Power struggle at the top of the chess world

by Frederic Friedel
3/28/2017 – We reported yesterday: the official International Chess Federation web site announced the resignation of its President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, followed within hours by emphatic denials from Ilyumzhinov. Today there are new letters on the FIDE page, describing the circumstances of his alleged resignation: "During the Presidental Board Meeting in Athens, you several time threatened to resign, and at the end of the meeting three times you repeated 'I resign' before leaving the room." In a press conference of the Russian Chess Federation Ilyumzhinov explained his position.

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Kirsan Ilyumzhinov's endgame?

The news – and not just in the chess world – is full of the story: on Monday, March 27, the FIDE web site announced that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who had served as the President for the International Chess Federation for 22 years, had "announced his resignation from the position of FIDE President. The Presidential Board has been formally advised of this announcement and an extraordinary board meeting has been called in April."

A few hours later the denials appeared: on the news page of the Russian Chess Federation, TASS, Radio Free Europe and a dozen other outlets. Especially in the In Russian mainstream media Ilyumzhinov blamed "the Americans" for the "fake news", saying he plans to stay on and continue working as FIDE President. We reported on all that yesterday. Today we find the debate continuing on the FIDE page. First there was a general letter (also published elsewhere) by Ilyumzhinov:

How the matter then proceeded has been tracked by the British broadsheet, The Telegraph:

Ilyumzhinov's response [to the original announcement] was immediate – he denied it, alleging on Russian television that there is a US-led plot to oust him. Two hours later Ilyumzhinov followed up his vehement denials – supported by his ally, president of the Russian Chess Federation Andrey Filatov – with a signed letter on Fide headed paper reiterating his position. This morning Fide's statement on Ilyumzhinov resigning was still on its website, and Ilyumzhinov wrote to his employer claiming it was untrue and urging Fide to publish his response.

It did, and added a response of its own from executive director Nigel Freeman claiming Ilyumzhinov said "I resign" three times before leaving the meeting and reiterating that a board meeting will be held next month to discuss the matter.

Within minutes Ilyumzhinov hit back, saying he intends to work his full term until 2018 and "I think that we need to do real work instead of wasting money of Fide on for an unnecessary meeting". The plot thickens. So what on earth is happening? "It's quite difficult to work out," said Malcolm Pein, the English Chess Federation's international director. "I think that there's a power struggle going on at the moment."

One thing is clear: the knives are out for Ilyumzhinov, whose leadership has faced open criticism from the influential US and English chess federations, with calls for him to step down. Now it appears Ilyumzhinov may be battling opposition from within Fide itself.

Read the full report in today's Telegraph

The Presidential Board meeting in Athens, where it all transpired [picture from the Ilyumzhinov twitter page – click to enlarge]

On March 28 the President of the Russian Chess Federation (and FIDE vice-president) Andrei Filatov held a press conference with Kirsan Ilyumzhinov in the Central House of Culture. Ilyumzhinov said:

"I continue to work and will continue to do so until the elections of 2018. Now my opponents are trying to force me to leave, as this is their only opportunity. But at the recent FIDE Presidential Council in Athens I did not sign anything and will not sign anything. I will not voluntarily leave and will continue to work as FIDE President before the elections in 2018.

I think these events were due to my inclusion in the US sanctions list, after which some members of the Presidential Council decided that I should leave voluntarily. Some want to play on the fact that I'm on the sanctions list. I think that this does not affect my work as a FIDE president in any way. The only thing that was affected was the fact that I could not attend the World Championship match in New York. But I have many tasks, many topics that need to be addressed. We are in working, normal mode.

RSF President Andrei Filatov expressed support for Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and noted his satisfaction with his work as FIDE President. "I think that the election campaign for 2018 has already begun, and some people in the Presidential Council want this demarche to force Ilyumzhinov to resign," said Filatov, "because this is the only real way to deprive him of his presidency, so some of his colleagues want to press him, to force to voluntarily leave his post."

Also on March 28, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov sent official letters to all national federations and the executive director of FIDE Nigel Freeman, where in particular he said that he did not see any reason to organize an extraordinary meeting of the Presidential Council on April 10, as the issue of re-election of the FIDE president was decided at the General Assembly.

"I do not understand why spend money on an extraordinary Presidential Council, throw out tens of thousands of Euros to hold," Ilyumzhinov said. "It does not affect anything. The next election of the FIDE chapter only in 2018, and I do not plan to leave until this time. It is better to send this money to children's tournaments, especially if the FIDE president did not sign the resignation petition, then the extraordinary council and his decisions have no force."

The following letters were distributed:

Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.


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