A fresh approach: clean hands for FIDE by Nigel Short

Below is the full text of the letter sent by FIDE Presidential Candidate Grandmaster Nigel Short to all chess federations.

Athens, 10 July 2018

To: All National Chess Federations, members of FIDE

Dear chess friends,

It is high time to make a fundamental change in FIDE: to move from being an opaque, sanction-pressed pariah to becoming an open, properly-governed organisation that is respected the world over.

Successful international sporting bodies attract many millions, and in some cases billions, of dollars of commercial sponsorship. That money is then distributed to the federations to promote the game. While it is unlikely that chess will ever attain the popularity of, say, football, it requires no great leap of the imagination to understand that such a beneficent business model is perfectly possible for FIDE too. After all, chess is played throughout the globe, by hundreds of millions of people, and is widely regarded as being the ultimate mind- sport. It has been proven in literally hundreds of scientific studies, over the past 45 years, to have great educational value. It is also perfect adapted for the Internet age. Many of the brightest and most successful entrepreneurs enjoy it. To name just a few examples, Sir Richard Branson, of Virgin, regularly praises chess in articles and tweets, while two of the wealthiest men on the planet – Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg – have even played against the World Champion, Magnus Carlsen. Yet do their companies sponsor the game? Alas, not. While it would be wrong to exaggerate the ease with which commercial tie-ups can be made, the enormous potential is clearly there – one that can utterly transform the game we know. Despite decades in office, the Ilyumzhinov/Makropoulos administration has abjectly failed to tap such rich resources. Change will not occur unless federations vote for it.

FIDE is run in almost exactly the opposite way to how it should be. Due to the incompetence and poor reputation of the current administration, commercial sponsorship accounts for a pitifully small percentage of revenues. Rather than the governing body supporting the federations – as it should – federations support the governing body. Anything that can be taxed, is taxed. There are taxes on titles for playing, arbiting, organising and training. The tax on rated games – which milks the active federations and cripples the poorer ones – guarantees that chess fails to reach anywhere near its full potential. This has got to stop, and will be one of the first priorities during my presidency.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has quite literally brought FIDE to the brink of extinction. When he was placed on the US Treasury Department Sanctions list in 2015, it was clear that it was only a matter of time before FIDE encountered serious financial trouble. Sure enough, in April 2018, UBS closed FIDE’s bank accounts. No less than 18 banks refused even to meet with FIDE, and those that did refused its custom. Without the approval of the General Assembly, the Makropolous administration secretively transferred the entire assets of our organisation elsewhere, and then remained silent about it for as long as possible. Only after constant public questioning by myself did they finally, after two weeks, divulge what they had done with it – a most unsatisfactory and expensive arrangement with trust funds and a fiduciary account in Hong Kong. Absurdly, the FIDE Treasurer treated these questions of immense public importance as an attack on his personal integrity.

Ilyumzhinov has now been replaced as presidential candidate by Arkady Dvorkovich. Alas, given his vastly more important and prestigious recent jobs as Deputy Prime Minister of Russia and organiser of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, it is hard to envisage him as being anything other than a hands-off leader, should he be elected. Worryingly, he has appointed Kirsan as a key advisor, which suggests that, for the Kremlin, control is more important than reform.
How does the other candidate, Georgios Makropoulos, view the Kirsan era? In a letter to a Canadian soft-porn website earlier this year he said:

“I was always supporting Kirsan until the beginning of 2017 as his contributions to FIDE, and chess in general, was enormous”

Yes, that is the same Kirsan who announced a World Championship Match in Saddam Hussein’s Baghdad; who signed a document awarding himself a 51% share of Agon (which holds the commercial rights to almost all the important FIDE events) who spent hundreds of thousands of euros of FIDE money – OUR money – on his personal travel every year; who promised a $500,000 Africa Fund and delivered not one cent; who outrageously lied to the General Assembly in Tromso 2014 by promising to transfer $20 million to FIDE but gave nothing; the same Kirsan who has tarnished the name of the organisation and brought FIDE to the edge of oblivion.

It is obvious that one cannot expect meaningful reform from Makropoulos, who has served as Kirsan’s loyal lieutenant for 22 years. Had he wanted to, he would have done it by now. And yet FIDE badly needs constitutional changes, such as presidential term limits – which were vetoed by Makropoulos in 2010. Proxies – the system by which federations exchange their votes for favours granted – should be abolished immediately. The Electoral Commission must be made entirely independent to avoid endemic bias. Delegates should be members of the federations they represent (and be allowed to choose only one federation). No longer should we be treated to such farcical undemocratic spectacles of an Algerian representing Comoros, or a Greek – the Solomon Islands.

The IOC code should be observed and FIDE statutes must be upheld – not routinely flouted, as they are now. Tournaments, or matches, must never be awarded to any country that fails to enforce our own regulations. The abuse of rewarding of political supporters with jobs while opponents are punished by exclusion must end. The Agon contract must be terminated immediately.

Only my team – Lukasz Turlej (Poland), Lekan Adeyemi (Nigeria), Paul Spiller (New Zealand), Ruth Haring (United States) and Panu Laine (Finland) – has the dedication, vision and energy to bring about these changes. We will restore integrity to the organisation, without which it is impossible to attract major sponsors, or even open a bank account.

On the campaign so far I have often heard the refrain “We like your ideas, Nigel, but what, realistically, are your chances? Why should you succeed where Kasparov, Karpov and Kok have failed?” The answer to that is very simple: the electoral arithmetic is completely different in a three-horse race. No single candidate is expected to win on the first round of voting. In that scenario, if I do as “badly” as Kasparov, Karpov or Kok, I will hold the balance of power. Far from being a wasted vote, a vote for my team will, in fact, increase in value because neither of the other candidates will win without our support. This will ensure that our policies prevail and at least some of the above vital reforms are made.

Vote for change. Vote #cleanhands4fide
Sincerely yours

Nigel Short,
Grandmaster, former World Championship Finalist,
2018 FIDE Presidential Candidate

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