African Nations booted from Chess Olympiad!

In what appears to be an ongoing impasse between three African nations and FIDE Accounts Office, Bermuda’s Nigel Freeman (FIDE Treasurer) has written a letter to Olympiad organizer banning Ethiopia, Uganda and Nigeria from the event in Dresden. In general, nations failing to meet financial obligations to FIDE and have been barred from rating lists and international events. Kebadu Belachew (below right) of Ethiopia had been attempting to settle the matter and was also seeking sponsorship for the 2008 Chess Olympiad. Twenty-four African nations are registered to compete including the three aforementioned.

Back in August Belachew told The Chess Drum that the Ethiopian federation had registered one week after the deadline. In doing so, they were told they could participate, but they would have to pay for their accommodations. Accommodations are generally free for all the federations. With no budget, a strong euro and struggling economy, raising funds has been difficult for the fledgling federation.

After explaining the dilemma to the Dresden organizers, Belachew received a response from Olaf Modrozynski, Managing Operations of the Organizing Committee. According to Belachew, Modrozynski told him that Ethiopia would maintain their accommodations.

Months passed and Belachew’s fundraising efforts for transportation, fees and expenses came up short. On October 17th, Freeman sent a short e-mail to Belachew stating that Ethiopia would not be allowed to participate due to past arrears. Two days later, Belachew asked for an extension and stated that he and other officials were in negotiations with sponsors. He got no response. On October 23rd (today), Freeman sent another e-mail to Modrozynski, in terse language, not to accept the three federations for admission and cancel their accommodations.


Dear Mr Modrozynski,

Despite repeated requests to the Ethiopian, Ugandan and Nigerian Chess Federations, we have not received payment of their arrears due to FIDE.

I am, therefore, requesting that you do not accept their participation in the Dresden Olympiad and that if they appear at the event they should not be allowed to play and free accommodation should not be given to the teams.

I shall be glad if you will confirm this request to the three federations although I have copied them with this email.

Regards,

Nigel Freeman

Treasurer


Belachew had been copying a number of FIDE officials and federation heads in hopes to invoke a response. Taken aback by the turn of events, Belachew responded a few hours later in an e-mail:


Dear Mr. Freeman,

I am personally very surprised by the drastic nature of your decision.

I don’t believe that such a measure to alienate poor countries goes with the spirit of the Olympiad. I would rather imagine FIDE and the Dresden organizing committee coming up with some solution in order to make the Olympiad inclusive of all countries rich or poor. I am also surprised that such a decision can be made by a single individual instead of some kind of committee consisting of relevant officials.

With respect to Ethiopia, as I mentioned to you in my previous email, we had been looking for sponsoring individuals or organizations to cover the membership fee and transportation cost for the players. We have managed to get a volunteer who is willing to cover the membership fee but we have not been successful yet to get a sponsor to cover the transportation cost. So even after paying the membership fee we may not be able to appear at the tournament. Nevertheless, our sponsor is ready to make the membership fee payment to your office at any time by credit card, personal check, or wire transfer. Please send us the detail payment instruction as soon as possible.

Respectfully,

Kebadu Belachew
Contact person, Ethiopian Chess Federation


Up until this point, Belachew has not received a response.

Nigeria’s Adekunle Elegbede had contacted Freeman to get an understanding of the situation and is currently discussing the matter with Nigerian officials. Freeman apparently told Elegbede that 22 out of 25 federations have settled their accounts. Ethiopia, Uganda and Nigeria remain as those in arrears, thus demands were made that their participation be cancelled. Nigeria had recently conducted a historic transcontinental qualifier to set the Olympiad team.

This appears to be another unfortunate situation concerning African federations. Each Olympiad, there seems to be an issue concerning visas, dues, expenses or some technical matter. It is unclear whether this letter represents a standard response. Dabilani Buthali, the current FIDE President for Africa, recently made mention of these challenges.

The issue of dues has always been a point of contention with federations from developing countries. At the FIDE Assembly at 2004 Calvia Olympiad, there was an issue of increasing the federation dues, an idea brought by the FIDE Executive Board. Delegates from smaller federations argued against the raising of membership dues. The minutes had the following entries from Steven Doyle (USA) and Dabilani Buthali (Botswana):

Mr. Doyle said that 19% of the FIDE Federations pay 50% of the FIDE budget. He said that during a period of 10 years, your salaries have increased in the same way as your life level has increased. Everybody has to pay their fair share. He understood the situations in small Federations, but everybody gets compensation in real life. He said that an amount of USD 100 cannot be considered a big amount of money.

Mr. Buthali of Botswana said that they do understand the points raised by Mr. Doyle, but in most African countries 100 USD is still quite a lot of money, which they already stated in the meeting of the Executive Board. He said that there are more than ten African countries that at present are excluded from FIDE, and they are certainly not able to raise their subscriptions in order to pay the minimum. He agreed that the minimum is too high.

It was apparent that delegates from larger federations did not understand the financial hardships an increase would bring. After a lengthy debate, the body decided to keep the existing minimum amount of 600 Swiss Francs instead of the proposed increase of 1000 Swiss Francs (See 2004 Minutes, section 2.2.1 from 75th Congress – MS-WordPDF). The matter of dues is still a question given the worsening financial crisis and changes in economic situation. Belachew said that despite these challenges, nations have always sought to participate in international sporting events such as the Olympics and World Cup as a way to instill national pride and optimism.


Presidential Council: Nigel Freeman (Treasurer), Ignatius Leong (Secretary), Kirsan Ilyumzhinov (President), Florencio Campomanes (Honorary President), Georgios Makropoulos (Vice President) and David Jarrett (Executive Director).

FIDE Presidential Council: Nigel Freeman (Treasurer), Ignatius Leong (Secretary), Kirsan Ilyumzhinov (President), Florencio Campomanes (Honorary President), Georgios Makropoulos (Vice President) and David Jarrett (Executive Director). Photo from FIDE.com.

This latest issue shows that FIDE has been challenged to spread the spirit of the motto “gens uma sumus” among the world’s federations. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov stated in his campaign speech in 2006, that he was proud to have major events in every continent. Ironically, Ethiopia, Uganda and Nigeria were three of the 86 nations who supported the Chess Fidelity campaign to help re-elect Ilyumzhinov, but have now been barred from competing in Dresden.

It is hopeful that FIDE will find inventive ways to help smaller federations to become a integral part of the chess community. If smaller chess federations are to help chess grow around the world, it is a necessary matter work toward inclusion instead of exclusion. The tone of the letter and subsequent action does not appear to be consistent with the inclusive nature of the Olympiad tournament.

(Note… The African nations registered for the Olympiad are: Algeria, Botswana, Burundi, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Angola is conspicuously absent.)

Daaim Shabazz

Daaim Shabazz is the founder of The Chess Drum, while serving as a tenured faculty member of Global Business & Marketing at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. He holds a B.S. Computer Science from Chicago State University, an MBA in Marketing and a Ph.D. in International Affairs & Development, both from Clark Atlanta University. He has served the journalist community for more than 30 years and still competes in tournaments occasionally.

29 Comments

  1. There definitely needs to be more effort of outreach to African nations. There is little support on the continent apart from CACDEC and activities at the federation level. The continental championship is not consistent, nor are the zonals.

    I remember being at the FIDE General Assembly at the Calvia Olympiad in 2004 and saw how Africa was marginalized. In fact, African federations were left out of the General Assembly seating arrangement. As soon as I walked in and introduced myself to Nizar Elhaj (the FIDE Continental President at the time), he told me about the snub and was very upset. The African federations were given a section of seats in the back of the room instead of within the normal alphabetical arrangement. It was shameful.

  2. I find this very disturbing. I am a Nigerian chess player schooling in the US at the moment and when I heard some of my friends in Nigeria qualified for the Olympiad I was so excited for them because guys actually sacrificed a lot for the development of chess in their immediate environment (in spite of all the financial limitations) and for them to be denied this golden opportunity which I see as a reward of their hardwork is quite disheartening! Whatever happened to Gens una sumus (isn’t that Latin for WE ARE ONE!!)
    Although I do not know the dynamics of the behind the scenes politicking but I believe there should be some special financial considerations given to third world countries and stopping them from participating in the Olympiad because of some dues does not show the true spirit of the game we so much love!!
    Chess is not so popular compared with physical games like soccer, basketball etc in Nigeria and its quite difficult getting sponsors for the game because of the limited audience given to chess.
    If FIDE goes ahead to exclude Nigeria, Ethiopia and Uganda from the Olympiad then this would probably be the last time I would be quoting those Latin words when FIDE is mentioned.

  3. This news report is very disheartening. I am both troubled and disturbed.
    I can only hope that some financial payment could resolve these issues.
    Seeing both sides, we as a people have to do better with being prompt in responding to deadlines. It might be possible for an exception to be made, but we have to do everything we can to satisfy all the requirements.

  4. FLASH!! Nigeria and Ethiopia are making efforts. Stay tuned. Any word on Uganda?

    Below are a couple of pictures from the 2004 Olympiad during a break in the General Assembly. These were discussions on the raising of dues.

    During a break in the Assembly, delegate ascend to the stage to discuss membership dues with Morton Sand. Derrick Perrera (Sri Lanka) speaks with past-President Florencio Campomanes while Ian Wilkinson (Jamaica) and Allan Herbert (Barbados) talk with Morton Sand. Nizar ElHajj (Libya) is standing on the other side of Sand. Geoffrey Borg (Malta) is seen sitting in thought. He made some strong comments opposing the increase of dues. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

    During a break in the Assembly, Derrick Perrera (Sri Lanka) speaks with past-President Florencio Campomanes while Ian Wilkinson (Jamaica) and Allan Herbert (Barbados) talk with Morton Sand. Nizar ElHajj (Libya) is standing on the other side of Sand. Geoffrey Borg (Malta) is seen sitting in thought. He made some strong comments opposing the increase of dues. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

    Derrick Perrera (Sri Lanka), Ian Wilkinson (Jamaica), Allan Herbert (Barbados) discuss issue with Morton Sand. Their plea was successful. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

    Derrick Perrera (Sri Lanka), Ian Wilkinson (Jamaica), Allan Herbert (Barbados) discuss issue with Morton Sand. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

  5. This really hurts my feelings. I hope the Ethiopian players will make it to Dresden and do a good job.
    Cheers to Ato Kebadu Belachew!

  6. FIDE is run by patzers.Who is Nigel Freeman??is he GM or what??How did he get into FIDE?? if it wasn’t for the guidance of Haille Selassie ,Ethiopia would be in a nightmare.Babylon can’t take you down.

  7. Well… these guys are not professional players, but very successful in their careers and wealthy. In my view, chess authority is very centralized and I would hope that more developing federations would be strong enough to voice their views.

    I’m more concerned about the visa requirement. If these three African federations go through the trouble of raising funds and are not given visas, the effort will go for naught.

  8. Dear Daaim,

    Heil Dubya!

    Thanks for the notice.

    Unfortunately, I had an accident at home in late April and have not been particularly mobil since then. I had to withdraw from my classes at Western Connecticut State University, but am now back at school, although most limited in my mobility.

    Apparently my standard greeting of “Heil Dubya” now applies in FIDE and I am very sorry to hear it. Having been particularly close to the Uganda Chess Federation at one time — and, incidentally, to the Bermuda Chess Association — I was very sorry to read the news you have published. But, I always have said that FIDE is controlled by its money bags and your message merely reinforces my belief.

    Oh, well,, as the French saying goes, “Ecco la vita”. (We have that saying in every human language. In Italian, it is, “C’est la vie.”)

    Once again, thanks for the email. I read your messages religiously. “Keep up the good work!

    Fraternally,

    Jerry (Bibuld)

  9. But if anyone is going to perform like that Botswana Women team that played in the World team Championships, then the Germany Federation would be right denying them a Visa.

  10. Jerry,

    Good hearing from you. It’s been a long time. Hope you are making progress in your recovery.

    Yes… it’s unfortunate and this was an issue brought out in the 2004 General Assembly. I was told by Kebadu Belachew how the Mayor of Dresden wooed the African federations for their vote to host the Olympiad. They were knocking on doors and making promises.

    African nations only seem to matter when there is some type of vote. There was also a debate about changing the voting system to give larger federations more votes… instead of one federation, one vote. That was debated back during the FIDE elections in 2006.

    As you say, “C’est la vie.” “A luta continua” applies too.

  11. They want to cripple a continent which is already on its knees.

    Most of the so-called First World Countries were built by Africans who worked under shackles and chains in plantations and mines as Slaves. The reason why Africa is poor is because of slavery and the reason why Africa continues to be poor is because some of the rich countries are supporting the current wars in Africa because war makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. Take a look at the all the organizations which manufacture arms, where are they from? Africa? No! straight from the so-called First World Countries.

    Look at all the “non-profit making organizations” which claim to support and care about the poor people and refugees in Africa. They ask for money from donors and the very same money is used to buy food and non-food items not from Africa but from the very so-called first World Countries. The money is used to give extra profits for the suppliers. Vehicles, tents, medicine, clothes, etc are all bought from the rich countries and all that Africa receives is low quality products.

    Whenever Africa tries to catch-up they raise the target, they move the goal-posts (When they realize that 5% of the African countries can afford the membership fee that’s when they raise the bars so that Africans can afford it no more) . This year’s Olympiad has the most participants in the history of Chess Olympiads but now they want to eliminate Africa because Africa is catching-up. Where were all the Africans when the so-called First World Country players were playing chess, working very hard under the burning sun in their plantations feeding them and building their countries, now that Africans have made them what they are today they don’t want to see Africans mingling with them in good spirit of the sports.

    They are making life very difficult for the poormen, they charge and tax everything including visas but no man owns the land. Right now we have Africans moving to Europe, look how they treat them?! but some 400 years ago when the Europeans came here in Africa they were treated nicely and Africans did not ask them for visas or any travel documents. It is only wrong when it is done by Africans.

    Uhuru Africa Uhuru!!

  12. Rootsman,

    While many of your arguments have been made before, let’s put this in perspective. This is a complicated world and of course many developing regions struggle to successfully integrate their economies and activities into the large global arena. There are serious resource issues, but many African nations will be participating. However, the three in this case were in the 2006 Olympiad, so it is not as if they have been delinquent for many years.

    FIDE is an international body that governs chess and it is well known that Africa requires assistance in a number of areas. Perhaps FIDE cannot bear the total blame for underdeveloped state of African chess. I have seen a precipitous decline in chess coverage on the continent. I used to get a steady flow from African media, but now, it’s a trickle. Since chess is not very well-developed throughout the continent, a lack of publicity makes it hard to raise funds from corporate sponsors.

    I just got my NEW IN CHESS magazine today (with China’s Wang Yue on the cover) and Leontxo Garcia stated that the one thing that must be improved in chess is marketing. So FIDE has an obligation there, but national federations have be proactive in their own marketing.

  13. How for God’s sake is this the fault of FIDE or Fide official? Let us put the fault where the fault really is. It is the only way for growing up in life. This Chess Federations have known that they owe this money for some time. Why did they not pay? Now a short time to the event, they are running up and down. A saying goes: ” A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine” This is what we should be telling this people instead of making excuses for them. Other organisations from Countries that are not richer than this three have paid well in advance. First remove the log in your own eyes….
    The Nigerian case is particularly insulting. When they were doing their worldwide “historic” trials are they saying they did not remember something as fundamental as payment of dues ? Let us STOP condoning mediocrity please. Call a spade a spade!

  14. chessic,

    Good points.

    All of these countries have very different “chess” scenarios and Ethiopia’s case is certainly one that should have gotten some consideration from FIDE. Kebadu had been in contact with FIDE and organizers availing them of the situation and progress. From my understanding, the only response from FIDE was to repeat that “payment is due.” Then the letter came to ban.

    Perhaps FIDE does not bear all blame, but I believe it could have been handled a bit differently. I believe that these nations should be allowed a provisional admission to the Olympiad, but their dues would have to be paid (in Dresden) if they are to be paired for the tournament. I don’t believe banning them from the Olympiad (outright) and urging the organizer to cancel their accommodation is the best solution.

    I have gotten information that Ethiopia has made the payment. Discussions are taking place in Nigeria and no word from Uganda.

  15. Nigeria shouldn’t have a problem anymore than any other oil-rich nation. As for the others…what’s new? Sadly this is expected. We need to have a self-critical look rather than always making excuses for folks.

    BTW, have the tologese players got any monies yet from their FA – payments due them from time at the (FIFA)World Cup? They complained at the time, relented, played but…nothing….all the big wigs came on the plane…

    Why is this re chess a surprise? Where do our leaders place priorities?
    https://www.modernghana.com/news/181681/1/in-destitute-swaziland-leader-lives-royally.html

  16. It’s BIZARRE that people are putting the fault down to FIDE.
    FIDE has its faults but that’s neither here nor there.
    These nations can have loans to re-arm and fight each other. Their priorities are all wrong. What’s Ethopia’s economy like? How much have they borrowed towards armaments?
    Why should there be a free lunch to a tournament? WHEN will Africa get on its feet? China can fund things – for their own self-interests – but the people of our continent haven’t got their eyes on the bigger picture.
    Even children grow up?
    Is it FIDE’s fault?
    Would any African nation/company sponsor a Simutowe? The way India would for a Negi or China would for someone they spot with potential?
    If there’s a new ballistic system, would they borrow towards it?
    Hope the teams get funding and reach the Olympiad.

  17. I have received reports that Mr. Nigel Freeman (Treasurer of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) and also the President of Bermuda Chess Federation) has had discussions with his cohorts in FIDE and after review, they have approved Nigeria’s participation in the Dresden games.

    This comes as a welcome relief. So it appears that both Ethiopia and Nigeria will be at the games. Still no word from Uganda. They missed the All-Africa Games, so this would be a tremendous set back. Fortunately, this matter of admission to Dresden has been (at least for now) been resolved. Let us hope that Africa will make a strong showing!

  18. Hello,
    As an african nation who is going to play in Dresden i have to say that the way Nigel Freeman’s is bullying and threatening african countries from participation in the Olympiad does not do honour to the current administration.When Campomanes was president there was a flexibility in payment of fees and dues which allowed the african participants to pay their dues on arrival to the olympiad venue in the true spirit of ‘Gens Una Sumus”. I really think that african nations should constitute a single bloc of vote in the next elections to have more consideration.

  19. Even so these countries were not able to do their payment in time, Mr Freeman and the organizers should have, at least, taken the fact that these countries are poor into consideration. They should slack the time and the payment requirements so that poor and rich nations can participate.

    I wish the Ethiopian Team good luck!
    I know you will make us proud!
    cheers!

  20. It appears that Ghanaians also had problems securing visas. Here is an excerpt from a Ghanaian discussion group. The subject mentioned is John Hasford pictured on the right below.

    “When Hasford was refused a visa, he worked tirelessly, chasing the German officials in between games for them to influence the embassy to change their minds, and mid-way thru the tournament he was granted the visa. He got us our jerseys, won some important games for us, provided transport, accomodation, and all other kinds of help. Even his friends and wife helped us with warm clothing etc.”

    Edward Nii Lamptey Thompson and John Hasford (Ghana)

    Edward Nii Lamptey Thompson and John Hasford (Ghana)

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