Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE) is gearing up for a pivotal election this fall involving the Presidency of its body. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov will attempt to defend his position as the incumbent President. Also vying for the position will be former World Champion Anatoly Karpov.
Karpov announced his candidacy earlier this month and stated that is was necessary to “restore order”. Karpov had entered the race for Presidency in 2006, but later withdrew. In a 2006 interview, Karpov gave his view on the race.
“Well I personally think that Ilyumzhinov’s chances for success are close to 100% today. The major reason is that Bessel Kok only looks at chess from the point of view of the professional chess players. But Chess Federation incorporates much more than this. And professional chess is only tiny part of entire range of events and activities which take place the World of Chess.”
Karpov’s prophetic comments were on point as Ilyumzhinov secured the support of 96 federations while Bessel Kok languished at 54. Kok got the backing of several powerful federations and the Association of Chess Players, but was unable to stage a coherent campaign to win wide appeal. Karpov will make sure he does not repeat the same mistake. On the other hand, Ilyumzhinov will attempt to solidify his base.
Karpov has always maintained his contact with the chess world. These days he primarily participates in exhibitions since he was unable to maintain the standard that made him one of the greatest players in history. Ilyumzhinov will be credited with unifying the World Championship for the first time since Garry Kasparov bolted FIDE.
After Kasparov’s abdication and formation of a rival body, the chess world was set in a tailspin that would last for more than a decade. After several controversial changes in the cycle, Viswanthan Anand unified the title by winning the closed tournament in Mexico and then successfully defended his title against Vladimir Kramnik.
Kramnik has been very critical about the way the championship cycle was conducted and has given an implicit endorsement of Karpov. While he stated that he is not against Ilyumzhinov, he made note that some of the best administrators for chess have been professional players. Kramnik mentioned Max Euwe as an example. Ilyumzhinov should have some concern since Karpov is a “favorite son” of Russia.
During the 2006 election campaign, there was a lot of discussion about the democratic voting system of FIDE where each federation gets a vote. Many advocated that the votes be determined by size of federation to negate the power of smaller federations which are in the majority.
It is thought that smaller federations, despite paying the same fees and having the same member obligations, should not have equal number of votes because they have fewer players and little influence. However, that would merely consolidate power in the hands of a few wealthy federations and evolve into a chess oligarchy.
It is also assumed that smaller federations do not have the political savvy to make objective decisions to chose the best candidate. There are notions that smaller nations are swayed by small favors and cajoling. It is hopeful that none of the candidates will adopt this condescending mentality by sending emissaries around the globe with sets and clocks hoping to sway the vote.
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So which way forward for FIDE? What must the candidate face in garnering the support of the membership body? Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has been FIDE President since 1995 and it is not clear what his platform will be. He certainly has a number of questions to answer due to many unpopular decisions he has made with respect to sponsorship, championship cycle and FIDE rules.
One legacy will be that he endured the fractured World Championship and was able to unite the crown on his watch. He was able to hold major tournaments on each continent and saw the growth of chess in developing countries and the rise of several young players. He was President during a new “chess boom”. Here are some issues I see that may be part of a platform:
- chess grants for aspiring IMs, GMs (must apply),
- better support for developing federations,
- better securing of sponsorship which will come with a more aggressive marketing plan,
- better marketing support for federations,
- more transparency on FIDE changes,
- uniform internet sites for each federation at FIDE.com with e-commerce functionality,
- better diplomacy with federations.
Regardless of the respective platforms, this will be a contested race. Ilyumzhinov will begin making inroads and marketing to his base. He will face a challenge in getting the support of the elite nations, many of which contain players disgruntled with many of the conditions for the professional ranks.
Karpov may go in with very specific targets of Ilyumzhinov’s mistakes while he will have to convince constituents that his lack of administrative experience will be buttressed by a strong team. It will be important to see who he chooses as a running mate.
These next few months will be crucial in setting the tone for what will be an important election for the future of international chess. There may be other candidates lurking. Nevertheless… may the best team win!