FIDE elections: meaningful and meaningless support

| 0 | Chess Event Coverage
Ilyumzhinov vs KarpovWe haven't given much attention to the upcoming FIDE presidential elections in Khanty-Mansiysk yet, but the recent news that the United States Chess Federation and the German Chess Federation have given their support to Anatoly Karpov, there's no escaping the facts: the campaigns have started, and the political games have begun.

In this article, we want to give some background information regarding the various aspects of the upcoming FIDE presidential elections in Khanty-Mansiysk this fall. First, we'll discuss the letters of support for the two candidates (Karpov and Ilyumzhinov), who wrote them and why. Next, we'll cover some of the practical and theoretical implications of these endorsements. Finally, we compare the current situation to Turin 2006, when Ilyumzhinov managed to beat his opponent Bessel Kok.

Support for Kirsan Ilyumzhinov A few weeks ago, ChessBase reported in two separate news items about supporting letters for current President Ilyumzhinov. First, Turkish Chess Federation President Ali Nihat Yazici (a FIDE Vice-President and candidate himself for the upcoming presidential elections of the European Chess Union) expressed his support for Ilyumzhinov in a lengthy letter. Just two days later, four letters from FIDE continental presidents (Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe) were published, also supporting the current FIDE President in often strikingly silimar prose. The second paragraph of Boris Kutin (ECU) and Dabilani Buthali (African Continental President) are in fact identical, suggesting the letters have been mutually composed.

Some of these letters are difficult to read without feeling embarrassed by their subservient tone. A closer look at, for instance, Mr. Yazici's arguments for supporting Ilyumzhinov reveals some of the utter superficiality of these letters of support.

Ali Nihat Yazici

Ali Nihat Yazici

  • "Mr. President has spent more than 50 million USD from his personal pocket for FIDE during his presidency of over 15 years. I believe that this should be respected."

There are several things to note here. First of all, if all the money was spent out of the President's 'personal pocket', what happened to his promise to attract more corportate sponsors, one of the main goals of Global Chess? (A company which, by the way, recently ceased to exist.)

Even more conspicuously, why didn't the President spend some of this money on the rather miserable situation in his own country, Kalmykia, which is one of the least developed former Soviet states? It's a thousand-times repeated complaint that Ilyumzhinov likes chess more than his own people, but to actually use it as an argument for chess, as Mr. Yazici does, is really a totally unheard-of approach.

  • "The situation of World chess today is in a fantastic condition compared to 15 years ago. Kirsan has united the World Championship title."

In fact uniting the World Championship could also be described as one of the biggest failures of Mr. Ilyumzhinov (we’ll just continue addressing him formally) as a President. He only succeeded after more than ten years of hopeless debates, arguments and all sorts of bad publicity for chess, and this is even generously ignoring the often-heard suggestion that he might actually have been the cause of some of the major disputes over this issue as well.

  • "All FIDE tournaments are today organized in excellent conditions(...)"

Perhaps, although one would think differently looking at some of the protests and debates over recently introduced rules and conditions. Also, proper scheduling of tournaments has been something of a problem recently, for instance with the Women's Grand Prix and the Women's European Championship being held at the same time. Also, one wonders why, if everything is going so smoothly, big FIDE tournaments have been mainly organized in the same Causasus region for years, where conditions are often mediocre, and even dangerous at times.

  • "FIDE is able to find prizes, sponsors and venues, far in excess of the events we had in the 80s or 90s."

That may be so, but interestingly, by far the biggest media events since the 80s and 90s were the recent exhibition match between the two stars of the 80s and 90s, Kasparov and Karpov, in Valencia, and the Kasparov-Deep Blue matches in 1996 and 1997. Ilyumzhinov had nothing to do with these events.

An what about the bad international media attention the current FIDE President has generated? What about the sense of estrangement among ordinary chess players? In our opinion, these questions need to be answered by Ilyumzhinov's supporters if they want to make themselves credibile at all.

Support for Anatoly Karpov Not surprisingly, then, on the websites of the German and French federations, letters of support for the other candidate, Karpov, were published. This came after former World Champion Garry Kasparov had expressed his support for his former rival after his candidacy. To Russian press agency Interfax, Kasparov said:

Currently it's quite obvious that the FIDE administration is on the sidelines and any attempt to bring chess back to its former status must be linked to the name of someone who has a serious prestige and knows everything. In my view, Karpov might try to essentially change the situation, and I hope that he does have such a chance.

And now, the USCF has joined these European federations with a published statement of support. They haven't elaborated on it yet,

Update: the full USCF statement has now been published over here.

...but some of the European federations have. In a press release from last week (now also published on Chessbase), the President of the German Chess Federation, Robert von Weizsäcker, stated that Karpov will be nominated as Germany's candidate. The FIDE statutes allow this, since Karpov has been a member of the German chess club 1930 Hockenheim for sixteen years, and therefore he's also an official member of the German Federation.

Meanwhile, support from Karpov has come from various other angles, such as a Facebook page and support from columnists. It's likely his campaign will gain even more momentum, possibly from some of the world's chess playing elite as well, as the elections approach.

Questions about federal support Following this news, there was a lot we couldn't quite figure out here at ChessVibes headquarters. First of all, why were these letters of support published so long before the actual elections, and especially before all possible candidates were known? Why didn't all these federations hold their horses until they really knew who they could vote for? Secondly, why have some federations express support while others have not? And thirdly, how could the President of the European Chess Federation express support for one candidate, and some of the biggest and most influential individual European federations support the other? This seemed contradictory and at best highly confusing.

Perhaps most importantly, all this seemed to suggest that the decisions by the national federations (at least the ones publishing those letters) were already made without consulting their individual members - the actual chess enthusiasts themselves! What had been the democratic process within the federations resulting in support for one or the other? Were actual chess players consulted in this decision? Did these nation's leading grandmasters have a say in all this?

Predictably, such questions aren't answered on the FIDE website. In fact, the one article referring to the upcoming elections in September hyperlinks only to the letters of support for Ilyumzhinov, while only noting that "Mr Karpov has stated that he has the support of France, Switzerland, Germany and Spain."

We decided to ask our Dutch Chess Federation (KNSB) for some clarification regarding these questions. IM Jeroen Bosch, technical director of the KNSB, was quick in his reply and offered some interesting background information on the matter. First of all, Bosch said individual chess players (who are member of the federation) can, in theory, appeal to their delegates in the federation's council to vote for a particular candidate. This would indirectly infuence the voting decision of the national federation.

Bosch also said the Dutch Federation hasn't discussed its preferred presidential candidacy yet, since Russia hasn't decided its official candidate yet: this could be either Karpov or Ilyumzhinov or even a third, hitherto unknown, person.

To Bosch's knowledge, the national federations have not discussed this matter between them either. Bosch did note that in the past, the KNSB has often spoken critically to Ilyumzhinov about specific policies, and has in the past supported opposing candidates (Bessel Kok and Sunye Neto).

Robert von Weiszäcker confirmed to us that the German Chess Federation is "convinced the majority of our members support the nomination of Anatoly Karpov" and that "also, during the 2006 elections in Turin, the DSB [Deutsche Schachbund - CV] positioned itself firmly behind Bessel Kok. Likewise, our current discussion is carried broadly by our DSB-board."

ECU's bewildering letter of support Regarding Boris Kutin's letter of support on behalf of the European Chess Council, Jeroen Bosch said that the KNSB wasn't consulted in this beforehand and that they might object to the letter during the next ECU meeting. All this suggests to us that probably not a single individual European country was consulted in the writing of this letter of support. The fact that four other federations clearly support Karpov is another indication of this. Remarkably, from comparing the letters published in the ChessBase article, the ECU did consult the African Union beforehand. Apparently, consulting its own members was of less importance.

All this is rather bewildering- until you realize, as Bosch pointed out to us, that the ECU does not, in fact, have a vote in the presidential elections at all. Come again? That's right, none of the continental or zonal unions do. It's the individual countries (or rather their federations) that vote for the President - meaning Boris Kutin's letter of support must have actually been just a personal and hence formally meaningless initiative. As Bosch says, "Several zonal Presidents have expressed support for Ilyumzhinov, but this doesn't mean much."

The president of the German Chess Federation confirms this point of view:

When ECU president Boris Kutin expresses his support for Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, this is his personal opinion and not the viewpoint of all of Europe. The 54 federations of our continent will surely not be influenced by this, and will only make their decision after careful consideration. The DSB has openly announced its candidacy of the former World champion to make a point. We are convinced his points of view on the things to be done within FIDE are right, and we will support them.

Knowing this, it's understandable Kutin's letter of support starts with the informal 'Dear Kirsan' instead of the normal 'Dear Mr. President' - after all, Kutin is not only the ECU's President but also, just like Ali Nihat Yazici, a member of the Presidential board of FIDE.

Meaningful support? The USCF's official endorsement of Karpov, on the other hand, seems very meaningful. Together with Germany, France and Spain, the USCF is one the world's largest and most active chess federations. Even if Russia or some other country were to nominate Ilyumzhinov (some country definitely will, we can be sure of that), even then the support for Karpov will be big and stable. However, as history has shown, this doesn't necessarily have to mean much. A vote from a country like Gabon counts as strongly as the vote from the USA, so the big question is what all other countries will do at the FIDE congress?

What can we expect? Dutch Grandmaster Hans Ree wrote about the previous presidential elections during the 2006 Chess Olympiad in Turin a report for ChessCafe:

Yvette Nagel (the wife of Yasser Seirawan, who was a member of Bessel Kok's team): “Truly fascinating what happened, this was unreal. At a certain moment, even before the actual voting, pamphlets were distributed saying that Ilyumzhinov had won 87 votes! A woman from Kok's team wanted to distribute something also, but was removed from the hall by Azmaiparashvili's wife, who literally kicked her. Some delegates were only flown in to Turin, they signed and took the same plane back home, it was really scandalous.”

Jan Timman: “Intimidation and bribery went much farther then we had expected. People have actually seen banknotes changing hands, but how to prove what the money was for? Bessel Kok will drop out after this adventure, this is sure.”

Herman Hamers (former President of the Dutch Chess Federation): “Incredible what happened there. It has little to do with democracy.”

Of course, such stuff is not exclusive to FIDE Presidential elections. With a nice word it's called lobbying, and it's the same thing that happened, for instance, at the recent CITES conference for endangered species. It's true that we don't know what will happen during this fall's presidential elections, so we probably shouldn't draw overhasty conclusions.

The campaign will be tough, no doubt. In an article in The New Yorker from 2006, Karpov is quoted saying that "even a dickhead would do a better job than Ilyumzhinov. The situation cannot become worse." Still, if the voting proceedings during the previous FIDE congress are indicative of what we can expect in Khanty-Mansiysk, Karpov - and his supporters - may yet again return empty-handed.

Update: in the meantime Karpov has published his mission statement.
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