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Chess Olympiad Players Suffer Subsidy Payment Delays

Chess Olympiad Players Suffer Subsidy Payment Delays

Several African participants in the Baku Olympiad have experienced financial problems as a result of delayed payments of travel subsidies by FIDE. One player has even sued his chess federation in an attempt to resolve the issue.

Beginning with the Tromsø Olympiad two years ago, some federations that lack financial means receive a special subsidy for sending their chess players to the Olympiad. But whereas the Norwegian organizers paid the money in cash in the first week of their event, officials from several federations (mostly from Africa) have told Chess.com that they are still waiting to receive their Baku allowance, more than seven weeks after the Olympiad finished.

Officials of Kenya, Côte d'Ivoire, Uganda, and four other federations told Chess.com that they have not received any money yet. In Asia, the federation of Myanmar is still waiting for their allowance.

Two months before the Olympiad, FIDE published the list of countries that were eligible for subsidies and the respective amounts for which those countries were eligible (in PDF here, see image below). The countries are divided into four categories, and receive either €9300 ($10,324) per team, €7320 ($8126), €4800 ($5329) or €3000 ($3330).

It was communicated to these countries, mostly verbally, that the payments would take place in Baku or via a bank transfer within two weeks of the end of the Olympiad. In many cases, federations and/or players are still waiting for the money.

Baku Olympiad travel allowances.

Financial Woes

The payment delays have led to financial woes for a number of participants of the Olympiad. Some presidents of African federations took out personal loans to get their teams to Baku, and they are now pressured by banks who demand payments. In other cases, players themselves have taken out loans and are still not capable of repaying the debt.

An example is Essoh Essis, the President of the Ivory Coast Chess Federation. He has paid personally for his team's flight tickets. The federation only sent a men's team, consisting of five players who were coached by the well-known GM Maurice Ashley.

"They promised that it would be paid in Baku," Essis told Chess.com. "Once I got there and learnt that it would not be paid until three weeks after I returned, it was already quite difficult for me. We said 'that’s fine.' Now, we still have not received anything. It's a damaging situation."

Essis works for the United Nations in the Democratic Republic of Congo. With his salary, he is capable of things other chess presidents in Africa cannot do. In most cases, the price of five airplane tickets to Azerbaijan is the equivalent of several months of wages.

In Uganda, three players have even threatened to take legal action to try and get their money back. On behalf of the players, a law firm has urged the national chess federation to pay a sum of $3,590 in total.

Emmanuel Mwaka, who played board five for the Ugandan team in Baku, told Chess.com: "The federation wasn't clear about anything. We're not buying this story of FIDE. You can't just say there is no money."

One of the players, Christine Namaganda, could not afford to stay for the full Olympiad. She chose to travel back on September 13, missing the last round. 

Because of all the turmoil, the Ugandan teams arrived after the third round. Phiona Mutesi, the girl featured in the book and Disney movie, "The Queen of Katwe," only played two rounds and then left Baku for a movie premiere. "Why was she put in the team? This appeared like a wasted fight ticket. Many people were not happy with this," said Mwaka.

GM Maurice Ashley watching Phiona Mutesi at the Baku Olympiad. | Photo Mike Klein.

Kenya: Two Federations

Kenya is a more complicated story. Chess.com spoke to Githinji Hinga, the Chairman of Chess Kenya, the chess federation in Kenya recognized by FIDE, until recently. In March, a small group of individuals launched a second chess federation ("Interim Chess Kenya"), which is now supported by FIDE, despite the fact that the Sports Tribunal in Kenya has ordered Interim Chess Kenya to "stop conducting themselves as officials (interim or otherwise) of Chess Kenya," as was stated in their decision on June 21 of this year. However, FIDE questions the jurisdiction of the Sports Disputes Tribunal.

"This small group was supported by the African president to stage-manage a coup," said Hinga. "It was done haphazardly. There have been court cases. The sports ministry has contacted FIDE, and everyone is telling FIDE that these people are not bona fide members. But now FIDE has stopped recognizing us."

The story is too complicated to deal with in this article, but it is included to sketch the situation in Africa, where "everything is political," in Hinga's words. This seems to be a product of the fact that Kenya supported Garry Kasparov during the 2014 FIDE Presidential elections. Back then, Chess.com reported on the removal of several federation presidents and delegates, who had announced their support for Kasparov's ticket, from the FIDE website.

As it turned out, for the first time in 20 years, Kenya could not send a men's team to the Olympiad. Only their women's team went. They played with only four players and missed the first four rounds. They traveled on the premise that they would be refunded on arrival, but in Baku, the players were told that the payment would occur within two weeks. 

The Kenyan players: Joyce Nyaruai, Gloria Jumba, Maina Purity, and Jane Wambugu. | Photo Githinji Hinga.

The Baku organizers didn't respond to a request for comment. FIDE did; in an email to Chess.com, the following statement was given about the situation:

All federations have been paid, unless FIDE is still waiting for their bank details. FIDE was waiting for the organizers to provide all necessary information concerning the expenses of the federations which the federations had requested be deducted from their grants and then FIDE had to reconcile these amounts with the federations concerned.

Follow-up questions from Chess.com haven't been answered by FIDE yet, but shortly before publication of this article, FIDE's Executive Director Nigel Freeman said on the phone that "everyone has been paid" and that no complaints had arrived at the FIDE offices.

The Kenyan players, however, gave their bank details in an email dated September 12 to FIDE's Geoffrey Borg. "That was seven weeks ago," said Hinga. "But there's no money yet. The travel agency is now debt collecting. The girls are very anxious and worried."

The secretariat of Kenya's interim chess federation could not be reached for a comment.

Players from Kenya and Namibia got the chance to meet Magnus Carlsen
at the Bermuda party in Baku. | Photo Maurice Ashley.

A key person in all this is Lewis Ncube, the President of the African Chess Confederation. Multiple sources told Chess.com that he personally promised to arrange payment for the flights, but he didn't keep his promises.

For instance, in a Whatsapp conversation seen by Chess.com, he communicated to the Kenyans that he would provide the financing for the tickets by August 31, the day before the Olympiad. As a result, Interim Chairman Benard Wanjala stated on Facebook that everything was arranged. 

However, payments did not materialize. The participants had to find funds themselves, but they could only arrive in Baku a few rounds into the tournament.

Mr Ncube did not respond to a request by Chess.com for comment. He did try to explain what happened in a letter to Mr Wanjala on September 2, stating that the travel subsidy "was payable only upon the arrival of the teams in Baku."

He also wrote that an attempt to find a financier to bridge the financing failed partly because at the end of August, Ncube was briefly hospitalized. "Final attempts to timely rescue the process have been hampered by time constraints and exchange control regulations in South Africa."

At the moment, it's the word of the world chess federation against that of the African federations regarding whether payments have been made or not. One thing is clear: The communication between FIDE and the federations has been far from ideal. 

"There's no transparency," said Mwaka. "The federations are running around and hiding."

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