Malcolm Pein: FIDE Deputy President 2018, President 2022?
Malcolm Pein is part of Georgios Makropoulos presidential ticket. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Malcolm Pein: FIDE Deputy President 2018, President 2022?

PeterDoggers
PeterDoggers
Jun 5, 2018, 8:25 AM |
13 | Chess Politics

On Monday, FIDE presidential candidate Georgios Makropoulos announced his ticket. The deputy president on his ticket is the well-known organizer Malcolm Pein, who told Chess.com he "would be interested" in running for president in 2022.

The FIDE presidential elections will take place on October 3 in Batumi, Georgia. The deadline for candidates to announce their tickets is three months in advance. So far we have three candidates: the incumbent president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov of Russia, grandmaster Nigel Short of England and the current deputy president, Georgios Makropoulos of Greece.

In an email on Monday, and later also on Twitter, Makropoulos announced his ticket:

  • Deputy President: Malcolm Pein (England)
  • General Secretary: Sundar D.V. (India)
  • Treasurer: Adrian M Siegel (Switzerland)
  • Vice President: Jaime Aguinaldo (Angola)
  • Vice President: Martha Fierro (Ecuador)

All names on the ticket are part of Makropoulos' current FIDE team—except for Pein. His inclusion is remarkable at first sight, since the English journalist, organizer and businessman is a known critic of FIDE. As a writer, for instance in his own magazine "Chess," he has condemned many actions of the federation for the last two decades.

Pein spends most of his time as the Chief Executive of the UK charity Chess in Schools and Communities, which he founded in 2009. He is an international master, has been the chess correspondent for The Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph for over 30 years, is the founder of the London Chess Centre in 1992 and the main organizer of the London Chess Classic.

Via Skype, Chess.com spoke with Pein to hear more about his motives, ideas and vision for the future of chess.

Why are you suddenly emerging in FIDE politics?

Well, I've been active in the English Chess Federation and I'm currently the English delegate to FIDE. But to answer your question: It's the same reason anyone should get involved in politics: because I care about things and I want to change them.

Is there a financial benefit involved in a position like that in FIDE?

As far as I'm aware of, no. It's a job that only takes time and costs money. There is a case for officials to have a modest salary like in other sports bodies, but that would be a matter for the General Assembly and it's hardly a priority right now.

Malcolm Pein 2016

Pein in Leuven, 2016. | Photo: Peter Doggers/Chess.com.

Your involvement with FIDE started with the deal that was made with the Saudis for the 2017 World Rapid and Blitz Championship. How did you get involved in that?

It all happened very quickly. I got a phone call from Geoffrey Borg [CEO of FIDE - PD] and he asked if I wanted to join a meeting with the Saudis, who were interested in doing a chess event and wanted to meet in London. I was also slightly surprised myself. He thought I could be useful, and I think I was.

What did you gain from this yourself?

Apart from the fee for being a member of the appeals committee [$2,500 - PD] and my hotel and flight ticket, nothing.

Players from Iran and Israel couldn't participate in Riyadh, and players from Qatar got visas in time to play in the blitz only. Don't you think it's questionable to be part of an event where not all chess federations were welcome?

I think it was a great event, and I know FIDE tried really hard to make it possible for everyone to participate. I was directly involved in that right up to the last minute. And let me be clear: At a FIDE event, everyone should be able to play, and feel safe. I really thought we had a chance to get everyone invited.

But, I also saw it as a way to clarify the issue once and for all. I mean, before the Saudi tournament the situation in FIDE was very unclear. Now, we can use this tournament as a precedent to say to the Saudis and to anyone else: it was great, but next time, if you don't invite everyone, there won't be another tournament.

"Now, we can use this tournament as a precedent to say to the Saudis and to anyone else: it was great, but next time, if you don't invite everyone, there won't be another tournament."

In chess terms, we made a temporary sacrifice to establish a precedent. I am personally upset about the Iranians and Israeli not being able to play, but we should use this tournament as the catalyst to be able to say categorically, this can't happen again. I was happy that Makropoulos made this point at the opening and closing ceremonies in Riyadh. At that point I thought I would be able to work with him.

And, I think we handled the dress code issue very well. Women were able to play and feel comfortable, which was a real breakthrough, something I am quite proud of. Geoffrey Borg’s efforts here cannot be overstated.

My policy would be that every country should be allowed to host a sports event if it abides by the standards required by the International Olympic Committee. Players, spectators, organizers and journalists of all countries should be welcome. Sports should be an attempt to build bridges and bring people together.

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Pein in Leuven, 2016. | Photo: Peter Doggers/Chess.com.

What are the main things you would like to see changed?

We need to bring FIDE back into a respectable state, we need to get rid of Kirsan and we need to get back our bank account. The organization needs serious improvement in its image, marketing, constitution and relationships. But the most important thing is that we remove Ilyumzhinov from office, and make sure he never comes back.

"The most important thing is that we remove Ilyumzhinov from office, and make sure he never comes back."

How do you plan to arrange that?

As Mr. Makropoulous has already announced, we will have term limits. A person should be able to run for a maximum of two terms, so eight years—that is, for life. And Kirsan has ruled much longer already, obviously.

Can you mention more concrete plans?

If there’s one place where FIDE needs to direct its resources is Africa. It's been completely neglected. The state of chess in some African countries is just dreadful. I will be working on a development plan for African chess.

The tournament in Riyadh was a revelation to me. I have run many elite events but this was the first time I have been closely involved in a FIDE event. I found the standard of arbiting on some occasions to be low. Two appeals that went to the Appeals Committee were the result of very bad decisions by arbiters. We need to develop a team of professional arbiters who are professionally trained and who will receive feedback from players, organizers and officials and be regularly tested. Every continental federation should have an arbiter team like that for events in their continents.

There are lots of people with influence, experience and wealth who have only goodwill towards the game. I would like to create a Board of Advisors consisting of good, influential people with experience and resources, who are not in the chess world but have a heart for our game.

Online chess is something to work on. The FIDE online arena has not been successful, and instead of creating its own server, I want to work on developing relations with existing chess websites and even run official FIDE online tournaments there.

Then, a lot of commissions in FIDE are not functioning well. For example the women's commission, I feel they are only focusing on top-level chess while we should do more to encourage the participation of female players at all levels.

Another example is the Anti-Cheating Commission which, to start with, should be rebranded to Fair Play Commission. That would be much better PR! It should consist of arbiters, organizers and players and would create better guidelines for penalties and examine cases that shouldn't go to the Ethics Commission.

In fact, I cannot think of a better person to run this commission than Nigel [Short - PD]. There is no one with a better sense for fair play than him.

What do you think of Short's candidacy?

We have very similar ideas, and agree on almost everything, except his suitability for a leadership position. He has a lack of experience in crucial areas such as organizing and in, let's say, political affairs. He also lacks diplomacy, as you can see from his writings.

"We have very similar ideas, and agree on almost everything, except his suitability for a leadership position."

For example, I was very unhappy with what he wrote about women and he got a lot of 'feedback' in the mainstream media. In the era of #metoo, the Twitter 'mob' and the very welcome developing momentum for women's equality and rights, it's a risk for an organzsation to have him at its head; I must emphasize, I am only talking here about what he's written, nothing else.

What do you think of his recent tweets about you?

Nigel was begging me to stand for president. It's a little disingenuous of him to accuse me of naked ambition.

Nigel Short Malcolm Pein

Pein and Short (right) at the pro-biz prize giving at Google headquarters in London last year. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Do you, like Short, also want to terminate the contract with Agon?

Agon has been a complete disaster, but I am not the one who has the power to terminate a contract. But if it's even legally possible, it would be done mainly because of the standard of organization of their events. I mean, even with their experience and expertise  in PR and marketing, they have only been able to find Russian sponsors.

I have watched Agon from day one. I remember when they did the London Candidates' in 2013. Andrew Paulson [who passed away in July 2017 - PD] showed me their software and I noticed that the en passant rule wasn't working. The Candidates in Berlin, in the game between Caruana and Grischuk, after 18.axb6 Rxb6 both White's and Black's b-pawn remained on the board on the official website. I mean, if there's no progress after five years, what's the point?

I am also disgusted by their lack of respect to the players. Wasn't Grischuk holding a bottle with his own urine at one of the press conferences?

Update July 19, 2018: No, he wasn't.

FIDE and Agon are often criticized for not finding western sponsors, but what has the Grand Chess Tour achieved there? The two classical events are both supported by one wealthy businessman, the Paris sponsor has a connection with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and the Leuven sponsor is an old contact of Garry Kasparov and part of his foundation.

The general sponsorship environment is not easy when you've got a situation where the president of the world body is sanctioned. It's not a conducive situation. What the Grand Chess Tour has shown, in my opinion, is how you can raise the level of organization and live broadcast. And I am very proud of what we have achieved there.

Also, we have secured serious commercial sponsorship in France from Vivendi and Daily Motion and made TV programs for Canal Plus. Outside of Norway I don't think that's been achieved anywhere else recently.

Kasparov is now supporting Short, but he is part of the Grand Chess Tour, like you. Will this lead to complications?

Not from my point of view. I think we largely agree on objectives, just not on the way to achieve them. I am looking forward to a 'love-in' at Leuven.

Kasparov Pein Paris

Kasparov at the Grand Chess Tour pro-biz event at Google headquarters in London last year. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Are you involved in the organization of the world championship match in London, which will have Russian sponsors?

I’ve been offered to be part of the organization, but I have not heard from them yet. I want to emphasize that everyone in English chess wants the match in London, except Nigel.

If the British government decides that they don't want to have a match with Russian sponsors, then obviously it won’t take place. Diplomatic relations between the UK and Russia are very low right now, and for good reasons.

However, Russian sponsors are also involved in the Champions League, for example Gazprom. And England is about to participate in the World Cup in Russia.

Don't you think it's odd that you're joining a team with Makropoulos, whom you have criticized for so many years, a man who has helped Ilyumzhinov staying in power for so long?

My perspective on this is that describing this as the "continuity team" is a misrepresentation of my involvement and that of other people in the team. 

I see this as a transition team. Makropoulos has stated that he only wants to run for one term. We are in a desperate situation, with no bank account. This is force majeure, and compromises need to be made.

I would like to be FIDE president in 2022. I intend to stand. The next four years we need to guarantee the safety of the organisation.

"I would like to be FIDE president in 2022. I intend to stand."

I am hoping for a very successful and productive relationship, to which we're committed for only one term. If I'm standing in 2022, I will suggest more radical changes.

Malcolm Pein

Malcolm Pein. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

What are the chances that the Makropoulos team will win this election?

The first goal is to make sure Ilyumzhinov gets defeated, and Nigel's ticket will not ensure that. In fact, all he is doing is risking splitting the anti-Kirsan vote. If Nigel would withdraw, it would be a done deal.

Even with Ilyumzhinov's support of the Russian Chess Federation?

That support is not strong. He doesn't even have a proper ticket; one person on his ticket doesn't exist. The fact that his endorsement isn't fully confirmed yet, says enough about his weak position.

What do you think of the current situation, with FIDE's money being in trust funds in Switzerland and Hong Kong?

I am perfectly content with the arrangement.

Don't you think the delegates should be better informed, especially about the reliability of the Hong Kong fund?

As the English delegate, I feel sufficiently informed. I might be better informed than other delegates; if they feel the need for more information they should ask.

Are you planning to campaign? And what can you say about your funding?

I cannot say anything about our funding yet. But yes, I intend to campaign. I will focus on Europe; I think every member on the ticket should take care of his or her region.

Do you expect more candidates to join the race?

That would make it more interesting! But the main goal is to have a different president.


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