IM Malcolm Pein Chess Editorial – FIDE Election
After much reflection and hard calculation, I decided to throw my hat in the ring and enter the FIDE election process. The game’s governing body has been shambolic for the best part of 25 years and after spending that long being one of FIDE’s most vocal critics and supporting the failed candidacies of Bessel Kok (2006), Anatoly Karpov (2010), and Garry Kasparov (2014), I decided that the only way to engender change is from the inside. That means, despite the inevitable compromises that will have to be made, joining a ticket that has a chance to win.
I will stand for FIDE Deputy President on a ticket with the current deputy President and acting President Georgios Makropoulos. After removing executive authority from Kirsan Ilyumzhinov in April 2017, ‘Makro’ as he is known, and others, tried in vain to find a presidential candidate. Ilyumzhinov may be discredited, sanctioned and pretty much defeated, but he still has influence in Russia and he used it to derail the aspirations of several possible candidates.
I attended a meeting in Abu Dhabi in February where a group of FIDE officials intent on removing Kirsan were hosted by Asian Chess Federation President HE Sheikh Sultan Bin Khalifa Al Nahyan. The intention was that Sheikh Al Nahyan would stand for President. I met him at Riyadh during the World Rapid and Blitz and I was very impressed with him. He went to school and university in England, and has a passionate interest in chess and technology. Unfortunately, at the last minute we learnt that our host would be unable to stand after diplomatic pressure was applied from Russia at the highest levels. This was not the first such episode between October 2017 and February 2018.
It was resolved at a meeting the following day that the candidate for President should be Makro or myself. My position was clear: the candidate who should stand was the one who had the best chance of defeating Ilyuzmhinov as he had brought the organisation to its knees and was refusing to stand down. Of course, just months earlier, nothing had been further from my mind than standing for FIDE President.
After some research, it was clear to me that if stood for President I was highly unlikely to win and, ideally, if I were to ever be a candidate, 2022 would suit me better. Makro has indicated that he will not seek re-election in 2022, but of course anything could happen in the next week, never mind four years.
You can compromise on some things
If political compromises need to be made that does not mean there has to be any moral compromise or any compromise on the principles of good governance, openness and honesty – attributes FIDE is in dire need of. I am fully aware that I will be standing with people who served and supported Ilyumzhinov and, in some cases, got the organisation in the dreadful mess it is in. I have made clear that things will have to change if my involvement is to continue.
The first such change was in the composition of the ticket. When it came to my attention that Aguinaldo Jaime of Angola (not Jaime Aguinaldo as he is often and mistakenly referred to), one of the nominated Vice Presidents on the Makro ticket, was accused of attempted fraud in a U.S. Senate report from 2010, and that there were no published rebuttals of the allegations, I immediately made it clear that he had to be removed from the ticket or I would play no further part in the election.
Mr. Jaime has been a FIDE Vice President for four years, having stood on the Ilyumzhinov ticket in 2014, and no one seems to have noticed these allegations, or if they did, they were unconcerned. I was pretty dismayed to find that the person who appears to have introduced Mr. Jaime to FIDE politics was Nigel Short who is also standing for FIDE President. Nigel has been far more involved than I in the failed attempts to remove Ilyumzhinov.
I was dismayed to find a report on Nigel’s visit to Angola in 2010 on Kevin Spraggett’s website. Nigel was attempting to recruit Mr Jaime to Anatoly Karpov’s 2010 ticket just a few months after the U.S. Senate report was published. See: – https://goo.gl/XbfcJ5
At Leuven just a couple of weeks ago, when we discussed the matter, Nigel admitted to me that had been aware of these allegations “A few years ago”. Well, I have zero tolerance on such matters. If I find any such issues in the future, I will not hesitate to highlight them.
It’s a strange feeling to be opposed to Nigel as we are old friends and have been on the same side many times. Moreover, we agree on many of the problems FIDE has and on some of the solutions; not least the arrangement with Agon/WorldChess who have all the rights to events within the world championship cycle and have been responsible for many a debacle that has been reported here.
This contract needs to be radically amended or cancelled altogether. Nigel and I also agree in principle that FIDE needs to end its dependence on wealthy individuals and go more down the corporate route, although I believe both have a part to play. For example, I would welcome the involvement of Rex Sinquefield’s Chess Club and Scholastic Centre of St. Louis in the world championship cycle at some point in the future.
Nigel and I disagree on one thing of great importance to English chess and that is the plan for a world championship match in London. Nigel is on the record as being against it. I see it as potentially a great opportunity for English chess, if organised properly. The board of the English Chess Federation also sees a Carlsen-Caruana match as an opportunity to promote the game here and I don’t see how the ECF can vote for anyone who is against having the WCC match in London.
Please don’t make plans for Nigel
I also feel that for all Nigel’s great exploits over the board, he is entirely unsuited for a leadership role. To put it mildly, he lacks diplomacy, as you can see from his writings in which he has laid into all kinds of groups, people, even countries. Short also went viral for all the wrong reasons with his comments on the differences between men and women. This led to him complaining that he had been turned into a “misogynist pantomime villain” and I fear he was right.
I don’t see how we can credibly try to encourage more women to play with Nigel at the helm of the game’s governing body. It would be like putting the CEO of Philip Morris in charge of the World Health Organisation. In the political arena one sometimes has to let bygones be bygones and make compromises; Nigel too often seems to hold a grudge. His notorious stab in the back of Tony Miles after England’s first grandmaster had passed away still makes me shudder whenever I think of it.
Despite my reservations about Nigel in a leadership role, I believe he has a part to play, for example in the strengthening of anticheating measures – something I know he feels passionately about, as do I. My fear is that by standing for President, the electoral arithmetic, which has been fairly stable for many years, means that he has no chance of winning, so all he is doing is splitting the vote and helping the Kremlin candidate, whoever that turns out to be.
Let’s be positive
You can’t fight an election without a positive vision for change. Here are just a few ideas I will promote.
Term limits – These would be 8 years for President and a limit for Board members. That would be 8 years in total so that no matter what happens, Ilyumzhinov cannot return, even if the Kremlin tries to parachute him back in.
Beef up and rebrand the Anti Cheating Commission – I’d call it the Fair Play Commission and have it comprised of arbiters, legal professionals, organisers and most importantly, players. Indeed someone of Nigel’s stature as a player would be ideal as chairman.
Rescind or completely renegotiate the arrangement with Agon/WorldChess – As reported here, the sight of Alexander Grischuk holding a bottle of his own urine at a press conference at the Berlin Candidates, because he had been unable to go to the toilet during the game, demonstrated that Agon/WorldChess can organise a piss up, but not in a brewery.
Scrap the FIDE Online Arena and work with the major online providers instead – The FIDE online arena was only a factory for duff titles as far as I can see; another crude attempt to raise money. Chess.com, Playchess, Lichess, Chess24 and ICC are natural partners and do online chess a lot better than FIDE. Why not have the official world online championship with an established partner or partners?
Arbiting standards – Create cadres of professional or semiprofessional arbiters as the core of any official event and end the use of such appointments for political purposes. Arbiting standards need to be raised generally.
The Verification Commission needs to be strengthened – This is the body that oversees all the important functions and it does not report often enough. I would appoint one salaried member who is responsible for independent oversight of the FIDE bank account throughout the year and should have online access to scrutinise all transactions in real time if required.
Title fees – These need to be reduced. It seems to me that the approach is often: how can we raise more money from players? It’s time to look at new sources of income. Rating fees for developing countries must be kept to a minimum and abolished for as many poorer countries as possible.
Africa – African chess has advanced far too slowly for decades and it’s the fault of FIDE’s longtime neglect. I would propose that a proportion of surplus funds over the target reserve of €2.5 million generated be transferred to an African development fund.
Transition not continuity – There needs to be significant change both in outlook, policy and personnel. Many of the people in the higher echelons of FIDE have been apologists for Kirsan, who started out as a white knight for chess with funds of dubious provenance and ended up as a complete fraud, even offering a fake person on his election ticket. Makro should be seen as the transition candidate and, in my view, many of his colleagues need to be replaced. The Presidential Board should be composed of people with specific skills, as well as ensuring all continents are represented. Even if I am elected, this is not going to be easy, but I prefer to take on the challenge from the inside than to be perpetually complaining from the outside.
The Kremlin tries pulls the strings
Just as we went to press, Arkady Dvorkovich, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Russia and the head of the FIFA World Cup organising committee, also declared his candidacy. At time of writing he had not put together a ticket. This has to consist of: President, Deputy President, Treasurer, General Secretary and two nominated Vice Presidents on the FIDE Presidential Board.
In one sense, this is welcome news as it looks like Ilyumzhinov’s reign is finally over, but it also looks like the Kremlin is trying to keep control of world chess and that would inevitably mean maintaining the relationship with Agon/World Chess whose main sponsors are exclusively Russian. I will oppose Dvorkovich if he does submit a ticket. Although he is on the so-called ‘liberal’ wing of Kremlin insiders, he is already on a presanctions list prepared by the U.S. Congress earlier this year. If FIDE is to have its banking facilities restored, it cannot have another PEP (Politically Exposed Person) at the helm.
Fabiano triumphs in Magnus’ back yard
On the board it’s been a busy month and a profitable one for world title challenger Fabiano Caruana who followed up his triumph at Grenke with victory at Altibox Norway Chess. At Grenke, Caruana drew with Carlsen; at Norway he got off to a bad start against him, and who would have bet against Carlsen winning the tournament after he scored this psychological blow?
The odds looked even better when Carlsen outplayed Levon Aronian and was the only player on a positive score after three rounds. Yet Caruana overhauled him by defeating Vishy Anand, Wesley So and Sergey Karjakin while Carlsen lost a horrible game to So and then remained marooned on ‘+1’.
It’s been a great month for U.S. chess as Sam Shankland followed up his triumph at the U.S. Championship by winning the Capablanca Memorial and then the Continental Championship of the Americas to get himself in to the World Cup in 2019. Shankland was catapulted into the world’s top-30 and was promptly selected again for the U.S. team to play at the Olympiad in September.
The England teams have not been finalised, but the captains have been announced. GM John Nunn replaces me as Open captain and IM Lorin D’Costa will captain the Women’s team.