August 30, 2012 17:37

Russian Chess Federation supports Surov with open letter

Ilya Levitov

The Russian Chess Federation has openly supported Evgeny Surov, the Russian journalist who is not allowed to work at the Olympiad in Istanbul. In an open letter the RCF's Head of the Management Board, Ilya Levitov, asks the Olympiad organizers to accredit Surov for the tournament.

Ilya Levitov | Photo courtesy of the Russian Chess Federation

As we reported last Tuesday, Evgeny Surov was not allowed to enter the playing hall on the first day of the Olympiad, not as a journalist and not as a spectator either. We included a Skype conversation in which Ali Nihat Yazici, the President of the Turkish Chess Federation and main organizer of the Olympiad, told us that he doesn't consider Surov to be a journalist.

Today on the website of the Russian Chess Federation the following open letter was published in both Russian and English:

To the President of the Turkish Chess Federation
Mr. Ali Nihat YAZICI

Dear Mr. Yazici,

The Russian Chess Federation is sincerely grateful to you for the organization of the world chess festival – Olympiad in Istanbul.

Taking into account the long-term friendly relationship between our countries and federations, we earnestly ask you to provide the Russian journalist Evgeny Surov with an opportunity to freely cover the World Chess Olympiad.

Over the last years, Turkey has become one of the world chess capitals. Thanks to you, the country is experiencing a boom in chess, and the federation is holding numerous major international tournaments yearly. Your outstanding work on popularizing chess causes general admiration.

Evgeny Surov is the chief editor of the Russian biggest chess web-site, that is highly popular not only among Russian but also among foreign Russian-speaking audience. His readers are used to getting the most up-to-date news and interviews from the major world forums.

We are aware of the fact that Evgeny Surov’s website is sometimes hosting sharp, disputable and contradictory materials. Occasionally, these materials may offend and even insult the chess organizers, grandmasters and chess friends. But regardless of the personal attitude to the web-site or the web-site journalists, tournament organizers shall not stoop to the level of settling scores, but are obliged to give them an opportunity to do their job and let the readers make their own conclusions.

We are once again asking you to accredit Evgeny Surov for the tournament as a journalist and give him an opportunity to carry out his professional duty.

The Head of the Management Board of RCF                                                   I. Levitov

With this letter Levitov responds to Evgeny Surov's open letter directed to him, and also to another official of the Russian federation, Arkady Dvorkovich. In his letter to the Russian federation, Surov requested Levitov and Dvorkovich

to assess this situation and intervene. I ask you to stand upon my rights, including my fundamental right to practice profession, and the rights of tens of thousands of Russian-speaking chess amateurs' to receive trustworthy information from the Olympiad which they wish to follow on the website of which I am the editor-in-chief.

(We published Surov's open letter in full at the end of our article last Tuesday.)

Levitov's open letter is interesting in that he acknowledges that Surov isn't Mother Theresa either. The Chess-News editor is known to provoke controversy on a regular basis, and Levitov goes as a far as saying

Occasionally, these materials may offend and even insult the chess organizers, grandmasters and chess friends. 

Still, the Head of the Management Board of Russian Chess Federation believes that it's not up to organizers to "settle scores" by not accrediting critical journalists.

No consensus

Among journalists there doesn't seem to be consensus about the case. Most of our colleagues haven't written about the situation yet, perhaps fearing exclusion from the Olympiad themselves. (One chess journalist admitted to us that this was his main reason for avoiding the subject.)

Europe-Echecs did mention the case in their round 2 report. The French editors (of which one, GM Robert Fontaine, is in Olympiad co-hosting the press conferences) seem to reason that it's Surov's own fault:

... During the Anand-Gelfand WCh match, as soon as he [Surov] took the word we all – the players included – knew that the question would be weird. Sometimes this led to sharp answers. Obviously in the microcosm of the chess world such an attitude isn't forgiven and Surov made himself some enemies.

(Translation by Thomas in the comments.)

Last December Italian part-time chess journo Janis Nisii wasn't welcome at the Reggio Emilia tournament. Back then we didn't cover it (perhaps mistakenly), mostly because we felt that there's not much you can do when a private organizer just doesn't want you around.

Today in the comments Nisii rightly pointed out that

[T]here is a tragic lack of truly independent journalists in the chess field for the simple reason there is so little money, that many of them have to rely on the organizers invitations.

ChessVibes will arrive in Istanbul on Monday, September the 3rd and we'll surely discuss the case some more with our colleagues present.

Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers


Thomas 's picture

For an article, I slightly longer quote from Europe Echecs may be warranted, the previous sentences ("..." in my comment) were
"Evgeny Surov is passionate about chess. However, different from the majority of chess sites who generally publish politically correct reports, Evgeny always tries to push where it hurts." [Disclaimer: I don't know if 'politically correct' has an ambiguous or negative meaning in French, as it does in English]

Before people think that Europe Echecs is unconditionally pro-Yazici (because Robert Fontaine has an official role at the Olympiad): Earlier in the same article they made some fun of the organizers' coverage on Facebook and Twitter ("they just say that everything is perfect ["genial"] and mostly talk about the Turkish teams") and of both Yazici and Danailov "who still don't spend their holidays together".

Another chess journalist mentioned the case: Stefan Löffler on a German chess blog and here: - few words and details, supportive of Surov.

Taiman's picture

Of course pushing where it hurts is exactly what a journalist should be doing, particularly when dealing with Kirsan's cronies.

Note also that the past complaints about past Turkish Chess Federation-hosted events did NOT come from journalists. Rather, they came from players! Journalists, and not just from Chess News, simply reported what the players were saying about their experiences and observations, all of which leave the distinct impression that the Turkish Federation's insiders are in this for the financial shakedowns and kickbacks that FIDE promised rather than to benefit players and the game. The totalitarian tactics against Chess News are designed to discourage others from reporting similar abuses. Ironically, the Federation's resort to these tactics can only be construed as confirmation that it intends to continue its abuses.

Speaking of irony, Yazici expressly accuses Surov of using his journalistic platform to blackmail subjects of articles by demanding money in return for not printing unfavorable stories. I don't know whether Surov has responded, but the irony, of course, is Yazici assuming that other people seize every opportunity for a financial shakedown.

The final irony here is the Russian Federation taking a stand against a key Kirsan ally after Kirsan himself declined to do anything. I suspect there are a lot of winks and nods by the Russian Federation going on behind the scenes notwithstanding this public posturing.

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