Baburin on FIDE and the forthcoming elections

2/5/2006 – This is election year, and in May a number of candidates will be running for the post of FIDE president. The incumbent Kirsan Ilyumzhinov will seek reelection for a further period. He will be challenged by Dutch businessman Bessel Kok, French organiser Leo Battesti, and possibly by former world champion Anatoly Karpov. Alexander Baburin of Chess Today tries to make sense of it all.

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On FIDE President and Forthcoming Elections

By GM Alex Baburin

As many of our readers will know, elections for the FIDE President will take place during the Chess Olympiad in Turin in May. There, the FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov will compete for votes with several other candidates. Among them are Dutch businessman Bessel Kok and French chess organiser Leo Battesti. Former World Champion Anatoly Karpov also hinted that he might run for FIDE President. Today I'd like to look at this election.

First, a bit of history. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was elected in 1996. FIDE was practically bankrupt then and as Ilyumzhinov promised to pump millions into chess, his election was pretty much assured. Ilyumzhinov made his fortune in the muddy waters of Russian business in 1980s and 1990s. He later became President of Kalmykia, a small autonomous republic within the Russian Federation, located near the Caspian Sea.

Both in politics and in chess Ilyumzhinov likes to shock. For example, at some point he declared his intention to run for Russian President. He bought a soccer club. He wanted to stage a Karpov-Kamsky match in Baghdad. He wants to bring the body of Lenin to Elista. He claimed to have put aside $50 million for world chess championships. He started, together with infamous Russian businessman Artiom Tarasov, FIDE Commerce Ltd. Many of those projects failed. But it is true that Ilyumzhinov brought considerable sums into chess, enabling many chess pros to make a decent living from his knockout tournaments.


FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov [Photo Frits Agterdenbos]

Professional players have mixed feelings about Ilyumzhinov and his reign. Many appreciate that fact that he spent his own money on chess. Many dislike his authoritarian rule. The latter manifested itself very clearly before the FIDE World Championship in Libya. Most are against his team in FIDE.

Personally, I feel that Ilyumzhinov has always been a part-time FIDE President. He obviously needs this title, if he was prepared to pay for it. Probably it gives him extra protection (head of a large international organisation!) in the turbulent and dangerous world of Russian business and politics. He tries to have an impact on chess, but his efforts are sporadic and usually short-lived. It seems that he chose a pretty poor team. When I was Morozevich's manager, I had to deal with some people in that team and was unimpressed, to put it mildly.

Ilyumzhinov won easily in 2002 in Bled. In fact, many people accused his opponent Ignatius Leong of selling out. In Bled he withdrew from the race, accepting the position of FIDE Vice President.

Let us have a look at other candidates. Vice President of the French Chess Federation and organiser of the popular Corsican Circuit Leo Battesti announced his campaign in October 2005. His explained his goals: "This new initiative will be directed towards finding mainstream sponsors and partners who are attracted by the worldwide appeal of our sport. This will eventually, enable both professional and amateur chess players to be better served by an institution made by them and for them."


Dutch presidential candiate Bessel Kok [Photo Olena Boytsun]

Dutch businessman Bessel Kok is a well-known figure in chess. He was involved in GMA and the Prague Agreement. His campaign is well organised, with regular updates on its website. Kok commands a lot of respect among top professionals. Among those, who support him, are Judit Polgar, Ivanchuk, Gelfand, Short, Adams and several other GMs. See the full list here. Even more importantly, the Spanish, Andorran and German Chess Federations have expressed their support.

Another candidate might be Anatoly Karpov. He has been attacking Ilyumzhinov in the press for quite a while. In his recent interview he drew a very gloomy picture: "If we allow chess to continue for another four years in its present terrible state, it will simply disappear from the face of the earth."

However, Karpov has not decided yet whether or not to run FIDE President...

One would think that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov should be happy to see as many rivals as possible – after all, the main question is likely to be "are you pro-Kirsan or anti-Kirsan"? However, FIDE seems to be determined to make it harder for others to challenge the FIDE President. Thus, FIDE recently amended its electoral regulations. One of the new rules state: "A Federation is entitled to nominate only one candidate for one position". This seems to be aimed at Karpov – it looks like he and Ilyumzhinov can't run for FIDE President at the same time, as both are in the Russian Chess Federation. In another controversial development, Ilyumzhinov suggested that any candidate for FIDE President should put up $1 million for the privilege of running! Not surprisingly, both Battesti and Kok protested.

Recently I saw both Bessel Kok and FIDE Vice President George Makropoulos in Birmingham, where they made their presentations to the Chess Federations of England, Scotland and Wales. As I was playing in the 4NCL, I could not attend the meeting, but the discussions seem to have been heated. I am sure we will see more in the next few months. I recall how in 1996 in Yerevan members of all teams were given a bottle of "Kirsan" vodka, a jar of "Kirsan" caviar and a "Kirsan" watch. What will be on offer in Turin?


Alexander Baburin in a simul against kids


Chess Today is the first daily electronic newspaper on chess. It is delivered via e-mail, providing chess fans around the world with fresh tournament news, stories and annotated games.The main contributors are IMs Vladimir Barsky, Maxim Notkin and Nikolai Vlassov and GMs Ruslan Scherbakov, Mikhail Golubev and Alexander Baburin. Subscription price is €15 for 3 months, €25 for 6 months and €45 for a year. Subscription is free for GMs and WGMs. For more information please visit the Chess Today site.



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