Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: "Chess - A Bridge Between the East and the West"
Russia! Magazine interviewed Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, incumbent President of FIDE (World Chess Federation) and President of the Russian republic of Kalmykia.
Mr. Ilyumzhinov: How do you feel about being nominated for president of FIDE (World Chess Federation) by Russia?
I am proud that our persistent work in popularizing chess - not only worldwide but also within Russia - has been appreciated. As for the Russian Chess Federation, I am heartened by the fact that at a recent meeting of the Supervisory Board, the board managed to overcome a crisis that has been impeding its progress for months. Russia was, is and always will be a great world chess power. FIDE can't be apathetic towards the success of a local federation. I am happy to see the work of the federation resume in full and go forward.
I also support the measures being taken by the chairman of the Russian Chess Federation, Arkady Dvorkovich. There have been noticeable improvements on all fronts since he's been heading the federation.
The national FIDE presidential nominations deadline was on June 29th, 2010. You were nominated for FIDE president by Russia, and it has been announced that Anatoly Karpov’s candidacy was brought forward by several European countries. What do you think about the 2010 elections?
Despite the fact that the 12-th World Champion was nominated by other countries, he is a Russian national. So it turns out that both candidates are representing Russia de-facto. This confirms that Russia is a world chess power with deep traditions. And, naturally, I'm proud that my own native country has nominated me for president of FIDE. Historically, our country has played a great part in the development of chess and I hope that it will serve as a bridge between the East and the West, both in the chess world and socially and politically. I am deeply convinced that chess will serve as effective means of communication between countries with different economic, political, ideological and religious systems.
As president of FIDE, I focus on making the most intelligent game on the planet serve the development of positive dialogue between all nations and people.
Anatoly Karpov team's campaign tactics are built on criticizing your work as the president of FIDE. What is your opinion of the 12th World Champion?
Personally, I respect him. He is a chess player whose name will forever be part of chess history. Because of this, I have always supported him and even sponsored some of his competitions, including those for the chess crown, total value of the sponsorship exceeding $1 million dollars. I'm aware that he and the 13th World Champion Garry Kasparov are touring Latin America where these chess grandmasters will participate in simultaneous exhibitions. I commend this initiative, especially if they're not charging money for these matches. Undoubtedly, masses of chess fans will flock for a chance to play with such masters. I hope that the grandmasters will respond to my proposal to continue conducting events like these.
We have learned from your official website and from FIDE's website that you are traveling a lot and currently visiting several foreign countries. What are the goals and the results of these visits?
As the president of FIDE, I visit dozens of countries to meet with federation delegates, chess players and potential sponsors, take part in organizing tournaments, help with the development of national chess federations and delve into their needs and problems. We are especially pleased with the rise of interest to chess in the developing world, which supports the intellectual growth of those countries. Chess is, after all, one of the most democratic games: its development isn't dependent on expensive inventories or access to sporting equipment. All you need is to hone your skills and popularize the game. In return, the game will develop you.
Studies conducted by FIDE and its partner organization CNC have repeatedly showed a positive correlation between chess and academic success in math, physics and other subjects. That's not surprising. We've always known that chess stimulates the thought process, making it more sophisticated; It helps the younger generation grow into competitively able adults. It's heartening to see FIDE have a positive effect on the societies of even the poorest countries.
Your opponent criticizes the FIDE leadership's lack of contracts with major sponsors.
I'm going to take this opportunity to update you on FIDE's success in this area. Recently, we have concluded our strategic negotiations with the Chess Lane company to create the CNC corporation which invests considerable amount of funds into chess and into studies on the commercial appeal of our great game. We must review the way we have been doing things for a very long time and start to treat chess as a business. There are a number of exciting ideas coming from this collaboration and we are confident that our commercial partners will be soon proposing a number of interesting projects.
What has been the defining moment in the efforts of FIDE during your presidency?
In this line of work, it's impossible to categorize efforts as principle or not. When I was elected in 1995, the chess world was experiencing a major financial crisis. FIDE’s prestige was extremely low and we were faced with an utter absence of funds. The Federation had large debts and I conducted many events at my own expense, including the qualifying matches Xie Jun vs. Zsuzsa Polgar and Anatoly Karpov vs. Gata Kamsky. In 1998, representatives of 129 countries participated in the World Chess Olympiad in Elista. Now, the whole country is preparing for the Olympic Games in Sochi, but back then, we did everything ourselves. We built an Olympic village and conducted what many consider to be the best Olympiad in the history of chess.
Another defining moment: We were able to unite the worldwide chess community. You might recall that in 1993, when the 13th World Champion left FIDE, the chess world was split in half. I was able to reunite it. As a result, we have a single chess champion, a single organization, we're recognized by the International Olympics Commission and we have a unified system of tournaments. By the way, before 1995, FIDE conducted only three official functions a year. Right now, we have eighteen functions slated in our calendar. And now, on the worldwide popularization of our game. There are currently 170 national federations in FIDE.
There has been significant development of chess programs in schools and in women's chess. Here are some figures: In 1995, there were 100 women grandmasters. Right now there are more than 350 and women's chess tournaments are attracting an increasing number of players and a growing attention of the public.
Children's chess tournaments attract thousands of participants. We do not intend to stop at these achievements. We plan to significantly increase the budgets for training coaching and judiciary staff and for the funding of chess federations in the developing nations and the improvement of their management and administration standards.
In conclusion, I would like to appeal to the readers, especially to young parents: teach your children to play chess! As for my part, I promise that FIDE will create a dynamic environment for the development of chess in the 21st century.