MAY 20 — The coming World Chess Federation (FIDE) elections to be held in Tromso, Norway in August 2014 has now formally had its battle lines drawn with two contenders — the incumbent Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, at the helm for 18 years and his opponent the charismatic 13th World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov who is universally considered to be the greatest player of all time.
Both candidates have been effectively campaigning since last October 7 when Kasparov announced his candidacy and team during the FIDE Executive Board Meeting held in Tallinn.
Earlier Ilyumzhinov played coy about seeking yet another term, but when pressed admitted he would be running again.
Since then Kasparov has crisscrossed the globe, everywhere drawing huge crowds and energising chess communities. He has openly pledged financial support personally and through his Foundation while successfully raising money locally for development programmes where often the focus is on programmes for chess in education.
Typical of the response that Kasparov receives is a report prepared by the Malaysian Chess Federation after his visit in late April and published on his campaign website.
Ilyumzhinov probably did not expect this challenge, the most serious and credible ever, and was initially slow to react… but then he did.
FIDE then started spending heavily; its employees and specially appointed envoys under various guises have travelled extensively to conduct seminars and workshops in remote places where there are few chess players and almost no chess activity but of course every country has an equal vote! Has one heard of chess in the Comoros Islands, Guam, Palau, Laos, Saudi Arabia, Nepal, Musrata, Ramallah, and the Solomon Islands? And it continues, all for free!
It has gotten worst with the belated launch of his campaign website, as in recent months Ilyumzhinov has led the battle from the front in places where he is most vulnerable, often tracing the footsteps of Kasparov, using local Russian embassies to set up meetings with the political leadership and essentially forcing members of these recalcitrant National Chess Federations to meet him where there is always a mix of offers and threats.
Surprisingly Team Kasparov has resisted fighting back in similar fashion, perhaps a questionable strategy when dirty politics is going on and sadly it is not the individual but the politician having the vote that counts, as except for a protest for misuse of FIDE resources early on and the revelation as a consequence of a fight amongst the leadership of the English Chess Federation of a signed memorandum showing clear conflict of interest in the award of commercial rights by leadership of FIDE (including Ilyumzhinov) as detailed here, Kasparov has so far chosen to go with positives.
While only five nominations are required for a presidential ticket, Ilyumzhinov has seemingly struck the first blow with 56, mainly from Americas and Africa, as opposed to Kasparov having 20, but representative of support globally.
Of course nominations are not votes so there are clearly strategies by both camps behind these, after all there are chess players as well as politicians involved too!
If one believes Ilyumzhinov, he has won already in two of four continents, but talking to Kasparov’s camp they say that if Ilyumzhinov had the kind of the support he has enjoyed in previous elections he would have certainly ensured he could publish nominations above the winning margin and in their view not only have they won Europe and Asia (It has however to be said Europe has never supported Ilymuzhinov) but they also don’t agree he has won Africa.
Leading up to and after the nominations have closed, it is again the FIDE website that is back in the limelight, its Executive Director cum Treasurer publishing letters directed at National Chess Federations who have declared to be with Kasparov.
For the first time FIDE has chosen to let everyone know the challenges faced in organising major world events, a fact faced by every sport and most certainly chess, but never done in such a way which destroys credibility, ironically mostly its own. Read the articles here, here and here.
The question then is who is Ilyumzhinov? Google him and you will be shocked. The most positive is at wikipedia.org here. But why is he so interested in remaining FIDE President? That may be a question which one has to ask Russian President Vladimir Putin who could explain why he retired Ilyumzhinov from Head of Kalmykia to run FIDE full-time?