he is treated like David Beckham at home,” Beardsworth said, referring to England’s most famous soccer star.