FIDE elections: interesting times

| 0 | Chess Event Coverage
Ilyumzhinov vs KarpovIt's been a while since we reported on the FIDE presidential elections in a serious way. However, in the past weeks, the election race knew some important (and sometimes curious) developments both from current President Kirsan Ilumzhinov's side as from Anatoly Karpov's campaign team.

As you will recall, Karpov responded furiously to the announcement from Russian Chess Federation's President Arkady Dvorkovich that the RCF would nominate Ilyumzhinov instead of Karpov as their candidate for the upcoming elections. (The RCF's official nomination is scheduled for May 14.)

It led to heavy media attention in the Russian media with roaring headlines like President versus Grandmaster and The Kremlin Gambit. Garry Kasparov, too, had his say, claiming Iluimzhinov's nomination was a "one-man's action by Dvorkovich" instead of a democratic decision.

Dvorkovich himself claimed the statutes were not specific about the proper proceedings, giving him sufficient room for the current decision. Finally, it was FIDE President Ilyumzhinov himself who responded equally agitated to Karpov's accusation:

"I think this borders on madness," says the President of Kalmykia. According to Ilyumzhinov, in the 15 years that he headed the federation, there hasn't been a single corruption scandal. Karpov's statement will have consequences, promises Ilyumzhinov. Since Karpov is a FIDE representative in the IOC [International Olympic Committee] , he will be summoned to a meeting of the Presidential Council on July 22 in Norway to report on his work and to answer the question what he had in mind.

Ilyumzhinov probably refers to the Presidential Board meeting for the 3rd Quarter of 2010, which, according to the FIDE calendar, is scheduled for 23-26 July in Tromso, Norway. In fact, the Presidential Board convened during the World Championship Match in Sofia last week, but no details have been published yet. Meanwhile, support for Karpov has grown rom various sides, while Ilyuzmhinov's adherents also sought media attention again.

Yesterday, it was announced on the Karpov Campaign's website that Spain, Congo and Bosnia endorse Karpov's candidacy. Interestingly (in the light of the Russian Federation's preference), the Ukrainian Chess Federation announced its support for Karpov yesterday, and today, Chess Today published a statement from the English Chess Federarion, supporting Karpov as well. In fact, last week, Karpov also wrote an open letter to all federation delegates to clear up some matters:

In regard to Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, he has no letters of support from voting federations. His campaign is in chaos. His past allies have recognized we are an alternative to his poor management and, as a result, one by one have started taking my side. Clearly many feel the same way as I do, that 15 years of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov’s disreputable administration is more than enough.

My opponent’s only response to this loss of support was to spread false rumors that I will eventually withdraw or reach a “deal” with him. These actions demonstrate Ilyumzhinov’s desperation. I am absolutely committed to this campaign and will never withdraw, back down or agree to any deal. I have committed to my family, friends and supporters that I will fight through the election. I am more confident than ever of our victory.

To this, Turkish Chess Federation's President (and FIDE presidential board member) Ali Nihat Yazici, who had previously written a remarkable letter of support for Ilyumzhinov, responded with considerable venom:

Mr. Karpov, in your letter you mention that your opponent did not get any support letter from a voting federation. You missed a federation, my federation, the Turkish Chess Federation. I would like to understand if you do not care about that, or if your team (if there is one) does not inform you about that. (...)

May I ask you kindly to be on the level of the respect you desire from all your fans, stop this negative campaign and tell us clearly what you want to do. Please do not tell us your allegations (I was insulted by you accusation that I was a "corrupt FIDE management member" – that is still on your website), it is shame to hear such as incredible untruth stories from such as legend. We still await a strong apology from you as a legend, this attitude is clearly not fair play.

Mr. Karpov, do not tell me please, like you said in the Sofia Press Conference, as answer you do not want to go to details. In your campaign website you say that the FIDE Management is corrupt.


If we ignore the letter's style, it seems to us Yazici actually makes some reasonable points. One of them is that, indeed, there is real support from federations for Ilyuzmhinov. More importantly, it is strange that an accusation or suggestion of corruption can be made without refering to concrete facts. So far, the Karpov team have not provided these.

We asked Sarah Hurst, who wrote a book on Ilyumzhinov and investigated his business some years ago (publishing about it in New in Chess Magazine), if a case of corruption against FIDE (or Ilyumzhinov) could in fact be made. She explained how difficult these things are in practice:

I think one of the reasons why it's difficult to pin anything on Kirsan is because he's in a country where corruption is the norm and sanctioned by government at the highest level. Look at the number of outrageous murders that have gone unsolved in the past few years, where the government is suspected of involvement, for example the murders of Paul Khlebnikov, Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko, to name just a few. Similarly where Russia's richest men are involved (and Kirsan is far from one of them), despite being so high profile nothing seems to stick to them.

Then when someone actually is arrested for corruption (Mikhail Khodorkovsky), everyone thinks it's just a politically-motivated thing (which it no doubt is) because although he's just as corrupt as the rest of them, his real crime was to antagonize the Russian leadership (Putin), not playing their game.

Hurst notes that "FIDE corruption" is an equally slippery concept. There are only hints, strange things never quite resolved, such as the strange case of Ignatius Leong, once an outspoken anti-Ilyumzhinov activist/chess arbiter and organiser, who suddenly joined forces with his biggest enemy and now is General Secretary of FIDE. Why? Noone knows. Hurst points out that a similar story could be told of the formerly-critical Morten Sand, who is now a FIDE legal advisor.

Instead of answering Yazici's reasonable but many-faced request, the Karpov team seems to focus on FIDE's money flow. In a letter to ChessBase from the Karpov Campaign crew, GM Ron Henley draws attention to the fact that the source of FIDE's seemingly unlimited amount of money is unclear at best:

Kirsan professes to have invested massive amounts of money in chess yet provides no details and certainly no paper trail. The provenance of these funds is not idle speculation nor malicious in intent. It is absolutely relevant because without transparency and a demonstrable sponsorship model there is no way to attract legitimate corporate interest to FIDE.

And to those who say this doesn’t matter as long as some money makes it to a few elite players from time to time, this is wrong morally and a disaster commercially. These tainted dealings prevent the chess world from having a stable, promotable, commercial structure that would soon lead to far better economic conditions for everyone, including the top players.

And suddenly the point is clear: it's not about accusations of corruption - it's precisely the other way around: transparency is vital because it's the only way we can tell no corruption has taken place! In a country such a Russia, transparency in money is absolutely essential and lack of it suspicious by definition. On a side note, of course, transparency is a prerequisite for attracting reliable sponsors and generating sustainable, healthy interest in chess.

Sarah Hurst wonders whether FIDE treasurers aren't interested in where the money comes from, and how Ilyumzhinov actually got all this money in the first place. She can only speculate.

"I don't really know of any concrete business activities that he's done that could have legitimately earned him money. It's not like he owns an oil company or anything."

There are still a lot of questions to be answered and no doubt the election campaigns will uncover some interesting facts.

From a chess player's point of view, perhaps most interesting is next week's Fundraiser Event, held in New York and atttended by Karpov, Kasparov and ... Magnus Carlsen. Apparently, the world's number one has decided he's fed up with FIDE (no doubt heavily disappointed by last year's Grand Prix fiasco). (It would be interesting to know what Vishy Anand thinks of all this, especially since officially, he's also a member of FIDE's Presidential Board.) It is even rumoured that some Hollywood stars such as Robin Williams and Will Smith will make a guest appearance at the party.

Well... to be honest, we're a bit skeptical on this last aspect, but one thing is certain: these are interesting times for those seeking change within FIDE. To be continued!
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