Never Ending Saga of Moroccan Chess

by Diana Mihajlova
10/25/2023 – When it comes to internal politics, our noble game is anything but ‘noble’. Nasty games can be played within federations for personal gain and power at immense expense to chess players. Disagreements and anomalies have affected the work of some federations at various degrees, but it seems that no one has suffered as much or as long as chess in Morocco. Diana Mihajlova reports.

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In 2017, ChessBase reported on the sorry state of Moroccan chess. In two articles, we get a glimpse into the alarming disarray within the governance of the Royal Moroccan Chess Federation caused by an unbelievably arbitrary leadership by its president of many years, Moustapha Amazzal: Morocco Chess Federation hit with corruption troubles (Part 1) and Moroccan Chess: Tales from Exile (Part 2) Chess players, club owners, arbiters and organizers have given testimonies that reveal his authoritarian methods: players banished for up to 25 years only for disagreeing with his views or refusing to play for his chess club; money swindled from the Chess Federation’s coffers and falsified certificates for arbiters for which he earned for his federation a three year sanctions imposed by FIDE; unpaid funds to players and employees... are some of his notable achievements.

In 2015 ChessBase exposed the shameful actions of the Moroccan Chess Federation's president, Mustapha Amazzal who, as organizer of a prestigious international tournament, International Prix Mohammed VI, dedicated to the Moroccan king, had gathered a number of international titled players only to let them go without honoring the prizes to winners. Only six months later, after heavy lobbying and demands addressed from various sides, prizes were paid. Two players (Russian WGM Ambartsumova Karina and Vietnamese GM Nguyen Huynh Minh Huy) never received their prizes. The reason given was 'incomplete account number', but nothing was done to contact the concerned parties and resolve the problem. The tournament was financed by the country's Ministry for Youth and Sports where Amazzal himself held a high ministerial position.

Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca | Photo: Tournament brochure

This year, from 14-20 August, in Casablanca, the fourth edition of the International Prix Mohammed VI tournament took place. Again, the organizer was the Moroccan Chess Federation and its president, Moustapha Amazzal and, again, as of today, two months after the end of the tournament, the winners, the arbiters, the tournament's director and the hotels are still waiting to be paid. This time, Mr Amazzal was provided with a generous sponsorship of 2,500,000 MAD (approx: 233,000 euro) by the Canadian production company, Checkmate Entertainment.

The hotel chain comprising several prestigious accomodation facilities in Casablanca including the main tournament hotel Farah that provided the playing hall and accommodation for the invited players, had to deal with an even more sinister occurrence. At the end of the tournament, Mr Amazzal, accompanied by Mr Abdenbi Erraji, a Moroccan chess federation's arbiter and Amazzal's close friend, visited the hotel management and presented them with checks for the hotels' fees. Everyone is happy after a business well concluded, however, to the Farah hotel manamgement's dismay, upon presentation to the bank the cheques bounced! Mysteriously, the checks signatory was not the Moroccan Chess Federation but Mr. Erraji.

The Hotel Farah in Casablanca | Photo: Farah Hotel

Grandmasters Shakhriyar Mamedjarov, Alexei Shirov, Gadir Guseinov, Alan Pichot, Max Warmerdam, Aleksandr Fier, Eltaj Safarli, Daniil Yuffa, Pavel Ponkratov and Aditya Mittal were among the 65 titled players that competed in the 'Crown' section of the tournament. (Full list of participants on Chess Results) Alongside, there was an Open tournament reserved to players rated U-2200.  

As queries started pouring to the sponsor and their representative, Mr Salim Belcadi, who was also the tournament's director, they confirmed that the sponsorship money was in Mr Amazzal's hands long before the start of the tournament:

Checkmate Entertainment made a donation of 2,500,000 MAD with the understanding that it would fund the prize pool, the venue, the services of the tournament director, the official arbiters as well as the flights, accomodation and meals of select FIDE titled players. FRME was in possession of the funds as early as July 4th, 2023.

In this mayhem, considering the past history of irregularities committed by Mr Amazzal, the question is not only why he has not honored the financial duties connected to the tournament, but why he is still president of the Moroccan Chess Federation. His mandate ended in march 2019 and no elections were held for appointing a new president.

More disconcertingly, in an unexpected turn of events, it appears that FIDE had succumbed to Mr Amazzal's charms and aided his continued presidential role.

Moustapha Amazzal and FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich at the Francophone Chess Association's (AIDEF) meeting in Casablanca, July 2022 | Photo: AIDEF

FIDE: "Issues concerning the Member Chess Federation of Morocco"

FIDE was prompted on several occasions by Moroccan players, arbiters, clubs and organisers about the irregularities within the Moroccan Chess Federation. Eventually, FIDE's management deemed necessary to address the matter and the FIDE's Constitutional Commission, at the meeting of June 2021, included in their agenda the topic "Issues concerning the Member Chess Federation of Morocco - Fédération Royale Marocaine des Échecs'. (FRME is an abbreviation often used for Fédération Royale Marocaine Des Échecs, the French title for the Royal Moroccan Chess Federation, RCMF.)

It was concluded that because of the crisis in the Royal Moroccan Federation of Chess, their players and arbiters are deprived of the opportunity to improve their ratings and their titles, and that the situation generates great damages for the players. It was found that the Royal Moroccan Federation of Chess 'has violated at least art. 11 c) and art. 11 q) of FIDE Charter, that preview, among the obligations of Member Federations, "to comply with their own statutes, rules and regulations, refraining from taking discriminatory decisions or actions” and "to regularly organise general assemblies and elections, in accordance with their statutes and national legal order”.' (Full details can be found in the following link:) Apart from various violations committed by Mr Amazzal, he had not convened a general assembly meeting since 2016!

On these bases, the Royal Moroccan Federation of Chess could have been suspended from FIDE membership, however, the suspension would affect even more the interests of Moroccan players, arbiters, trainers and organisers. Instead, in July 2021, Mr. Bachar Kouatly, the then FIDE Deputy President, was appointed as the Reverse Delegate for Morocco. His role would be to monitor and assist chess activities until the situation stabilises and conditions are created for a new president to be democratically elected.

Morocco Chess Revolution

Concerned Moroccan chess workers created a group called 'Corrective Movement to Save Moroccan Chess'. On June 30, 2021, they organized a national protest sit-in in front of the headquarters of the Ministry of Youth and Sports.

The Corrective Movement to Save Moroccan Chess with banners protesting in front of the Ministry of Youth and Sports | Photo: Anfas Press

Members from various chess associations from many Moroccan cities descended on Rabat in order to be heard by officials of the Ministry and to inquire about several previous correspondences and complaints to which they had not received any reply.

IA Zoheir Slami, a staunch fighter against Mr Amazzal's violations and abuse of power, talks to the press during the protest | Photo: Anfas Press

The protest also aimed to make known the illegal situation related to the Royal Moroccan Chess Federation and its former president, Mustapha Amazzal.  

A revolutionary poster calling to save chess in Morocco | Photo: Anfas Press

Once a prosperous chess nation, during Amazzal's reign chess in Morocco was brought to its knees, locked in a lingering standstill with no rated tournaments, no national championships, no care of any kind for the chess players. Practically, chess was non-existent on an official level. As one player stated in the social media: 'No one can inflict any damage to Moroccan chess anymore because chess here is completely dead. It is a world's precedent that the activity of a national chess federation stops once and for all because one person doesn't want to resort to established democratic rules.

As a former high official within the Ministry of Youth and Sports, it was difficult to pin down Mr Amazzal who's wrongdoings for years were tolerated with impunity. It took a long time and plenty of evidence of  irregularities within the Moroccan Chess Federation's governance as well as of his personal financial misconduct before a criminal investigation was initiated against him.

Oblivious to the displeasure and accusations thrown at him Mr Amazzal had planted firmly his feet and would not relinquish the position of president of the Moroccan Chess Federation. In spite of the fact that his term as president had expired in March 2019, he would convene meetings of the chess federation attended only by few of his sycophants, which kept the national chess community in a perpetual state of confusion and helplessness. About one such attempted meeting reported L'Opinion, the daily francophone Moroccan newspaper:

In December 2021, a FRME assembly was held but boycotted by the majority of clubs. In their opinion, the conditions for holding such an assembly were not met and it cannot be organized by Mr. Amazzal, an "illegitimate president", prosecuted in court for offenses committed during his previous mandate and linked to the exercise of its federal function.

The appointment of Bachar Kouatly as a reversed delegate offered a glimpse of light. New chess events were organized that were registered and rated, norms were achieved and more than two thousand new FIDE IDs were issued.

Bachar Kouatly surrounded by Moroccan chess personalities and FIDE representatives at the Casablanca Chess Week, 2022 | Photo: Casablanca Chess Week

But Kouatly's mandate expired in October 2022 and Mr Victor Bologan, the FIDE's Executive Director, was appointed as the new reversed delegate for Morocco, for the period October 2022 / January 2023.

To be continued...


More articles by Diana Mihajlova...

A former university lecturer in Romance philology, she is currently a painter as well as a chess journalist, and reports regularly from the international tournament scene.