Reports | May 14, 2010 4:50

FIDE elections: interesting times

Ilyumzhinov vs KarpovIt's been a while since we reported on the FIDE presidential elections in a serious way. However, in the past weeks, the election race knew some important (and sometimes curious) developments both from current President Kirsan Ilumzhinov's side as from Anatoly Karpov's campaign team.

As you will recall, Karpov responded furiously to the announcement from Russian Chess Federation's President Arkady Dvorkovich that the RCF would nominate Ilyumzhinov instead of Karpov as their candidate for the upcoming elections. (The RCF's official nomination is scheduled for May 14.)

It led to heavy media attention in the Russian media with roaring headlines like President versus Grandmaster and The Kremlin Gambit. Garry Kasparov, too, had his say, claiming Iluimzhinov's nomination was a "one-man's action by Dvorkovich" instead of a democratic decision.

Dvorkovich himself claimed the statutes were not specific about the proper proceedings, giving him sufficient room for the current decision. Finally, it was FIDE President Ilyumzhinov himself who responded equally agitated to Karpov's accusation:

"I think this borders on madness," says the President of Kalmykia. According to Ilyumzhinov, in the 15 years that he headed the federation, there hasn't been a single corruption scandal. Karpov's statement will have consequences, promises Ilyumzhinov. Since Karpov is a FIDE representative in the IOC [International Olympic Committee] , he will be summoned to a meeting of the Presidential Council on July 22 in Norway to report on his work and to answer the question what he had in mind.

Ilyumzhinov probably refers to the Presidential Board meeting for the 3rd Quarter of 2010, which, according to the FIDE calendar, is scheduled for 23-26 July in Tromso, Norway. In fact, the Presidential Board convened during the World Championship Match in Sofia last week, but no details have been published yet. Meanwhile, support for Karpov has grown rom various sides, while Ilyuzmhinov's adherents also sought media attention again.

Yesterday, it was announced on the Karpov Campaign's website that Spain, Congo and Bosnia endorse Karpov's candidacy. Interestingly (in the light of the Russian Federation's preference), the Ukrainian Chess Federation announced its support for Karpov yesterday, and today, Chess Today published a statement from the English Chess Federarion, supporting Karpov as well. In fact, last week, Karpov also wrote an open letter to all federation delegates to clear up some matters:

In regard to Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, he has no letters of support from voting federations. His campaign is in chaos. His past allies have recognized we are an alternative to his poor management and, as a result, one by one have started taking my side. Clearly many feel the same way as I do, that 15 years of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov’s disreputable administration is more than enough.

My opponent’s only response to this loss of support was to spread false rumors that I will eventually withdraw or reach a “deal” with him. These actions demonstrate Ilyumzhinov’s desperation. I am absolutely committed to this campaign and will never withdraw, back down or agree to any deal. I have committed to my family, friends and supporters that I will fight through the election. I am more confident than ever of our victory.

To this, Turkish Chess Federation's President (and FIDE presidential board member) Ali Nihat Yazici, who had previously written a remarkable letter of support for Ilyumzhinov, responded with considerable venom:

Mr. Karpov, in your letter you mention that your opponent did not get any support letter from a voting federation. You missed a federation, my federation, the Turkish Chess Federation. I would like to understand if you do not care about that, or if your team (if there is one) does not inform you about that. (...)

May I ask you kindly to be on the level of the respect you desire from all your fans, stop this negative campaign and tell us clearly what you want to do. Please do not tell us your allegations (I was insulted by you accusation that I was a "corrupt FIDE management member" – that is still on your website), it is shame to hear such as incredible untruth stories from such as legend. We still await a strong apology from you as a legend, this attitude is clearly not fair play.

Mr. Karpov, do not tell me please, like you said in the Sofia Press Conference, as answer you do not want to go to details. In your campaign website you say that the FIDE Management is corrupt.


If we ignore the letter's style, it seems to us Yazici actually makes some reasonable points. One of them is that, indeed, there is real support from federations for Ilyuzmhinov. More importantly, it is strange that an accusation or suggestion of corruption can be made without refering to concrete facts. So far, the Karpov team have not provided these.

We asked Sarah Hurst, who wrote a book on Ilyumzhinov and investigated his business some years ago (publishing about it in New in Chess Magazine), if a case of corruption against FIDE (or Ilyumzhinov) could in fact be made. She explained how difficult these things are in practice:

I think one of the reasons why it's difficult to pin anything on Kirsan is because he's in a country where corruption is the norm and sanctioned by government at the highest level. Look at the number of outrageous murders that have gone unsolved in the past few years, where the government is suspected of involvement, for example the murders of Paul Khlebnikov, Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko, to name just a few. Similarly where Russia's richest men are involved (and Kirsan is far from one of them), despite being so high profile nothing seems to stick to them.

Then when someone actually is arrested for corruption (Mikhail Khodorkovsky), everyone thinks it's just a politically-motivated thing (which it no doubt is) because although he's just as corrupt as the rest of them, his real crime was to antagonize the Russian leadership (Putin), not playing their game.

Hurst notes that "FIDE corruption" is an equally slippery concept. There are only hints, strange things never quite resolved, such as the strange case of Ignatius Leong, once an outspoken anti-Ilyumzhinov activist/chess arbiter and organiser, who suddenly joined forces with his biggest enemy and now is General Secretary of FIDE. Why? Noone knows. Hurst points out that a similar story could be told of the formerly-critical Morten Sand, who is now a FIDE legal advisor.

Instead of answering Yazici's reasonable but many-faced request, the Karpov team seems to focus on FIDE's money flow. In a letter to ChessBase from the Karpov Campaign crew, GM Ron Henley draws attention to the fact that the source of FIDE's seemingly unlimited amount of money is unclear at best:

Kirsan professes to have invested massive amounts of money in chess yet provides no details and certainly no paper trail. The provenance of these funds is not idle
speculation nor malicious in intent. It is absolutely relevant because without transparency and a demonstrable sponsorship model there is no way to attract legitimate corporate interest to FIDE.

And to those who say this doesn’t matter as long as some money makes it to a few elite players from time to time, this is wrong morally and a disaster commercially. These tainted dealings prevent the chess world from having a stable, promotable, commercial structure that would soon lead to far better economic conditions for everyone, including the top players.

And suddenly the point is clear: it's not about accusations of corruption - it's precisely the other way around: transparency is vital because it's the only way we can tell no corruption has taken place! In a country such a Russia, transparency in money is absolutely essential and lack of it suspicious by definition. On a side note, of course, transparency is a prerequisite for attracting reliable sponsors and generating sustainable, healthy interest in chess.

Sarah Hurst wonders whether FIDE treasurers aren't interested in where the money comes from, and how Ilyumzhinov actually got all this money in the first place. She can only speculate.

"I don't really know of any concrete business activities that he's done that could have legitimately earned him money. It's not like he owns an oil company or anything."

There are still a lot of questions to be answered and no doubt the election campaigns will uncover some interesting facts.

From a chess player's point of view, perhaps most interesting is next week's Fundraiser Event, held in New York and atttended by Karpov, Kasparov and ... Magnus Carlsen. Apparently, the world's number one has decided he's fed up with FIDE (no doubt heavily disappointed by last year's Grand Prix fiasco). (It would be interesting to know what Vishy Anand thinks of all this, especially since officially, he's also a member of FIDE's Presidential Board.) It is even rumoured that some Hollywood stars such as Robin Williams and Will Smith will make a guest appearance at the party.

Well... to be honest, we're a bit skeptical on this last aspect, but one thing is certain: these are interesting times for those seeking change within FIDE. To be continued!

Arne Moll's picture
Author: Arne Moll


Peter Doggers's picture

@Pierre Because I'm going for quality, not speed. It takes some time to get everything right when you're using two cameras and all. Besides, a half-hour video takes long to render, long to convert to a Quicktime file, long to upload and long to convert to flash. Hopefully up in less than two hours, if I manage to get online at the airport.

Mig's picture

Where did Karpov call Yazici corrupt, at least as such? I just did a search for the words "corrupt" and "corruption" on the Karpov campaign website and only got one hit, from his letter responding to Dvorkovich:

"After waging a hard struggle for the presidency of FIDE I believe I can reform this organization by putting intellectual modernization and a cleansing of corruption at the forefront. This I will do in full agreement with the tasks placed before our nation by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev."

That's pretty general and standard fare, mostly to make a plea to the Medvedev faction for whom these phrases are standard recently. Nor is Yazici mentioned anywhere on the site. Was he talking about another website or is this just the old trick of denying something you haven't been accused of in order to put your opponent on the defensive? Or was he really trying to make so much of an attack from that one sentence above? He doth protest too much, methinks.

As far as I can tell, while they are surely going to continue to talk about it, there is little need for Karpov to state anything that would open him up to "prove it!" charges like Yazici's when all the federations who have dealt with Kirsan's FIDE know what the problems are. They've all dealt with the "cash only" economy of Kirsan's FIDE.

The root of the chicken-egg corruption "proof" problem is that FIDE's finances are opaque at best. We have never seen where the money comes from or where much of it goes. This is why big companies, which require transparency and contracts for their shareholders and auditors, stay so far away from FIDE.

Now, is a total lack of transparency conclusive proof of fraud, or, if you prefer the word, of corruption? No, but why not open the books, if there are any? Kirsan's tax returns for last year showed an income of around $25,000 and yet he says he has put what, 20, 40, 60 million dollars into chess from his "personal money"?! Ahem. No proof of corruption there, either, I'm sure.

Mig's picture

I wanted to add, since your post and the quote from Henley's letter hit the theme, that lack of transparency IS the problem. This is why the group that tracks corruption is called "Transparency International" and not "Corruption International." It's not as simple as assuming corruption where there is no transparency. It's that a lack of transparency has damaging effects and is a form of corruption in its own right. At best it's the benevolent dictator saying, "trust me" while times are good and then saying, "but you never asked for a receipt when the money was coming in" when the times are bad.

The players and many others held their noses and cashed the checks and they still do it. Then they complain when Kirsan destroys events, changes time controls and adds weird rules. Sorry, you can't have it both ways. Either you want accountability and transparency or you don't. Either you say, "Kirsan can do whatever he likes whenever he likes and I'll keep my mouth shut" or you don't. Complaining about time controls after cashing a Kirsan check is pernicious hypocrisy.

I'm always a fan and player advocate and I don't begrudge anyone making a buck in a difficult world. If a player votes with his wallet and thinks Kirsan is the best way to put food on the table, that's his decision. A faulty one in my opinion, but a valid one. But to then complain about how tight your collar is after you've allowed yourself to be bought and sold, well...

I'd like to see players volunteering to support and train in small/poor federations if Karpov wins. Just a few days, expenses paid by all the rich guys listed on Karpov's website. Would show real player and grassroots involvement and it actually might help win a few votes, which is something all the GM endorsement letters in the world won't do, as Bessel Kok illustrated. A visiting elite GM (hell, an IM in some places) could be a big deal to a small federation.

Pierre's picture

where is the Anand video? how come we are waiting so long?

john's picture

FIDE needs to be transparent concerning its funding to attract sponsers and to grow chess commercially. Karpov is absolutely right here, although I think he should break the cycle of these hostile letters and announcements. The problem with mud-slinging like this is everyone ends up dirty.

Arne Moll's picture

@Mig: What I think happened is that Yazici, who is not only president of the TCF but also a board member of FIDE, felt personally attacked by the corruption quote you mention. Probably it has nothing specifically to do with Yazici but that's apparently not how it was perceived by him... Regarding your other suggestions: personally, I couldn't agree more!

Bert de Bruut's picture

Of course Yazici felt personally attacked. He has every reason to, for after losing the last FIDE-election (well, election...) it was Yazici who turned his cloak. He now is Kirsan's man, and he shows he was worth the investment!

Mark De Smedt's picture

Thanks Arne and Mig (and the others) for clarifying matters in such relevant ways. I definitely hope Karpov will succeed, because chess deserves good (and at least, decent) management.

herb white's picture

karpov is not the answer to fides' problems!! let's be real.

linksspringer's picture

What does chessvibes think of this article on chessdom?

Arne Moll's picture

Yeah I noticed it already, linksspringer. It's interesting if true, but as far as I can tell hardly relevant to the current elections. The fact that Karpov has made some dubious decisions in the past is not really a surprise for anyone who has been following chess for the past 30 years. It's mostly a personal thing for him though, I think. Still, it's always good to remember that nobody is a saint in this world.

pk's picture

According to, the Russian federation will support Karpov, although the decision appears to be in doubt by Kirsan's supporters.

pk's picture

Oh, it just appeared at Mig's blog.

ozan's picture

to report another important point: in the country that I live (turkey) chess federation is in a way which is absolutely anti-democratic: giving penalties to some players who are not agree with the way they are acting (such as ekaterina atalik), or only forcing them to play on the events that they are related...
do not know if it is necessary to mention that, the turkish women chess players are finishing the tournaments at the last seats; or having last place in the "world men chess team champ." that had been held in turkey -bursa- this year ( after that yazici said, "now everychess team in the world is scared from turkish men chess team-do you know anything about it:) )?
so the point is, having the same chess federations for more than 10 years, and still claiming the same place with that aggressive way: that is what is needed to be lasted.
do not know about karpov's and his team's plans, but I respect him as a chess fan, and would not want to see this anti-democratic administration one more term.

Jonathan O'Connor's picture

I was in a small central african country earlier this year, and one of their best players told me that the previous president of their federation got $18000 for voting for Ilyumshinov in the previous election. Needless to say, this money went straight into his back pocket, and did absolutely nothing to help chess there.

Personally, I think $18000 is too much. If my experience is anything to go by, these small countries need equipment and books. Chess DVDs would also probably be useful. Sending GMs is not very useful, except for raising publicity, and enthusiasm for our beloved game. But the amount of knowledge transfered during such a visit will be minimal.

Gerard Snitselaar's picture

Now Dorkovich is calling for another meeting, where he says Kirsan will be nominated. Good luck. My bet is on him botching things again and then trying to claim the RCF has nominated no one when June 20th gets here.

Greg's picture
Jim Scott's picture

Despite of currption, actual FIDE is not serious about promoting chess. Almost all event hapen in old USSR and Turkie countries. Too expensive for American, African, Ocean, continents. You have to pay almost everything to players and Fide authorities, compare to other sport where each country fedetarion pays his team expenses and part of the its international federation and the organizar countre pays only the organization expenses. So strong chess will remain only in one or two regions of the world!!
Karpov will suffer the same disapointement as Susan Polgar with the USCF, too much corruption for a chessplayer!

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