Dear chess friends and colleagues,
With this open letter I'd like to draw the attention to the situation around the World Championship held in Tripoli Libya in June 2004. The choice of Libya was highly controversial from the beginning as due to its political situation the country hasn't organised big sport events for decades. But as Libya offered a sum of 2.2 Mio. dollars for the tournament it's understandable that Fide was happy to finally find the sponsor for the World Championship. It's widely known that previous knock out World Championships held in 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2001 had no sponsor and the prize fund came from the Fide President. Fide's constant failure to find a sponsor explains a significant time gap between 2001 and 2004. Fide was probably even more pleased to hold the tournament in Libya since the prize fund was 1.5 Mio. dollars and the rest sum of 700,000 dollars (!) was announced as Fide's expense for organizing the tournament. Plus Fide received its usual 20% from the prize fund of 1.5 Mio. dollars which means another 300,000 dollars so all together Fide made 1 Mio. dollars from the event.
However, were all players happy about going to Libya? How about Israelis, especially considering that no Israeli citizen in history has ever entered Libya? First Fide seemed to find a good solution having the World Championship in two countries – Libya and Malta. But on 27th of April 2004 Fide announced that all the games of the championship will be played in Tripoli and all players regardless of their nationality would be admitted. Here I would like to switch shortly from chess to football. Libya was one of the candidates to host the Football World Cup in 2010. Only later did the Libyan Organizers make clear that they were not going to let the Israelis (in case they qualify) into the country. FIFA is not Fide, and so Libya was withdrawn from the contest to organise the football championship. Those of readers how are interested can find more information about it on the following News 24 website. Another interesting thing about that article is the date – 15th of May, 2004. It means that nearly at the same time as Libya didn't agree to admit Israelis into the country in 2010, they were agreeing to do so in 2004.
Back to chess, the only document where Libyans mention Israelis regarding the tournament in Tripoli is the press conference of Qaddafi's son's (the President of the Libyan Olimpic Committee) on 5th of May 2004 where to the question of the AP journalist whether the Israelis were really invited to Libya he said: "We did not and will not invite the Zionist enemy to this championship". This was repeated later by a number of newspapers. Such an aggressive comment was not surprising. More surprising was however seeing Fide insisting that Qaddafi's comments were just a misunderstanding, that the Israelis were still welcome, that Fide received guarantees etc. The "guarantees" were, however, not on paper and it all sounded very unconvincing. I think it's quite obvious that Fide invited the Israelis to Libya without the Libyans even knowing about it. The above mentioned Qaddafi's quote is likely to come from a person who didn't know about such an invitation and was caught with journalist's question by surprise. Fide's current leadership has done some suspicious things in the past, to put it mildly, but to invite Israelis to Libya is really outstanding. This matter caused bitter condemnations and wide outcry in the chess world. Many national federations were protesting against holding the Championship in Libya and many leading grandmasters decided to boycot the tournament in Libya as well.
There is no need to introduce Fide people but one person has to be specially mentioned regarding this case. This is Israel Gelfer. Years back, when the decision about the 1986 Olympiad had to be made, many national federations were opposing the bid from Dubai because Israel would not be allowed to participate there. Today, almost 20 years later I'm still taking my hat off for those teams and individuals who decided not to go to that Olympiad because one team was not allowed to be there only for the reason of its nationality. The Olympiad in Dubai finally took place. Why? Because the representative of the Israel Chess Federation to Fide Gelfer openly stated that Israel would not mind not to participate at the Olympiad and wished Dubai a success. Gelfer's motivation is not officially known but his career in Fide has been going up since then.
I was not the only player with the Israeli passport who was supposed to take part in the Championship but the other players refused to sign their contracts. As for me, I decided to sign the contract and agreed to go to Libya. But soon discrimination became obvious: the accompanying persons from Israel were barred from the Championship. I never heard that sportsmen would not be allowed to take coaches of the same nationality while being able to go there themselves. As Fide explained, "the current Regulations do not oblige the organizers to invite the accompanying persons." Simple as that.
According to Fide's Regulations the players were supposed to receive the official invitation from the Libyan Authorities to be able to board a plane and get a visa at the Tripoli airport. Going to Tripoli is not a pleasant thing for everybody but how about travelling there as an Israeli without a visa? Nonetheless, I accepted all the conditions. Fide stipulated in a number of documents that preparing and issuing visas would become a formality. And indeed it was a formality for the other participants but not for me. As the Championship was approaching, in spite of my requests the Organizers from Libya never took a contact with me. Fide was consistently assuring me that the invitation was on the way but just a few days before the Championship I was remaining the only player who still didn't have the necessary invitation. I received it only in the morning on June,18th, the day of the opening ceremony of the World Championship. The invitation was accompanied by Ilyumzhinov's personal letter saying that Fide would be ready to pay my travel expenses (needless to say that by that time I had to abandon all my travel plans). Soon it became clear that the earliest possible flight I could take is on the next day and to arrive to Tripoli just a few hours before the game. I found it absolutely impossible for me to play under such conditions. The discrimination was obvious and so I decided to go to court.
My claim was not against Libya as in my view they didn't do anything what would contradict their policy. The claim was against Fide who in spite of their promises clearly failed to enable me to compete under equal conditions. Trying to justify itself Fide was coming up with all possible excuses and so I needed help from other players to collect the necessary evidence. Probably the most striking case of not willing to cooperate was the one of M. Gurevich who wanted to take his girlfriend to Tripoli. First she received the invitation from Libya but when the Organizers found out that she had an Israeli passport they sent another fax: "the invitation is cancelled". She told me about this fact and when I asked her to write a Statement for the court, she first agreed but then said that M. Gurevich had forbidden her to do it. I changed my opinion about him after that. Nonetheless, there were a big number of players who provided me with useful information, wrote Statements or added their signature on them. For me it was a big honour and here is whom I'd like to thank once again for support: B. Gelfand (who besides his Statement offered me financial help), V. Topalov, A. Shirov, A. Karpov, B. Macieja, R. Dautov, A. Graf, S. Tiviakov, V. Anand, R. Ponomariov, V. Ivanchuk, A. Khalifman, B. Gulko, A. Greenfeld, A. Wojtkiewicz, Israeli lawyer Galai Sharir, M. Hochstrasser on behalf of the Swiss Federation, the US Federation and many others who simply wished me a success.
According to the Player's Undertaking signed by participants of the World Championship I filed the lawsuit by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne. The court took place in February 2005. Naturally, the Israeli citizen I. Gelfer was among Fide witnesses. "Why did you come to testify in this court, Mr. Gelfer?" – was the first question to him. "Because I want to support my accomplices and because my pocket is more important to me than anything in this world" – would've been the right answer. "I'm here to tell the truth" – he said instead. "Why didn't you go to Libya, do you think you would be allowed to go there?" – I asked him myself. "I'm not sure, I think yes. But I had nothing to do there" – he replied.
Now I'm quite sure that even the invitation I received in the last moment wouldn't be sufficient for travelling anyway as it only contained my name, not even the passport number. Fide's defence said on that that on Qaddafi's order the Libyan Ambassador would go from Bern to Zürich Airport to make sure I would be allowed to board the plane. I'm telling this just to show the level of justifications Fide was able to bring.
But the Award rendered by the CAS at the end of April was completely different than the one I was hoping for. My claim was dismissed. Here I could say quite a few words about objectivity, about ignoring important facts and common sense but I think it will be enough to site just a few sentences from the Award itself. Para. 72: "Whereas Respondent (Fide) undertook extraordinary efforts ... it would have been reasonable for Claimant (V. Milov) to honor these efforts and participate, even under slightly aggravating circumstances... The Panel concludes that it would have been acceptable for Claimant to travel to Tripoli ... and to play his first round match the same day." Under Fide's "best efforts" the Court sees sending me the invitation in the last moment and "the slightly aggravating circumstances" is the plane schedule for the 19th of June, the day of the first round, published elsewhere in the Award: departure from Zurich at 7.10 am (probably after meeting the Libyan Ambassador), changing planes in Rome at 10.15 am and arriving to Tripoli at 12.15 p.m. The game would start at around 3 pm. Further on, the Court expressed its confidence that because of big difference in ratings between my opponent and me, 2460 against 2680, "... it's very likely that Claimant would've won the first round game". And this is in the knock out tournament played with a very tough schedule where a player gets often eliminated after a slightest mistake. I had good clear- cut Statements on this subject as well but the Court preferred to believe Fide. The above mentioned Qaddafi's quote regarding Zionist enemies Court calmly explained as rumours published by the Israeli press. On top of everything this Court doesn't have the normal appeal procedure, probably because the judges there don't make mistakes.
When I write these lines or think over the situation there is only one word in my mind: SHAME. Shame to organizations like Fide and to the institutions which by supporting them under these circumstances encourage such things in the future.
- FIDE World Championship for all participants (ChessBase 28.4.2004)
- ACP protest against FIDE world championship (ChessBase 29.5.2004)
- Politics as usual (ChessBase 17.6.2004)
- All ChessBase reports on the Tripoli World Championship
- FIDE press release on Milov vs FIDE decision
- Full court decision in Milov vs FIDE (PDF)