How to solve the FIDE voting and membership dilemma

7/31/2010 – Niels Lauritsen, a Danish chess player and promoter working in Malawi, thinks that some chess federations should not have automatic voting rights at the FIDE general assembly. Instead he outlines a more transparent and democratic membership system: establish a set of basic membership criteria to ensure that only bona fide chess federations are valid and voting members of FIDE. Opinion.

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How to solve the FIDE voting and membership dilemma

By Niels Lauritsen

For several decades the global chess scenario has experienced discussions, laments and complaints about weak chess federations having the same say, the exact same one vote, at the FIDE general assembly, whether they are huge national federations or just mere self-appointed briefcase units without proper accountability, members, tournaments or chess development goals. Naturally there is injustice in this. The practice whereby the FIDE presidency (current as well as former) obtain votes from some weakly governed and poorly accountable chess federations is offensive to many bona fide federations and could ultimately risk to divide the chess world altogether.

But instead of only pointing fingers, also the FIDE motto of unity should be respected. There is no reason for these continued abuses, if some basic criteria for membership and voting rights can be put in place. And that sooner than later. It is important that such universal criteria are applied to ALL federations, not only to a group of members currently eyed as for sale or corrupt. In this way we avoid to discriminate due to geography or color and instead establish a set of truly universal standards.

First we observe that FIDE does not have any helpful conditions for becoming a member and obtain voting rights. There are no criteria in place to distinguish well-functioning from weak members, bona fide from fake. It is now high time that this situation is changed.

In my opinion, a proper chess federation should have:

  • a clear and relevant constitution
  • updated list of members and clubs
  • annual AGM with presentation of written annual report and financial report
  • audited finances if required by the constitution
  • annually updated list of assets, chess equipment and books as part of the annual financial reporting
  • rating or ranking list of competitive players
  • at least one FIDE rated tournament a year
  • A physical place for office, preferably including library and store

In addition, the chess federation should operate a website, which displays

  1. current executive board positions
  2. contact addresses and location of office and clubs
  3. minutes and documents from the latest AGM

I am sure that many of the FIDE member federations will find these requirements tedious and boring. “of course – what else is new?” will be the reaction. But these basic requirements are certainly not obvious or in place in a number of federations. Potential well-wishers cannot support these as long as there is no accountability or transparency, as the support will just be wasted. As long as some officials are the main beneficiaries themselves from the limited resources and assets available, there is likely not the WILL to change for the better.

I know several chess federations who cannot currently fulfill even one of the above listed criteria or bullets. And there are some who can only scrape through on one or two of the bullets only. Yet these federations, without recorded members, without accountability, without vision, trod to the FIDE assembly and vote every four years, almost en block, to the increasing anguish of many big federations who wish for higher standards. This is the basic rot of the current situation. These chess officials are not competent, yet they cling to their positions. How to change that? Their chess fraternity must instead elect some new competent officials, who can deliver their federation to become a class A member of FIDE. How to do that?

Simply by having a minimum set of criteria for being a full and voting member of FIDE, applying the above bullets as minimum standards for full membership, this will greatly improve accountability and transparency. Tensions will ease, normality and FIDE motto will prevail. It is not costly or rocket science. And in some cases, it is just to insist that the federation must adhere to its own constitution as earlier formulated!

The practice of dishing out clocks, sets, individual presents and vague promises of chess in school campaigns is counterproductive. Instead, FIDE and friendly supporters should help and support B-membership federations to establish a proper governance for themselves, in order to upgrade to A-member status and voting rights.

To make sure that true development and accountability is pushed forward, FIDE should inform the governments which currently recognize chess as a sport and eligible for support that FIDE has approved a set of criteria and standards for becoming full members of FIDE.

This proposal will require much more discussion. And of course flexibility as well. The players and teams from the B-member federations should still be allowed to participate fully in FIDE and other chess events as hereto practiced. The processes should be open and honest, and no-one should hide behind empty rhetoric or excuses. I am sure that the rank and file of chess players worldwide will welcome these measures without hesitation. If the current FIDE regime would be reluctant to push for such reforms, I leave you to speculate on the reason.

Please note that by requiring all chess federations to become transparent and accountable will greatly boost the forces of change and sincere chess development which is currently being hampered or suppressed in a number of national chess federations. It is the best thing to do, really. It will also assure the public and the supporting government structures that all is well in their chess environments. There could even be a spill-over effect to other similar federations and sports, especially in countries where chess is recognized as a sport to be supported by the government but nevertheless languish through incompetent authorities and self-appointed and -serving chess officials. Hit them with demands of transparency and accountability. Powerful moves!

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Niels Lauritsen, 64, from Denmark, currently works for the Red Cross in Malawi. He is a senior international master in correspondence chess. When not somewhere in Africa, he plays in the OBRO chess club in Copenhagen. Niels has been involved in promoting chess for many years. He has a unique insight in what ticks and what hampers the development of weak chess federations.


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