'A pantheon of dubious chess patrons'

6/3/2004 – "No world champion, no corporate sponsorship and no end to scandals involving shady financing and international political pariahs. This is the troubled world of chess under Kirsan Ilyumzhinov." Harsh words from the Moscow Times journalist Carl Schreck. Here's the article and word of new withdrawals from the Libyan championship. More...

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Stop press: Gulko, Shabalov, Onischuk pull out

Before we bring you the Moscow Times article a brief note on the latest developments regarding the FIDE World Championship, which is to be held Tripoli, Libya, from June 18 to July 13, 2004. A week ago US grandmaster Boris Gulko announced that he was withdrawing from the tournament. Apparently the concerns expressed in his open letter to the FIDE president had remained unanswered. FIDE has just announced that Gulko will be replaced by IM Jose Gonzalez Garcia of Mexico.

In a show of solidarity US Champion Alexander Shabalov a few days ago announced that he too will not travel to Libya for the World Championship. "The reluctance of FIDE to deal with the issues raised in the ACP open letter of May 26th and the publishing of 'final list of participants' with my fellow chess players and friends excluded based on their nationality makes it impossible for me to participate in WCC in Tripoli," said Shabalov. Last night American qualifier Alexander Onischuk also withdrew his particiaption. FIDE has published a list of eight players who are eligible to replace them (Garcia Palermo, Wojtkewicz, Sorin, Nogueiras, Monier, Zenon, Slipak, Rosito). They are requested to send in their papers by fax to the FIDE Secretariat in Athens.

Moscow Times article (summary)

"Instead of mainstream corporate sponsors, Ilyumzhinov has courted a pantheon of dubious chess patrons, including Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, deposed Adzharian leader Aslan Abashidze and controversial businessman Grigory Luchansky," writes Moscow Times staff writer Carl Schreck. He goes on to describe the situation after FIDE enlistment of Gadhafi to host the men's world championship in Tripoli later this month.

Shreck also criticises Ilyumzhinov's decision to stage the women's world championship in Georgia's crisis-stricken Adzharia region, only to move it to Elista when the political standoff in the region between Abashidze and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili grew increasingly turbulent. Abashidze fled the country, after agreeing to the switch the venue and pay for the championship. Ilyumzhinov called it "Abashidze's present to chess," and the FIDE web site announced that he had been awarded the ceremonial title of "Holder of the Order of Grand Commander of the Legion of Grandmasters," an organization previously unheard of in the chess world. The winner of the women's championship will receive a golden, diamond-studded crown named after Abashidze.

This was not the first time that Ilyumzhinov has transferred a world chess championship to Elista after initially securing a controversial host. In 1996, he arranged to have the Anatoly Karpov-Gata Kamsky championship match held in Baghdad under the patronage of Saddam Hussein. That venue fell through when the U.S. government refused to grant Kamsky, a Russian-born immigrant, permission to travel to Iraq.

"Frankly, I don't believe this is the kind of sponsorship we should be attracting," said GM Peter Svidler, world number six, who is not participating in Libya. "Of course we would like to have Microsoft as a sponsor," said FIDE vice president Zurab Azmaiparashvili in Elista. "But right now Luchansky and Abashidze want to support us. Thank God we have friends like this."

French grandmaster Joel Lautier, president of the Association of Chess Professionals, pointed out that "Ilyumzhinov himself has had a very troubled history, to put it mildly. Many Western sponsors do not want to have anything to do with him."

Ilyumzhinov has poured tens of millions of dollars into chess since becoming FIDE president in 1995. He says the money has been his own, but his critics have accused him of dipping into the tiny republic's coffers to fund his chess obsession, including the construction of his chess fantasy land, Chess City, a slick complex in Elista built to host the 1998 Chess Olympics.

"Under Ilyumzhinov," Shreck writes, "one of the chess world's most glaring problems is one that the FIDE president inherited: the lack of a universally recognized world champion. Gone are the days when world champions like Bobby Fischer, Anatoly Karpov or Garry Kasparov were household names."

Ilyumzhinov is optimistic about a solution to this problem in the near future. The president claims that FIDE already has serious offers from Dubai and Cairo to host the reunification match with a $1 million prize fund.

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