Seirawan on the situation in FIDE

2/8/2006 – Recently the editor of the (daily!) electronic magazine Chess Today wrote an editorial on the election situation in FIDE. A few days later the same magazine published a letter by Yasser Seirawan, who has been an insider in chess politics for many years. The American grandmaster, who is always quite outspoken, has very harsh words for FIDE.

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Yasser Seirawan on FIDE

Dear Alex,

I'm writing you regarding your editorial in Chess Today about the upcoming FIDE elections. I wanted to point out a historical inaccuracy and to offer the readers my own perspective.

In 1994 at the Moscow Olympiad, Florencio Campomanes was reelected in the most dubious FIDE election ever held. You will recall the famous speech of Andrei Makarov, the Russian delegate, threatening Anatoly Karpov with having his legs broken in an open session of the FIDE Congress. The same delegate spoke passionately about his love for democracy and why all delegates must vote for Campomanes. Or else!

By the time of the 1995 FIDE Congress in Paris, attending delegates had become ashamed about the 1994 election and were seeking amends. The revolt was in full swing and Campomanes was asked to step down. Karpov had brought his friend Kirsan Ilyumzhinov to the 1995 FIDE Congress. With the pressure building, Campomanes decided upon a graceful exit and resigned in favour of Ilyumzhinov rather than endure the old heave ho. Campomanes became FIDE's "Honorary Chairman", while Ilyumzhinov replaced him as FIDE President in 1995.


Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan

The FIDE Congress in Yerevan 1996 was an Olympiad year where many delegates met. During the non-Olympiad years, fewer delegates come to the FIDE Congress. It was decided to hold a new election or rather to confirm the results of the 1995 Congress. Ilyumzhinov was reelected, unopposed. There was the famous story of Ignatius Leong (Singapore) hiding in the American delegates hotel room fearing for his life. In Elista 1998, FIDE was back to its normal schedule of elections every four years. A member of the opposition, Bachar Kouatly (France), withdrew and fled Elista, out of fear of physical reprisals. Again, Ilyumzhinov was re-elected, unopposed. In Bled 2002, Ilyumzhinov was re-elected unopposed when Leong withdrew his ticket at the last moment. Amazingly enough, Ilyumzhinov and his ticket of professional chess politicians have never faced a contested FIDE election. Turin 2006 will be a first.

2006 will mark the eleventh year that Ilyumzhinov has held the FIDE Presidency post. The "reign of error" as I call it, has been securely in place for these very long years. During this time we have witnessed the decline of FIDE as a respectable chess organization. Each year seems to have brought a new scandal. We have careened from one piece of bad news to another. The rank and file doubt the integrity of FIDE and its reputation is at an all time low. Newspaper articles about FIDE tend to focus mostly on the negative, highlighting the eccentric behaviour of its leader. Our friend Robert Huntington, the Associated Press chess reporter, resigned his post in disgust in 2002. In his goodbye letter, posted on the TWIC website, Robert wrote that the acronym FIDE had changed. The new meaning had become, "Federation International for the Destruction of Echecs". FIDE was plumbing new lows and destroying the very institutions that made chess a revered sport.


The five K's in Prague, 2002: Vladimir Kramnik, Bessel Kok (standing), Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, Garry Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov [Photo John Henderson]

Certainly, the prestigious title of FIDE World Champion has been degraded if not destroyed. While San Luis did much to restore some of the lost cache of our highest title, the chaos caused by the split over the last thirteen years continues unabated. Following the Prague Agreement of 2002, FIDE broke every promise it had made to the players, to our host Bessel Kok and to the chess world. Knockout events that were to become World Championship matches were switched to double round robin tournament finals. Can anyone guarantee that the rules for the new cycle won't change in midstream? FIDE's leaders do not abide by the statutes of the organization, rules of play nor contractual agreements signed and executed. Recently, Ilyumzhinov demanded that anyone seeking FIDE Presidential offices post one million dollars to FIDE's accounts. Try to find that one in the FIDE statutes! Ridiculous whimsy or standard operating procedure? The ruse was clear enough: "This is my fiefdom, no one else is welcome!"

I suppose we should be grateful, FIDE no longer threatens physical reprisals, sanctions and fines will do nicely. (Hmm, my blunder, I forgot Calvia.) Today's chess professionals can be barred if they test positive for steroids. Bans include two year and lifetime sanctions as well as extravagant monetary penalties. FIDE's chairperson of the Medical Committee assures that she only seeks fair play so that no player has a physically drug induced advantage over another. For the life of me I cannot understand how using steroids will revive my cherished Caro-Kann. Common sense has flown out of the window!

FIDE has stopped to become a prospective partner for major sponsors. In truth, it is an organization they no longer even think about. I know this from personal experience that corporate sponsors won't touch our sport for the simple reason they do not want the name of their company and its products tainted by association with the FIDE organization. That is pretty damning. Outside of the one-time-only sponsorship of municipalities and other government agents I can't think of a single major corporate sponsor that has supported FIDE in ages. Can you? It is Kirsan's money that has supported the FIDE organization, his rules, his formats and his administration. Again, I can't think of another single sports body where the President has to personally financially guarantee his vision for the "growth" of the sport. FIDE is addicted to the money of one person. It is not the product, chess, which is lacking it is the lack of capable, competent, professional administrators selling that product. Our cherished, noble sport that once held such high cultural importance has morphed. We have become a band of beggars.


FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov

Can anyone think of a single FIDE initiative introduced in the last eleven years that hasn't been tainted by scandal or mishap? To much fanfare, FIDE announced that the new Knockout World Championships would be five million dollar events held every year. This changed to three million dollar events held every other year, to one and a half million dollar events. How about the FIDE Rapid Chess events that were summarily cancelled? The aborted matches in Baghdad, Buenos Aires and Yalta? The FIDE time control and its announcement that a "majority" of top players polled favoured ninety minutes plus thirty seconds for the whole game? Other personal favourites include FIDE Commerce President Artyom Tarasov explaining that FIDE was in a "war" with chess organizers. That this war mandated that FIDE hold competing events against "private" tournaments such as Wijk Aan Zee and others.

The bouncing checks in Las Vegas was a low light. If memory serves, the winners Alexander Khalifman had to wait over six months for full payment. By the way, in the United States to knowingly write a check without sufficient funds in the account is a banking fraud. A felonious act. A recent FIDE declaration that Kasparov was a "liar" during a press conference was a good one. FIDE Deputy President Markopoulos had to write an open letter of apology trying to explain which side spoke with the greatest integrity. That had me laughing for ages. What a paradigm of virtue he is! Is it any wonder that Garry had decided enough was enough? Others will have their own favourites such as fixed tournaments and awarding Grandmaster titles to players no one had ever seen compete. The list of mistakes seems nearly endless.

Recently, I think Karpov misspoke when he talked about chess disappearing in the next four years. What Tolya likely meant was, "professional chess". Viewed from this qualification he is of course right. A large number of our colleagues have quit. Matthew Sadler of the UK, Jeroen Piket from the Netherlands were both top national players when they stopped. Kasparov's retirement was the biggest blow of all to the professional class. If professional chess is to survive, a change of FIDE leaders is a mandatory first step. Despite the efforts of the FIDE to damage chess, it will live for another hundred years, at least. Today's professionals are more likely to be chess teachers than players. This trend will continue as long as the current FIDE "leadership" remains in place.


FIDE presidential candidate Bessel Kok being interviews by Yasser Seirawan

My view is that the 2006 FIDE elections is going to be the biggest chess story of the year. Either we get four more years of the reign of error or we get a breath of fresh air and a chance to get off our knees. I've known Bessel Kok for twenty years and I can't think of a more highly qualified, respected and capable candidate for change. If professional chess players care about the survival of their sport, they will enthusiastically encourage their federations to vote for Bessel Kok and a new future.

If the above makes for uncomfortable reading, just imagine the reactions of corporate sponsorships. After making personal contact with a top officer of a company to offer a written proposal, the officer takes the written proposal to his team and tells them, "Chess is cool! My kids play chess. Let us have some fun and host a chess event." The proposal gets passed around the office and ends up on the desk of some internal marketing division. The marketing people do a quick Google search, which spits out different versions of the above history and informs that on top of everything else, the "Honorary Chairman" of the FIDE is a convicted embezzler. A felon is an Honorary Chairman of a world organization?! Exasperation is the order of the day. Along with the rest of the stories, the immediate reaction is an alarmed, "Time out! We don't want to get involved with this group. Hell, the chess players don't even know who their own world champion is! We can't guarantee that coverage of our event will even be positive. Let us just keep to the tried and true and take a pass." In no time, the company team has nixed our proposal in order to spend its marketing dollars on other sports. This is the legacy that the reign of error has brought us. If chess has a future for professional players we are going to have to rebuild the credibility of our damaged image and get our own house in order. Otherwise chess is going to have the most over qualified teachers of any sport. Ever.

With kind regards,
Yasser Seirawan


Chess Today is the first daily electronic newspaper on chess. It is delivered via e-mail, providing chess fans around the world with fresh tournament news, stories and annotated games.The main contributors are IMs Vladimir Barsky, Maxim Notkin and Nikolai Vlassov and GMs Ruslan Scherbakov, Mikhail Golubev and Alexander Baburin. Subscription price is €15 for 3 months, €25 for 6 months and €45 for a year. Subscription is free for GMs and WGMs. For more information please visit the Chess Today site.



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