Searching for good governance

by Stefan Löffler
9/27/2018 – Less than a week before the FIDE election, the international chess community is focused on who shall govern chess in the next four years. JOHN FOLEY and STEFAN LÖFFLER want to bring the conversation back to the principles, structures and procedures by which chess should be governed. Chess, they suggest, can learn from other sports, and what better way than to bring together international experts on sports governance in a conference "New Governance Standards in Sport: Lessons for Chess" which will take place this Saturday, September 29th, in Batumi during the 43rd Chess Olympiad. Entry is free. | Photo: Frederic Köberl / ChessBase

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Talking democracy and transparency

As the FIDE elections rapidly approach, the race is not so much a contest of strategic ideas but a fight for power characterised by now-customary mudslinging and mutual allegations. It is time to have a rational conversation about the principles, structures and procedures of chess governance, not only in FIDE, but in the national chess federations.

Whereas the overwhelming majority of roles in chess federations are honorary, many chess officials have financial interests in chess, usually undeclared and hardly ever quantified. Most chess officials do an excellent job — and for expenses only — but some transactions between federations and their officials lack transparency. Allocation mechanisms for events and venues are typically obscure and many budgets are kept away from scrutiny. Accountability is weak because of the lack of participation by players in key decisions at the national and international levels. This lack of participation is not only due to a lack of interest — it arises from the structure of chess organisations. For the most part, only chess bureaucrats are involved in the decision making — democratic reform would make a considerable difference in terms of transparency and accountability.

Let us see what chess can learn from other sports. Scandals in the IOC, FIFA, IAAF and other international sports bodies have prompted significant reforms to governance which is transforming how sports are run. We considered this theme for the annual London Chess Conference in December. Malcolm Pein, the indefatigable chess entrepreneur, argued that this was such an important topic that it should be debated in Batumi to coincide with the FIDE Chess Congress in order to reach the maximum number of delegates. The management of FIDE agreed and is sponsoring this one-day event. In order to maintain objectivity, the production of the conference was outsourced to the team that organises the London Chess Conference. The choice of talk titles, speakers and facilitators was not influenced by FIDE.

conference poster

Free registration at

The International Olympic Committee has been propagating principles of Good Governance ever since the bribery scandal in Salt Lake City at the Winter Olympics in 2002. The IOC has an obvious interest in sport as being seen as clean and fair. However, there are several other initiatives born out of the numerous crises that have beset the sports world. One of these is "Sports Governance Observer" which has lifted the veil on the realities of sports governance more than anyone else. Its refined methodology, funded by Erasmus Plus — the European Union sports and education programme — takes into account more than 300 factors or indicators in an organisation. There are basic indicators which every sports organisation (including chess) should adhere to; there are advanced indicators which apply to larger organisations that consume more resources and need more public funding; and there are state-of-the-art indicators for the top sports bodies. The Sports Governance Observer is a leading regulatory tool to guide governance reforms and could be well deployed in chess. We would all like to know where chess stands compared with other sports, and we could benchmark chess best practice against leading sports, which may ultimately lead to adjustments in structures and procedures.

The speakers

Jens Sejer AndersenThe Sports Governance Observer is hosted by the Danish Institute for Sports Studies as Play the Game which seeks to raise ethical standards in sports and runs conferences and events to raise awareness of these issues. The Director is Jens Sejer Andersen [right], who will be one of the speakers at our Conference.

Harry Arne SolbergAnother speaker at our conference is Harry Arne Solberg [left], a professor of sports management in Norway who conducted an extensive study on the Chess Olympiad 2014 in Tromsö.  He analysed the dealings between the Norwegian event organisers and FIDE. The result is a cautionary tale of unexpected problems, strategic misjudgements and conflicting interests. His extensive study has just been published in an international journal and he will present and discuss his findings in full at our conference.

Sylvia SchenkOur line-up of speakers is completed by Sylvia Schenk from Transparency International in Germany. This Non-Governmental Organisation was founded to promote transparency and fight corruption for which it has developed a range of prevention measures, not least by the introduction of better governance. Sylvia is a former Olympic athlete (800m in Munich 1972), politician and President of the German Cycling Federation. She is now a leading sports lawyer and is an arbitrator at the Court of Arbitration in Sport. She initiated TI's activities in sport including work on corruption in sport and led a pilot project to prevent match-fixing in professional football. 

The conference also has three thematic parallel workshops, on democracy, on transparency and on change, where attendees can share experiences, discuss current ailments or lay out how a problem was fixed in their federation by introducing or reshaping a principle, structure or procedure. Finally, there will be a Round Table on Governance and Anti-Corruption with representatives from each of the three presidential candidate teams: Malcolm Pein (Makropoulos ticket), Ruth Haring (Short ticket) and Bashar Kouatly (Dvorkovich ticket).

Registration is still open on the conference website ( and is free.

About the authors

John Foley and Stefan Löffler are co-directors of the annual London Chess Conference which is embedded in the London Chess Classic and is the premier meeting point of the international school chess community since it was launched in 2013 with this year's edition on 8/9 December 2018 looking at "The Future of Chess in Education". They are partners in ChessPlus Ltd which is developing teacher trainings for the European Chess Union. ChessPlus has run a Google-sponsored seminar on "The Didactics of Games" at the University of Cambridge in 2016, and now the conference "New Governance Standards in Sport: Lessons for Chess" in Batumi.


Stefan Löffler writes the Friday chess column in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and succeeds Arno Nickel as editor of the Chess Calendar. For ChessBase the International Master reports from his adopted country Portugal.


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fons3 fons3 9/28/2018 10:15
>>>In order to maintain objectivity, the production of the conference was outsourced to the team that organises the London Chess Conference.

The London Chess Conference is organized by the Chess in Schools and Communities charity with Malcolm Pein as their chief executive. (They also organize the London Chess Classic.)
Malcolm Pein is in the team of Makropoulos.

So I wouldn't say they are entirely independent.

Let's see if all this talk will actually lead to something or if it will remain lip service. (Verbal expression of agreement or allegiance, unsupported by real conviction or action.)