Chess Players Association urges compromise

by ChessBase
11/3/2009 – The recent controversy between GM Koneru Humpy, the second strongest female chess player in history, and D.V. Sundar, the Hon. Secretary of the All Indian Chess Federation, has brought us a spate of letters by our readers – and a press release of the CPAI, which represents the interests of the players, urging both parties to reach a settlement on all issues. Facts and opinions.

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Press Release

The Chess Players Association of India wishes to register its concern about the ongoing issue between Grandmaster Koneru Humpy, the 2nd highest rated woman player of the world, and one of the young and prominent Chess players of the country, and the All India Chess Federation.

By perception, the following appear to be the facts of the issue:

  • GM Humpy has proclaimed that she has decided to withdraw from participation in the Asian Indoor Chess Championship to be held at Vietnam in the first week of November `under stress due to …not (being) in a position to participate in a prestigious event for the country’.

  • Humpy’s father, Mr. Koneru Ashok, is her personal trainer and accompanies her to all the tournaments she plays, which has been their practice since her childhood. Humpy has also stated that when the All India Chess Federation refused to bear Ashok’s expenses when accompanying her on official trips, Ashok offered to bear the expenses himself. But Humpy has stated that the AICF laid a pre-condition that Mr. Ashok will be accommodated as part of the delegation only if Humpy would participate in all the official tournaments representing the country.

  • The All India Chess Federation has formed a rule that any player who wishes to play a Chess Tournament out of the country has to get the Federation’s approval for the same. In the past, this has been followed by most of the players who take part in all the tournaments abroad, and the AICF has given such permission routinely. However, Mr. D.V. Sundar, as the Secretary of the AICF, has refused Humpy permission to participate in the Gibraltar Chess Festival to be held in Jan – Feb 2010 because the AICF will be organising an International Open Chess Tournament, an unofficial event.

The CPAI feels that the developments between GM Humpy and the All India Chess Federation have been unfortunate, and that soon an amicable solution for all the issues be found. However, we wish to put forward our views on the same herein:

  • That when GM Humpy feels that her father accompanying her to all the tournaments helps her perform better as a player, such a practice should not be discouraged by the Federation, especially when the player is ready to bear the trainer’s expenses. After all, it is the freedom of any player to choose his/her trainer, and sporting / performance considerations should be the most important of all.

  • Looking at the career graph of GM Humpy, it is obvious that we have in her a player of international repute and great promise, and it is interest of the country and Federation that such top performers should be encouraged by giving them extra leeway and flexibility, thus ensuring that such potentials will be able to fulfil their promise.

  • Players should be allowed the freedom to choose the events that they wish to play, as long as they do not fail to fulfil any official commitments or representation of the country. And we strongly feel that Open Chess Tournaments – organised by whomsoever – inside the country cannot be the reason for a player to be refused for permission to play abroad. After all, a player selects participation in Chess tournaments based on many sporting criteria such as strength of the event, Playing Schedules, Time Control, playing conditions and a host of many such considerations.

  • In case the AICF feels that International Tournaments abroad attract Indian players more than events conducted inside the country, it is up to the organisers / Federation to find the reasons for the same, and thus get our Tournaments organised better, so as to attract better participation. After all, Indian players financially have to stretch themselves to play tournaments abroad on their own, and International Tournaments inside the country getting organised in a better way will be welcome development for our players, and consequently for the development of the game itself.

We urge Grandmaster Humpy and the All India Chess Federation to have a positive and open discussion on all the above issues, for the sake of her career development and the promise that she holds as a performer for the country, a settlement of all the issues be found at the earliest.

Atanu Lahiri
Secretary, Chess Players Association of India

Feedback from our readers

In spite of a mailserver problem – for over a week nobody was able to use our feedback form – we received a lot of letters pertaining to the controversy between Koneru Humpy and D.V. Sundar, the Hon. Secretary of the All Indian Chess Federation. Naturally most writers sided with Humpy – the sporting star will always have the sympathies of the fans. We bring you a full cross section of the letters which reflects the general opinion of our readers. Only gratuitously rude or insulting letters have been omitted, or ones that employed all too adventurous orthography.

A word of warning: there is a second side to every story. D.V. Sundar, whom we know personally, is not acting purely for personal reasons. He is under pressure by the sponsors of the Indian team and events, who regularly explain to him in no uncertain terms that they require certain actions by the players in return for the funds that they are providing. For instance in a circular letter dated October 12th, 2009, which we have obtained, the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board writes explicitly: "Participation of our chess players in these tournaments will not only serve as a motivation for the budding talent in our country, but will also give an opportunity to them to compete against the 'BEST' thereby raising the standard of this sport in our country. Therefore, please advise all the players of your organisation to participate in these tournaments and as such kindly do not sanction any foreign tours for your players during the period of these tournaments."

Secondly, some readers seem to imply that Sundar is bureaucrat who has no inkling of the sports world. "Indian chess must be taking out of the hands of officials who have absolutely no experience with sports," writes Rakesh M. from the USA. "It must be placed in the hands of competent sporting personalities."

Well, it will come as a surprise to many that Sundar is such a person. He is 59 and was a well-known sportsman throughout his early life. Sundar was the Champion Athlete of his college for three years continuously, played in the Senior Division League Cricket & Hockey in Chennai. He was the Manager of the Indian basketball team to Japan, the volleyball team to Malaysia, the table tennis team to the Sydney Olympics, an observer of the Indian Hockey Federation to World Championship at Sydney and of course the chess representative at numerous international events.

On to the letters...

Theo, Belgium
Poor Humpy – time to defect to the West!

Suresh Kerketta, Bangalore, India
I really feel sorry for Humpy who is being traumatized by Mr. Sundar's high-handedness. Without any delay he should apologize and mend his ways. FIDE and other members of AICF should look into the allegations by Miss Humpy. I empathize with her situation and hope Mr. Sundar stops acting like a BIG BOSS.

Akacia Onung, Stavanger, Norway
Change country Humphy – try Norway or some other Gulf state!

David, USA
An easy solution for you. Take charge of your own career and quit playing under the AICF.

Kelvin, Canada
I think maybe Humpy should ask herself why she AND her father/trainer should be given a free ride anywhere. Given that she is number two I don't think she or her father are poor yet she is asking for a handout. If it was a team trainer, maybe, but her father... come on, act like an adult and start paying your own way through life instead of being a burden. The rest of us have to.

Charles Chua, Philippines
Hope Anand is reading this. As world champion, he should be able to help you out. Are you on good terms with him?

Tucker Everest, USA
During my nearly 50 year involvement with chess, I've seen and or been subjected to some of the same sort of unpleasant treatment by chess organizers! It seems that many of our organizers start out as chess players, but soon become attracted to the lure of chess politics! I agree with GM Koneru Humpy's assessment of the position in that it is about "control!" What I'd like to see is for some of India's top GMs, including Anand, step in to lend a hand in helping GM Koneru Humpy resolve these upsetting issues with Mr. Sundar. All the best to you, Humpy! I'm sure that India won't let one of it's strongest players fall by the wayside due to politics?

Ant Vance, Los Angeles
I cannot believe a world class player like Humpy Koneru is treated this way. Shame on the people who try to bargain (more like twist her arm) with her to play in the tournaments that they see fit for her. The moment she even states that she is looking for a federation to take her, in a second, India is going to loose her! I hope evey one will realize what kind of a national treasure she is for her country and will treat her as she deserves! She does not deserve to be in this situation, no one does, and she has other options!

Neeraj Sharma, Swansea, UK
It's really pitiful that a top sports person of a country is being treated this way. No surprise it was effecting her performance for a long time. Players like Humpy are a national treasure and they need to be treated better rather than sabotaging their career. Would like to know from Humpy if she has informed the sports minister of India about the same?

Nat Kongsamran, Bangkok, Thailand
Mr. D.V. Sundar may get trouble due to his own action soon. If Koneru Humpy is true, many of chess players will get more unnecessary pressure. The officers should support their players, not to make more problem for them.

Charles Hall, Orlando, FL, USA
By any definition of a personal trainer, it is difficult to conscience demands by Humpy for sponsorship of her parents in that role. She is of age and should be accompanied by a proper coach. If she is not happy with the arrangements of the sponsorship, Humpy is perfectly free to seek private sponsorship, as Parmi Negi has, outside of the AICF. Let's put it in perspective - she is not even 2600, and it is only her gender that gives her any distinction.

Gary Walters, Cleveland, USA
I take it that one of world's great chess talents is entirely unhappy with her treatment by the National Federation. The AICF's representative responded by coming on line to charge her with lying and to present an otherwise defensive and officious response. She needs to grow up (and there's time for that), but Mr. Sundar needs to apply the skills of a seasoned chess administrator and avoid tangling with world-class talent on a world stage. Based upon the letters, my sympathies are with Ms. Humpy, although with the reservations suggested above.

Luis Baquero, Medellin, Colombia
My vote is 90-10 in favour of Koneru. Magnus Carlsen is not the best player in the planet and travels everywhere with his father; Kasparov is the best ever and took regularly his mother to his tournaments; I'm sure the Polgar's father used to travel with her daughters. How come that the second best female player in the world, a very young woman, can't travel as she pleases with her father? India is one of the biggest economies today and her AICF can't afford these expenses? If PSPB wants to benefit from Koneru, she can negotiate with them the guarantee of being treated as a queen by AICF. And if PSPB is not interested in Koneru, she should just tell Kasparov that she wants him to be her coach and invite him to speak with India's Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, for a millionaire contract...

Benoit Morel
Dear Mr D.V. Sundar, it is far easier and far less important to be an official in any sport or activity like chess than to be a top player. The best and least that an official can do is to make himself or herself as invisible as possible. it appears that FIDE and other organisms in chess have chosen to be far too visible. They do not serve any useful purpose. Our interest and priority is in the players.

Serge Solomon, Tel Aviv, Israel
I read Mr Sundar's response to GM Konneru Humpy. I know who Ms Koneru is - the second-highest ranked female player in Chess history! And Mr. Sundar? Sorry, I am not familiar with chess organizers. Except that they, as any other organizers, in sports, music, cinema, etc, should do their utmost for their stars. Does Mr Sundar know how Cuba behaved towards its great star Capablanca? He actually put Cuba on the map! That's how one would expect behaviour towards a young promising female top chess player. Not only to its male chess player, Anand...

Mike Archer, Steamboat Springs, USA
Snore. Slow news days, apparently.

Rishi Lakhanpal, New Delhi, India
In India, it is normal for non-sports people to run the sports organisation. Also in most of our sports associations, players don't have a say. only solution to the problem is that recognition to associations should be provided after ensuring that internal democracy prevails. For example, local players with a rating of 2200+ should earn himself a vote in the election process of these associations.

Rick Aeria, San Diego, United States
An unfortunate state of affairs. Bad for the AICF to have their dirty laundry aired out for all to see. If anything, after reading between the lines, it seems that the prim donna Humpy is a bit out of line in this spat. I don't believe the AICF has unlimited resources to pay for Humpy's daddy to tour with her and that seems to be the crux of Humpy's complaint.

David Penwell, Arlington, VA USA
It seems to me that someone has been living in an ivory tower for WAY TOO LONG. Reality: if you work for someone, i.e. receive money from them, then you by definition have to do what they hired you to do. Reality: if you think that you are so "good" or "valuable" then STOP taking money from other people and earn your own money! This entire news item is concerning in that the majority of the people who read these articles have "real" jobs and go to work every day wishing they never had to work again. Suggestion for the girl: 1. Stop taking the guys money and get a "real" job! Suggestion for the guy: 1. Dump the girl, if she isn't smart enough to know a good thing when she sees it then maybe getting a "real" job is just what she needs!

J Geyser, South Africa
A short message to Ms Humpy: Please sort out your problems in private and spare us the boring letters. After all: Who cares?

Praveen Sharma, Delhi, India
I take this opportunity to present my humble views on the subject before your august office. I am a chess lover and the recent spat between two eminent chess people enrages me. Sometime back it was GM G. N. Gopal and now it is women’s world no. 2, GM Koneru Humpy. These two players are grandmasters, well established in chess circuit. When they speak, media lends all ears but what about the hundreds other who don't have a voice. This latest controversy is only the tip of an iceberg the real picture can only be imagined. Federation-players disputes are not new. The singers change but the duet continues. In my humble view the root of the problem exists in the situation where players don't have a say in the working of the federation, while the federations dominate every aspect of the sport.

One solution comes to mind, if we encourage players to participate in federation politics by contesting and voting, the whole equation changes completely. The players are now the voters and potential supporters who have to be pampered and listened to if you like to remain in office. As a principle, all annual fee paying members should be eligible to vote but to separate men from boys there should be a criteria. In the field of chess it is very easy as all regular players are internationally rated. You only have to decide whether 2000+ is okay or 2200+ will do and adjust it subsequently as the day progresses. This exercise will establish parity between two groups on one hand and promote internal democracy on the other.

Balaji Gudavalli, USA
This is bad for chess. We should encourage chess players. Please support the best talent we have in India.

Smruti Ranjan Das, Bhubaneswar, Orissa, India
I appreciate the guts of Koneru Humpy. Mr Sundar has pulled down the Orissa State Chess Association by the instigation of few dissidents on very flimsy ground. He was looking for an opportunity to pounce upon us and he got a small one but he risked his larger image by siding with sycophants.

Previous reports

World number two female player protests
22.10.2009 – "I am very unhappy to inform that I have withdrawn my participation in the Asian Indoor Games 2009 to be held at Vietnam due to some nasty circumstances caused by Mr. D.V. Sundar, Secretary, All India Chess Federation." That is the start of a press release sent to us by Koneru Humpy, the second strongest female player in the world, and the second to cross the 2600 rating mark. Humpy's protest.

Sundar: Imagination and half truths
23.10.2009 – "I saw GM Koneru Humpy’s letter on your website," wrote D.V. Sunder, Honorary Secretary of the All India Chess Federation. "You normally seek the reaction of the other side, as you have earlier agreed that there is always the other side of any episode." Indeed there usually is. We bring you in full what we received from the AICF: a letter of clarification.

Humpy replies to Sundar – issues open challenge
25.10.2009 – "The situation is warming up and I’m getting excited!" writes GM Koneru Humpy, the world's second strongest female player. "I know that Mr. Sundar is an old hand at playing chess, especially off the board. He has made his move, which was to be expected. But to my surprise he started with a gambit!!" Humpy replies to the press release of AICF President with a public debate challenge.

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