FIDE elections update: Ilyumzhinov claims victory, Karpov doesn't believe it

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Ilyumzhinov vs KarpovCyprus and the United Arab Emirates might seem unlikely flashpoints in the current campaign for the FIDE Presidency, but in the last few days the two candidates have fought a fierce PR battle over their support. Meanwhile, Karpov has proposed moving the Candidates Matches to Kiev and Ilyumzhinov has claimed victory already. Update: something fishy is going on in the Asian region.

By Colin McGourty

United Arab Emirates The least controversial, but most confusing, announcement of support came from Dubai in the UAE. Though something of a graveyard for FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov’s more ambitious projects – most spectacularly, his chess city there was never built – it had still seemed to be one of his strongholds. The UAE is home to both the FIDE Continental President for Asia, Sheikh Sultan Bin Khalifa Al-Nahyan, and the President of the Arab Chess Federation, Ibrahim Mohammed El-Bannai. It seems a fair assumption that this concentration of power is not unrelated to the vast wealth of those taking an interest in chess there, which sets it apart from the vast majority of impoverished chess federations the candidates have to deal with. On August 4, however, its chess federation came out in support of the visiting Karpov. The campaign press release reads:

“Big news from the United Arab Emirates, where Anatoly Karpov just had a successful meeting with renowned businessman and sports patron Sulaiman Al Fahim, who among his many titles is also the president of the UAE Chess Federation. The UAE has pledged its support for Karpov’s candidacy and Sulaiman Al Fahim has accepted the offer of a FIDE Vice President position in the Karpov administration to focus on developing chess in the Arab world and all of Asia. They also announced a $320,000 chess development package for the region.”


What gave this setback for Ilyumzhinov a touch of the extraordinary was that he suddenly arrived in the UAE at the same time, and even announced what sounded like a similar package.

“The FIDE President has invited Sheikh Butti to join the FIDE family and offered him a position of the FIDE CEO on Commercial Affairs”.


There is even mention of a Federation President, which might be enough to convince a casual reader that Ilyumzhinov’s trip had been a success:

“The key moment of the FIDE President’s visit to Dubai has become his press-conference in Dubai Press Club-Media City, with the participation of the Arab Chess Federation President Ibrahim Al Bannai and H.H. Sheikh Butti Bin Suhail Al Maktoum”.
In fact the Arab Chess Federation is an organisation promoting chess in Arab states. According to its website (and Google Translate) it claims that 15 support Ilyumzhinov, though the organisation itself has no vote in the elections (a press release on the Ilyumzhinov campaign website is now claiming 16 out of 18 Arab countries "re-nominate" Ilyumzhinov - which is odd, as the Karpov website includes Morocco and Egypt among its flags, so the UAE should make at least 3 Arab countries for Karpov).




Perhaps the strange “has become” (what was it meant to be?) in the statement and the “Krisan” [sic] name label visible in one of the photos hint at a rush and changed plans. That’s certainly the claim made by GM Max Dlugy, who was in Dubai on behalf of the Karpov campaign.

“The UAE Federation offices are located just across the street from the Dubai Chess Club where Kirsan was planning to have his own press conference - to which he flew four days earlier than planned upon hearing the news of Karpov's pending UAE support. Dr. Suleiman Al Fahim did not think it necessary to tell Kirsan in person that he no longer supports him, as he had told him numerous times on the phone. Kirsan could not believe it and kept asking his assistant Berek to repeatedly call in a last-ditch effort to change the mind of the head of this prominent Arab Chess Federation. It did not work.”


Whatever the exact details, the UAE can clearly be chalked up among Karpov’s relatively few clear successes, to date, in the campaign.

Cyprus The situation in Cyprus seemed to be almost the reverse. Back in mid-July the Karpov campaign website announced:

“During a trip to the beautiful island of Cyprus, Anatoly Karpov met with President Dimitris Christofias. The President offered his full support to Karpov’s efforts to win the presidency of FIDE and reform the chess world.”


Of course this was the support of the President of the country rather than the Chess Federation, but surely one would follow from the other?! The Karpov team emphasized the point with the bullet points they added under the article:
  • Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has never visited Cyprus
  • FIDE Deputy President Georgios Makropoulos is Greek and has never visited Cyprus. Upon hearing of Karpov’s visit he did not waste time and went to campaign for Ilyumzhinov on Sunday.
It seems that eventually Makropoulos’ campaigning paid off, as on August 4 the Ilyumzhinov website triumphantly announced a letter of support from Christoforos Tornaritis, the President of the Cyprus Chess Federation. The letter states that supporting Ilyumzhinov in the election “is a unanimous decision of the Cyprus Chess Federation board, reached during its last meeting of 19th of July 2010”. A bitter pill to swallow for the Karpov campaign.




However, a letter dated August 5 from Vassilis Aristotelous, a board member and PR Officer of the Cyprus Chess Federation, now disputes this version of events:

“The letter of support for Mr. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov sent by Mr. Christoforos Tornaritis, the president of the Cyprus Chess Federation, is grossly misleading and/or misrepresenting the true facts.”


Aristotelous claims that the board is deeply divided and produces a document showing that ten of the eighteen Board members gave their signed support for Karpov on July 12. He goes on to say that the statement of support at the Ilyumzhinov campaign website is invalid as “it’s not printed on the official letterhead of the federation and signature of the Secretary is missing”. Chessdom has responded with an update (the source for which is unclear) stating that the secretary was present at the meeting on July 19 and the President’s letter is validated with the Federation stamp – though the question remains: are the secretary’s signature and official letterhead required or not? Other questions include: who else was present at the meeting on July 19 (Aristotelous?), and in what manner and why they voted for Ilyumzhinov (what changed over the course of one week?). In any case, opinion in Cyprus is obviously far from united, and there are even echoes of the situation within the Russian Chess Federation.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the events of the last week has been the ferocity with which the candidates have fought over the support of these two countries. It seems totally out of proportion to a situation in which Ilyumzhinov is claiming a four-to-one lead in support. But perhaps, despite the declarations to date, most federations will still make their final decision in September. Naturally there are perceived benefits to having picked the winner (in terms of future influence or financial support), so that rather than concrete proposals many countries may be waiting to see which way the wind’s blowing. It’s not about winning at this stage, but about being seen to be winning. Hence the Ilyumzhinov website going to extreme lengths to claim it’s already a foregone conclusion, while Karpov’s team talk of a growing momentum for change.

Candidates to Kiev? Some evidence of the Karpov team making post-victory plans could be seen this week when he opened a children’s tournament in Naberezhnye Chelny. This Russian city is the second largest in the Republic of Tatarstan, so it was perhaps fitting that he chose it, and the local news site “Tatar-Inform”, to announce his surprising proposal not to hold the Candidates Matches in the Republic’s capital city of Kazan.

“After conferring with my team we’ve taken the decision to put forward a proposal to move the Candidates Matches to Ukraine, to Kiev. That would allow the Ukrainians to choose one of their strong grandmasters, for example ex-World Champion Ruslan Ponomariov, who recently won the International Super-Tournament in Dortmund in brilliant style. Please don’t take our proposal as having anything against Tatarstan, as we’d be happy to accommodate future proposals by your republic to run tournaments here. It’s just that right now Ukraine looks like the optimal way of getting out of this stalemate.” (You can read it here in Russian, or in my English translation here, where there are also details of another interview during the same trip.)


Karpov explains the stalemate as arising both from the fact that Mamedyarov was still going to be given the wildcard, despite the event switching from Baku to Kazan, and the reluctance of Topalov to play in Russia. It does seem, however, that this latter point had already been resolved, while clearly it doesn’t actually help the Russian grandmasters Karpov mentions, Grischuk and Jakovenko, to move the matches to Kiev.

A probable factor in the choice of Ukraine is Viktor Kapustin, Karpov’s candidate for FIDE Treasurer, also being the President of the Ukrainian Chess Federation and in a position to run such an event. It might also be relevant that the men currently in charge of the Russian Chess Federation, Arkady Dvorkovich and Ilya Levitov, have both said they wouldn’t be prepared to work with Karpov. We’ll have to wait and see whether Karpov repeats his proposal in the mainstream media, and how Russia and Azerbaijan respond. Of course before holding the matches in Kiev becomes a serious possibility there’s still the minor matter of Karpov winning the election for FIDE President…

Victory for Ilyumzhinov? The latest news is that the Ilyumzhinov campaign headquarters have claimed victory. With the support of Hungary, Indonesia and Syria they say they now have 84 federations, a majority of the 167 expected to vote. Before that announcement was made, however, the Karpov campaign had already struck back. Their article, entitled “Kirsan’s Paper-Thin Support”, states that the Ilyumzhinov numbers are an illusion: “He can say 50, 80, or 1001 federations are with him, but the truth is slowly being revealed”. It claims that federations are reacting to Ilyumzhinov’s broken promises by switching to Karpov, though fearing intimidation they do not wish to be named at this stage. The article goes on to mention Cyprus, and both the UAE and Cyprus situations described above are perfect examples of how bitter the election campaign has become.




Update: something fishy is going on in Asian region. In his latest column for the Canberra Times, which is syndicated to the Byron Shire Echo, GM Ian Rogers writes that supporters of Ilyumzhinov are attempting to sabotage the traditional (and strong) Malaysian Open.

(...) as part of his re-election world tour, Iljumzhinov promised to give $US100,000 per year to host a memorial tournament for the former FIDE President Florencio Campomanes. The tournament was to rotate around the 10 members of ASEAN, with the first event to be held in Campomanes’ home country of the Philippines. A new event in SE Asia was welcomed by all until the schedule was announced – the Campomanes Memorial was to be held at the end of this month – a direct clash with the Malaysian Open. With four times the prizemoney, the effect on the Malaysian Open was likely to be severe, but then came news that the top Filipino players – a few of whom had played in almost every Malaysian Open - had been threatened with bans by their Federation if they preferred the tournament in Kuala Lumpur. The reason given was that Malaysia was supporting Anatoly Karpov for President, not Iljumzhinov.

(...)

the most distasteful part of this scenario is that the Filipino tournament is supposed to be a memorial to Campomanes – and the former FIDE chief was one of the biggest supporters of the Malaysian Open, competing there only a few years before he died.
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