JULY 29 — On August 11, 2014, the delegates to the 85th FIDE Congress to be held in conjunction with the 41st World Chess Olympiad in Tromso, Norway, will elect a FIDE president to a four-year term. This will firstly be the conclusion of arguably the dirtiest ever FIDE (World Chess Federation) election in history, but secondly, and certainly more importantly, the choice made between the two competing tickets will almost certainly determine the shape and form of international chess for many more years to come. The easy and all too comfortable decision would be to pick the values of the 19-year incumbent Kirsan ilyumzhinov, who besides having the many advantages of incumbency, also enjoys the full backing of Putin’s Russia, both assets which he has blatantly leveraged to the fullest.
Criticism against him ranges from misuse of FIDE money, its office and employees, programs and even its institutions, to calling upon and often joining his country’s ambassadors and embassies to apply political pressure through a mix of threats and bribes, all these I have already documented in previous articles (see a few more examples at http://www.chess.com/news/crimea-conflict-on-the-chessboard-4611 and outrage at http://kasparov2014.com/2014/06/18/open-letter-from-continental-candidates/)
Alternatively the delegates could vote for Ilyumzhinov’s rival, the legendary 13th World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov who has run on a platform for change, fought a much cleaner fight by mainly relying on personal goodwill and extensive international contacts built over the years both when tirelessly promoting the game as well as through advocating for human rights, and his campaign is largely funded through donations from supporters to his global network of chess foundations bearing his name.
For the chess world it is a critical time—if Ilyumzhinov is re-elected, it is clear that there is a bankruptcy of ideas together with too many broken promises and it is hard to see what he can offer beyond more and more top level events paid for by Russia (regions or cities, government institutions or oligarchs) for its own international prestige but which benefits only the elite players, and the past four years have seen how little he can personally do now that he is no longer head of state of the impoverished Kalmykia that he ruled for so long. While Kasparov promises a lot, he is also very clear strategically about what he will do and has a very different understanding of what FIDE needs to become a truly leading international organisation, and is of course full of energy. But some would still prefer to question if the great man has grown up and can work with others to revamp and rebuild FIDE, yet the evidence so far is that Kasparov has successfully managed his diverse global team in this campaign and that is going to be sufficient for many. FIDE was founded on democratic principles but in the last two decades much of what works been sacrificed, often in ad hoc fashion for political expediency, for individual agendas and personal gain.
On one hand, there are so many ill thought and poorly conceived rules and on the other, autocratic decisions made under the guide of committee breaking the very same rules so today we have essentially a FIDE which is an unwieldy organisation which has been bent beyond recognition to serve the interests of a few.
So the bottom line is that this election offers a simple choice of status quo or change and for me it must be the ballot box which decides because ultimately FIDE belongs to its members and it is ultimately their choice how they want chess to be for them.
No one is being idealistic about how these things work, I will agree it is just politics if the chessplayers in a country fail to be represented by the right people and Malaysia is a case in point because like in so many places the leadership neither have the interests of chess, let alone the players they claim to serve at heart. While I have some more difficulty understanding, I also have to accept the cases where a National Chess Federation would even give up their vote by allowing a proxy, often a foreigner, be their delegate!
But I think it is a fundamental wrong, a travesty of democracy when FIDE administratively, in cahoots with seriously compromised individuals with known vested interests, decides to take away the right of legitimate National Chess Federations to vote. This has even gone as far as the deregistering of existing and form new National Chess Federations and in the process, even in the face of overwhelming evidence and objections, effectively disfranchising long serving officials and communities of chessplayers (see http://www.chess.com/news/delegate-issues-deepen-for-fide-elections-6742).
With such a tight election, these votes could be decisive, what is more, that is on top of several other countries supporting Kasparov having been hijacked through Russian influence, yet the man remains confident of his core support and that voters will stand up for their rights when the time comes—it is true also that on paper, after discounting all the propaganda, that he may still have the numbers and should win in a fair election.
It will be interesting indeed in Tromso if we will see democracy in action!