Makropoulos in-depth interview

by American Chess Magazine
10/2/2018 – "Georgios Makropoulos, the person who has ruled chess for almost three decades, has barely given any interviews," starts a new interview profile of the FIDE presidential candidate on the new American Chess Magazine blog. Indeed, while ChessBase has previously published long conversations with Makropoulos' running-mate Malcolm Pein, as well as Makropoulos' rivals, self-proclaimed "insurgent candidate" GM Nigel Short and Russian economic policy expert Arkady Dvorkovich, the incumbent has declined other interview requests. We run down the topics and key quotes with kind permission of ACM. | Photo: David Llada

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"The FIDE president should be an independent person"

Excerpts of the full interview republished with kind permission of American Chess Magazine.

ACM's new Chief Editor, David Llada, who is the Chief Photographer for the ongoing Chess Olympiad, interviewed Makropoulos in the FIDE office in Athens in July for almost four hours. We've selected some of the key highlights from Makropoulos' responses:

On FIDE's reputation

What I believe, in FIDE and in our chess world in general, is that somebody says something and it becomes some kind of aphorism. Like: "FIDE is a corrupt organization". Instead of that, they should say why do they think it is a corrupt organization. "There is no transparency". Why? Elaborate: why do you think there is no transparency?

From my side, what I can see is that FIDE is one of the most democratic sports organizations, we are probably the only sports organization in which the Presidential Board meetings are open for anybody to attend. There are no other sports organizations, as far as I know, that offer that degree of transparency.

On his early chess life

[My father] taught me how to play chess when I was young, around 10 years old. And, as I said, he had many books but none about chess, so when I started playing I didn’t have any chess literature at hand. Nevertheless, I very quickly developed my ability to play chess, so after six months he said, "Okay, let’s go to Athens, to the Chess Federation, and try to find some good players to play with". Back then we were living in Heraklion (Crete), and I remember we took a boat at 7 in the evening, but the Federation was operating as a club in those years and they would close very late.

We walked into the Federation and he asked, "Who is the Greek champion?". Everybody started laughing at us, probably they thought, "Who is this crazy guy?". There were many masters there that I would get to know well in the years to come. Somebody answered, "The current champion is not here, but you can play with last year’s champion." So, I played with him, it was Mr Hatziotis [Konstantinos Hatziotis only won the Greek Championship in 1963, so we can conclude this episode took place in 1964; the incumbent champion was Paidoussis]. I remember very well that after the first 14 moves they stopped laughing because they realized how well I was playing. I lost that first game, but I won the second, despite Mr Haiziotis being now fully aware that he was not playing with a patzer.

Young Makro

A photo from the family archives | Photo: David Llada

I can say I had a very exciting and active life, but I had also many nice tournaments and games that I treasure. One of the last times I played for the national team was in Haifa, in the European Team Championship [November 1989]. It was played over six boards, and we were paired against the Soviet Union: it was the last time the Soviet Union, as such, played in an international competition. And we got a great result: 3-3. There were four draws, our bottom board lost, and I managed to beat Polugayevsky. For many years this game was on ChessBase with the names inverted: I was White, not Black. At first, I was too shy to say anything, but then, since I was meeting Frederic Friedel once or twice a year, I told him they should correct this mistake. And he always laughed, thinking that I was joking. Until one day I told him that I would send them a letter with a request to correct it, and he realized I was serious! He checked the tournament reports, to be sure, and when he saw I was right he corrected it...

...Of course it would be nice to have become a grandmaster, but it was not the main goal in my life to gain this title. For people who love chess, I think it is very easy to make the switch from being an active player to working on the administration. It was a moment when we really needed somebody capable of making changes, and so I had to make a decision. And many of my friends pushed me towards this. So I became President of the Greek Chess Federation in 1982, when I was 29 years old. I have won all the elections ever since. The truth is that chess experienced a boom in Greece, thanks to the two chess Olympiads that we hosted, in 1984 and 1988. Chess changed completely in our country.

On his work for FIDE

I first entered [FIDE] in 1982 in the Zonal Committee, as Zonal President, and then in 1986 I entered the Executive Board. There was no Presidential Board back then, that was a change introduced later by the President of the UAE Chess Federation, Mohammed Ghobash, along with the idea of the Presidential tickets.

I was Vice-President in ’86, and I became General Secretary in ’90. Then I started working much more for FIDE. I would say that I became number two in 1990.

Deciding to run for President

I can tell you it was a very difficult decision for me, because first I was trying to reach an agreement with Kirsan, to convince him to step down, without a fight. We had these problems with the bank accounts, and also with sponsors from the western world… so we did all we could to convince him not to run, to no avail, unfortunately.

Then we tried very hard to find the right candidate to run against him, and Kirsan tried to stop every possible candidate. Once he decided to run, once he decided that he wouldn’t give up his chair, he blocked all our attempts.

What happened with Sheikh Al Nayhan was the most prominent example. In a meeting, where there were a lot of people, he announced his decision to run but then out of the blue he came to us and informed us that he was having second thoughts. I don’t want to go into detail about what happened there, but the fact is that Sheikh suddenly decided not to run. It was a pity, because for me he was the best solution we had: he is very young, and he loves chess very much. He has helped a lot, especially in Asia, sometimes even with his personal funds.

It was very sad that we lost the opportunity of having him, and after this it was very clear to us that we could not let Kirsan go into the elections without an opponent and just be re-elected. So we held a meeting in Minsk at the beginning of April, we all had a discussion, and concluded that the one who had the best chances to unite the people in our group was me.

A warning from the IOC on May 9th

...we had a meeting at the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee: we had received a letter from the IOC back in February, explaining that our problems with the sanctions against Kirsan and the bank accounts were not in accordance with their principles of “good governance”.

In this meeting, apart from me, there was our Treasurer, Adrian Siegel, our General Secretary, Abraham Tolentino, and Malcolm Pein. There, I can say that the IOC made very clear what was coming if Kirsan was re-elected: we would have to reconsider our position as a sports organization. That would have meant huge damage for our organization. And in that meeting the IOC suggested that we resort to our Ethics Commission.

We never published all this information, but now there is no reason to keep it secret: this is the story. After May 9th, after the discussion with the IOC, I decided we had to submit the complaint. He was informed of my decision: of course, it was announced on the FIDE website, but there were seventy pages backing this decision, with a detailed analysis of the situation, that were kept confidential.

Ilyumzhinov and Makropoulos

Ilyumzhinov and Makropoulos at the Istanbul Olympiad 2012 | Photo: David Llada

On Russian backing for Dvorkovich is not only that he likes chess and his Federation supports him, as it could be in my case, for instance. You know, when the Greek Ministry of Sport learnt about this situation, he called me: 'Do you need any help?'. I told him, 'I don’t know how you could help me, because I am against Greek ambassadors approaching Federations, it is against the principles of the IOC. If you give me money from your budget, other sports will attack you because you are spending money on getting somebody elected in a sports organization not related to Greece. And if you provide funds to the Greek Chess Federation for this purpose, then the chess clubs will claim that this money should be used to support them. So I don’t see how you can help me. If you have some private sponsor who can help us to cover some travel expenses, that would be okay, otherwise, there is nothing else'...

...The FIDE President should be an independent person — never a soldier of his country. And Arkady Dvorkovich is not just any soldier: he is an officer...If we are not bothered with the dynamic of "money for control", and we don’t care if FIDE is independent or not, then he is a very good candidate. But I think we should put things like principles and dignity before this "money for control".

Athens, August 2018 | Photo: David Llada

Changes in the FIDE status quo

Well, first of all, the term limits. As you know, I am the first one to declare that I will run to be President for only four years. I did this because what I want is to be here just long enough to make the necessary changes to correct all these wrong practices within our organization. We should make sure that FIDE remains completely independent from any influence, from any superpower...

...It is not only my experience, but the fact that the people who know me, trust me. Again, I am not someone who received an order to gain control of FIDE. People know this, and they respect it. I earned their trust over all these years, because we have known each other for so long. This is very important. Of course, there are also a number of people who don’t like me or don’t trust me, that is completely normal. But the huge majority does. All these people understand that money is not the most important thing at this moment. We have proved in the last three years that FIDE can be economically independent: we have reserves, great reserves.

If FIDE deserves to have 5 million per year in sponsorship, as I heard, then be assured that we will find the professionals to acquire this money. But if we don’t deserve it, if we get 5 or 10 million just because some person or government poured it into FIDE, that is not "healthy money". Such money should not come to our organization...

Another change I want to implement — and I have already started working on it — is that I want to solve the situation with the "proxies". I already started this during the Baku Olympiad, when I insisted on having a deal with the organizers, so some budget would be allocated to pay for the tickets of all delegates. They had their travel expenses covered, regardless of how big or small their Federation was: Russia, Switzerland, was symbolic, but we wanted everyone to receive this money.

Getting rid of the proxies will mean that the organization is going to work better, the democracy is going to work better, a lot of unpleasant things will be under control...of course today, and for many years, that was not always the case. I really want to try and bring as many people as possible to FIDE, to take part directly in the decisions we are making and receive their input. That would be a big gain for FIDE.

Something I also want is to create a Public Relations Department, with good professionals who will do the work that nobody has actually done until now in FIDE. They have to take care of what we present to sponsors and what we will show to the world.

Finally, something else I want to establish is a Commission for "Long Term Strategic Planning", trying to think ahead for 10 or 15 years. We are presently dealing with the day to day problems, month to month, year to year... We need to get out of this mentality. I want this Commission to bring forward proposals to the Board, and then for approval by the General Assembly. Then they can monitor if we are following their strategy correctly or suggest adjustments. Actually, for me this would be the most important Commission in FIDE — as long as we manage to find the right people for it. And I hope that any President that comes after me will keep and protect this Commission...

...One last thing I want to implement is an advisory board for FIDE, with businessmen, politicians... people with a great reputation and successful in their field of work, who can give us a different angle: people who see chess from the outside.

Chess as an Olympic sport?

Kirsan kept promising that we were going to join the Winter Olympics. I was one of those always telling him that this idea was going nowhere, we should focus on some realistic goal.

Three years ago, we had a meeting in Nancy with Mr. Thomas Bach, the President of the IOC; Geoffrey Borg and Vladimir Kramnik were also there. The first thing that Mr. Bach said was, "Guys, forget this idea about the Winter Olympics. It is just not possible". That’s how the meeting started...

Three or four months later, Kirsan announced again that we were going to participate in the Winter Olympics in Korea, and we received a letter from the IOC demanding an explanation. We had to apologize and explain that it was probably a misunderstanding from a journalist — which of course it was not.

On appeals committee appointments

It had nothing to do with the elections. What people don’t know, and even Dvorkovich doesn’t know or pretends not to know, is that for these events the priority is to appoint members of the Presidential Board. It is written in the regulations. There can be exceptions sometimes, but that happens maybe in one out of the, fifteen, twenty nominations. In the appeals committee, you need people that not only know and understand the regulations, but they understand the principles behind the regulation. Because in another case you can take decisions that are actually against the principles of it...

...It is a way to compensate. If somebody is working very hard the whole year, and then you give him four or five thousand euros… you are not even compensation for all his work. You just "recognize" his work at least, by putting them in the appeals committee. Of course it is obvious that other members of the board would like to be in the Committee for these events…

Makropoulos' income sources

You know? If I had to be paid for the work I am doing for FIDE, I would ask more than twenty thousand euros per month. I am not joking. Nobody can pay for this work that I, and other people, are doing for free.

My income comes from my own sources. I was a journalist, and I have been working all my life, so I can have my own sources of income. But from FIDE I am getting zero. And, what is very important, is that for the last two and a half years, I have been in no appeal committee, when actually, according to the regulations, I should have been in all of them. I think the only exception was the World Blitz and Rapid Championship in Qatar, where I wasn’t even the chairman, It was Zurab Azmaiparashvili. For me, if you give somebody 4000, 6000, or 7000 euros, is not really big money for the work he has been doing. It is very little money.

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