The election of Arkady Dvorkovich

by Macauley Peterson
10/5/2018 – We present the highlights and analysis of an extraordinary day in Batumi: The FIDE General Assembly convened Wednesday in Batumi, in a hotly contested presidential election that was closer than it has been in decades, but not as close as expected, with many delegates still undecided right up until the end. It will be a new chapter in the history of FIDE as the reign of Greek International Master Georgios Makropoulos draws to a close after 103 federation delegates voted in favour of the Russian Arkady Dvorkovich. Nigel Short, who made a dramatic last-minute endorsement of Dvorkovich, was later appointed to be one of several Vice-Presidents. | All photos: David Llada / batumi2018.fide.com

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"The image of chess must be repaired..."

"...Every chess federation, every chessplayer will benefit under this leadership with the confidence and skills to at last transform chess into a modern sport."

For those following this year's FIDE election, that sounds like it could be a quote from Arkady Dvorkovich, who won the election to be FIDE President on Wednesday by a vote tally of 103 to 78. In fact, it's Garry Kasparov in a letter to FIDE delegates written in support of Bessel Kok's 2006 bid to unseat Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who at that time had been in power in FIDE for only one decade.

Much of Dvorkovich's rhetoric around professionalising FIDE would have been quite familiar to supporters of Kasparov's own campaign in Tromso, four years ago. Were it not for the stark political chasm between the two men which is (mostly) extraneous to chess, one could imagine Kasparov offering a similar endorsement. But of course, the very fact that Dvorkovich served as Deputy Prime Minister of Putin's Russia, and retains close ties with him, as well as support from the Kremlin, makes that inconceivable.

Dvorkovich succeeded in achieving what Kasparov could not: convincing a majority of delegates that he would do a better job leading FIDE than Georgios Makropoulos, who has been integral to FIDE's leadership since 1990. In a campaign that was nasty at times — including the Makropoulos team levelling accusations of bribery and the Dvorkovich side threatening defamation lawsuits — Dvorkovich himself managed to keep well above the fray and strike all the right notes in the days leading up to the vote, as well as in his final fifteen-minute speech before the General Assembly.

The atmosphere at the General Assembly with brief post-election interviews | Batumi Chess Olympiad 2018 on YouTube

The closing arguments

The three candidates drew numbers from a box to determine the order they would speak. Dvorkovich picked number one, which chief scrutineer IA Carol Jarecki noted was "not always an advantage". Nigel Short drew number two and Makropoulos went last. In 2014, when Ilyumzhinov got to give his campaign summation after Kasparov, he used his opportunity to rebut the speech of his rival to great effect. But we would see no such repeat in Batumi.

Dvorkovich"I'm sending a strong message to the worldwide chess community: Gens una sumus", Dvorkovich began, "it is both our official motto and a sentiment coming from my heart." On the page this looks like it could easily backfire, sounding insincere, but he managed to pull it off.

Indeed, key to Dvorkovich success was his ability to persuasively advocate for unity and reconciliation in stark contrast to Makropoulos' defiant, sometimes petulant tone, which came off as desperate.

Armed with a slick slide deck projected in the hall — the only candidate of the three to use a visual aid — he proposed reforms to FIDE regulations, such as banning proxy voting and enacting term limits, the absence of which has kept Ilyumzhinov in power for 23 years.

Dvorkovich also committed to stepping down from any external organizations that could present a conflict of interest. Briefly addressing the any delegates‘ lingering fears about his independence, he denied any notion of undue Russian gov't influence or backing.

"With great power comes great responsibility", Dvorkovich continued, paraphrasing either Voltaire or Spider-Man (depending on what century you were born).

He said he would bring "prosperity to the whole chess family...by transforming FIDE into a professional, efficient and transparent institution".

He garnered applause for his promise to "cut or suspend fees" federations pay for services, and proposed $3 million USD for development over four years on top of an annual budget for FIDE as a whole of $5 million for his term in office, which he says will come from support from "leading multinational companies".

He called the promotion of scholastic chess "by far the most important project FIDE should pursue", and lambasted the previous World Championship match in New York for having a budget of close to $6 million while keeping a bare minimum prize fund.

At the conclusion of his speech, his call to action was simply, "let's just do it". The speech came in at about exactly 15 minutes and was met with sustained applause.

Next up was Nigel Short, who started with a joke:

Nigel Short"Ladies and gentlemen, if I’m elected President I will put, not $20 million into the FIDE account today, but $40 million yesterday". This was simultaneously a lament against exaggerated campaign promises in general, but also a specific dig at Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who famously pledged "$20 million today", without apparent irony, during his General Assembly speech four years ago, a moment which Makropoulos — who was standing beside him at the time — admitted later that same day was "bullshit".

Why aren't Mark Zukerberg and Bill Gates sponsoring chess, Short wondered. "FIDE, as it’s currently run, is almost the exact opposite of what a successful sports body should be".

After laying out the problems of its funding structure, which has been a regular theme of his campaign, he made a final and personal indictment of the Makropoulos administration: "More than incompetence, and the lack of transparency...is the open culture of bullying. In this administration 'gens una sumus' only applies to those who voted for the administration. Everyone else gets shafted. This mean-spirited vindictiveness has to stop".

Short touted his love for chess, noting that he has won tournaments on all six continents and has visited 120 countries, adding, "more than once I have been the first grandmaster to visit a country".

Then came the bombshell; after announcing the members of his team, he declared that he was withdrawing from the contest and endorsing Dvorkovich. This brought an outburst of cheers from the hall. He closed by saying, "we all know that change must come to FIDE and today it will finally come".

Makropoulos started by criticising Short’s insinuations, before proceeding to his prepared remarks. He highlighted his experience and argued the merits of "stability" — a word which was repeated multiple times in the speech — before running down a list of his achievements in FIDE, starting with reducing the powers of the president and reforming FIDE statues so that the election of vice-presidents would be more geographically diverse, with the power structure more decentralised and democratic. He pointed to improvements to the system of travel subsidies for delegates to encourage them to participate in the General Assembly. He noted the introduction of rapid and blitz events and ratings, a partnership with DGT, and a laundry list of tournaments he has helped to organise over the years.

Makropoulos

The end of an era | Photo: David Llada / batumi2018.fide.com

"Why do I say all this?", Makropoulos contiued. "Because I’m someone who has been born in chess and has worked his whole life to develop it...I'm the only one of the three candidates who really knows very well what FIDE and the national federations need". This must have sounded patronising to many delegates. For instance, I spent time listening to candidates and delegates from the African Chess Confederation in particular, and they all hammered a message of self-sufficiency and exercising more responsibility for their own chess destiny.

Makropoulos once again expressed his dismay at reports that Russian diplomatic personnel in various countries had contacted chess federations or applied pressure through national sports ministries to gain support for Dvorkovich’s candidacy, and said he was "saddened" to report that some delegates feared their votes might be secretly recorded. This drew boos and calls of "shame" from two or three audience members, though at least one of them who was near me was clearly not a delegate, and had been gleefully cheering for Dvorkovich earlier.

Makropoulos called for an independent FIDE that would involve everybody. "We should reject the idea of a FIDE controlled by money". He pledged to advance good governance goals, including term limits which, he noted, the current administration had proactively added to the General Assembly agenda. "We are not promising to change FIDE, we are already changing FIDE. This is the main difference".

This is actually a powerful message, but it's one that was not effectively communicated earlier in the campaign. To be persuasive it would have required a more aggressive push for transparency, laying bare the mistakes of the past and the lessons learned. Makropoulos surrogates throughout the campaign focused more — perhaps too much — on Russia itself, and failed to make the case that a Makropoulos presidency would represent a meaningful break from the Ilyumzhinov era. When delegates had questioned Makropoulos earlier in the day as to why he could not, or did not, endeavour to remove Ilyumzhinov more forcefully and sooner, he simply did not have a satisfying answer, other than "we were trying to persuade him to resign". Even if we are to believe that Ilyumzhinov was the root of all evil in FIDE, Makropoulos knows where the bodies are buried, so to speak. Maybe it's not too late to dig them up and have a day of reckoning.

Makropoulos concluded by once again emphasising the need for FIDE to be independent of any national governments, praising delegates who resisted coercive tactics and specifically naming Goran Urosevic, the whistleblower in the ethics case of the Serbian Federation President. "The new FIDE is going to protect everybody", he said, "and start the next day with renewed focus". He received a healthy level of applause, but anyone watching couldn't avoid the impression that Dvorkovich had the stronger message and was now the favourite as delegates headed in to vote.

Delegates

Some votes were by a show of cards, but the presidential election was a secret ballot | Photo: David Llada / batumi2018.fide.com

Short's trump card

A last minute surprise endorsement from Short may well have put Dvorkovich over the 50% threshold and avoided a second ballot, when any delegate gaining a plurality of votes could win. I asked him when he had decided on this course of action, and he said only the previous morning after meeting with the members of his ticket:

"I wasn’t decided even at the start of the meeting. I actually couldn’t sleep...I’d just woken up at five o’clock and then I was awake and I was thinking of it over — and by breakfast, I was inclining that way, but it was actually just a brute discussion and different people had different ideas, and we just started to discuss the various options."

He explained the rationale was to give Dvorkovich the best shot at winning on the first ballot:

"In a real squeeze, I could end up with a relatively smaller number of votes, like a dozen, but I could also get a very significant number. I could get 35, easily, because I had loads of people who said 'we’ll vote for you on the first round'. [But] you're never quite sure whether they may just decide 'I’ll put my second vote first and get it over with'. So there were dangers from both sides: If I get a very low total, I think 'what’s the point'; if I get a very high total, there’s a real risk that Makro would finish ahead of Arkady on the first round and this shifts the balance. And I thought the risk wasn’t worth it, psychologically. If Makro's got more votes, some people say, 'well that’s the winning ticket', and they go that way."

Vice-Presidents picture emerges

On Thursday, the second day of the General Assembly, Short was appointed one of the Vice-Presidents by Dvorkovich. He joins two of the previously appointed Vice-Presidents: Gulkiz Tulay from Turkey and Junan Yang from China. Lukasz Turlej, who served as Short's campaign manager was also made a Vice-President.

"It would be naive to think I would go unrewarded for this. I’ve dealt him a very strong card", Short told me, before the final vote tally was known on Wednesday.

Among the Vice-Presidents who were elected are Michael Khodarkovsky (USA) — a Kasparov confidant as head of the Kasparov Chess Foundation who previously ran for VP and lost in 2014, but this time got 107 out of 163 possible votes — Anastasia Sorokina (Belarus), Martha Fierro Baquero (Ecuador), Olalekan Adeyami (Nigeria) and Akaki Iashvili (Georgia).


Update October 7 — The remaining appointed VPs are:

  • Tahar Battikh (Tunisia), who was previously on the Kirsan Ilyumzhinov ticket 
  • Ye Jiangchuan (China) 

At the Asian Continental meeting, the Oceania zone contest saw Paul Spillner (from the Short ticket) defeat Jamie Kenmure, a Makropoulos supporter and protege of FIDE CEO Geoffrey Borg. After the first vote was tied, the pair went to a second ballot open to the entire body, which Spillner won.


Dvorkovich victory speech

Dvorkovich giving a short victory speech following the result of the voting | Photo: David Llada / batumi2018.fide.com

After being mobbed by photographers capturing a string of congratulatory hugs and handshakes, Dvorkovich gave a short victory speech.

"We are one family and we will work together...I would like to reassure you that FIDE is now my permanent job, that we are doing it together with the whole team...we will be transparent, and hopefully efficient."

Makropoulos' relatively new Twitter account has remained silent

Dvorkovich on October 2nd — he has yet to make his first tweet as FIDE President


Update October 6 — The General Assembly approved term limits proposal (Annex 8 PDF): "No person shall be elected to the office of FIDE President for more than two consecutive terms." Dvorkovich was congratulated by Vladimir Putin in a phone call in which he expressed his hope that the election "will help ensure that chess will be cleared of any attempts at politicization and remain a pure sport".

Brief comments of Dvorkovich to ChessBase India:


Links




Macauley is Editor in Chief of ChessBase News in Hamburg, Germany, and producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast. He was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.
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RayLopez RayLopez 10/8/2018 07:14
Correction: the article states, "He [Dvorkovich] garnered applause for his promise ..." should read: "He garnered THUNDEROUS APPLAUSE for his promise...". If you've ever read communist newspapers you'll understand this joke.
fons3 fons3 10/6/2018 03:45
Vice Presidents:

Martha Baquero (Ecuador) elected 1st round
Michael Khodarkovsky (USA) elected 1st round
Anastasia Sorokina (Belarus) elected 1st round
Adeyemi Olalekan (Nigeria) elected 2nd round, Short ticket
Akaki Iashvili (Georgia) elected 2nd round
Tahar Battikh (Tunisia), appointed, former Kirsan Ilyumzhinov ticket
Nigel Short (UK), appointed, Short ticket
Gulkiz Tulay (Turkey) appointed
Lukasz Turlej (Poland) appointed, Short ticket
Ye Jiangchuan (China) appointed

(From http://www.chessdom.com/arkady-dvorkovich-elected-fide-president/)

Why do we need all these vice presidents?
Bundestrojaner Bundestrojaner 10/5/2018 06:16
with Makro not only the era Iliumshinov ended, but also the era Campomanes.
It is a real break anyway.
Khordarkovsky got elected with the best result, as far as I have heard.
macauley macauley 10/5/2018 08:46
@fon3 - Michael Khordarkovsky was elected, so Dvorkovich wouldn't have had anything to do with it, as far as I understand except maybe behind the scenes manoeuvring. It remains to be seen how he feels about it.
fons3 fons3 10/5/2018 05:14
The end of 23 years with Ilyumzhinov who was criticized from day one.
Unbelievable that it took so long.

I would rather have seen Short + Dvorkovich instead of the Dvorkovich + Short combination we got now. As it is I suspect FIDE will be used to further political agendas. So for example if the next world championship takes place in Israel you know the reason.

(There are certain ties between Russia and Israel, even though they are seemingly at odds over Syria. The world is a complicated place. Also the ACP headed by Emil Sutovsky from Israel openly supported Dvorkovich, the first time in its history that the ACP gave their support to a candidate, just a coincidence I'm sure.)

Big promises of putting millions into chess, where have we heard that before?
Oh right: Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Hmm... History repeating itself?

So will Dvorkovich clean house? Will he keep all his election promises?
I, for one, am not at all convinced.

Nigel's gambit worked well, but did he count till the end and consider all the possibilities? Soon he might find himself having to defend dodgy FIDE decisions... (And will people still trust him if he ever runs again?)

Or maybe he just wanted a new job. (A time tested strategy to neutralize opposition is to make them work for you. Dvorkovich also gave a vice presidency to Michael Khordarkovsky, a Kasparov confidant.)

All this might be moot because I'm pretty sure the US is going to put Dvorkovich on the sanctions list too.
Let's see how that pans out...
yesenadam yesenadam 10/5/2018 05:13
Kirsan gone AT LAST! OMG how did that take so long.
Kgosikgolo Kgosikgolo 10/4/2018 11:47
I have said it before and I will say it again - Makro needs to get a new life. FIDE owes him nothing in fact he woes thanks to FIDE for +30 years that FIDE supported him and his family.
Aighearach Aighearach 10/4/2018 10:36
So, no new commercial sponsorship for the next two decades. Got it.
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