Tuesday, April 29, 2008

ECF Folk Quit

A bunch of folk have quit the ECF board - and you can read about it on the atticus forum if you so choose.

I've no idea about the ins and outs nor do I have a clue what it means for chess as a whole but I do know this...

When I started playing club chess in the 80s England were one of the world's leading chess nations. We got three consecutive silver medals at the chess olympiad and at one time had two of the top five rated players.

Now English chess is rubbish. I'm not sure the decline is entirely related to me taking up the game. Perhaps it's got something to do with the people who've been running things.

So what's going on at the ECF?


PS:
Thanks to Angus for the tip-off.

34 comments:

ejh said...

Martin Regan has written the following letter and kindly copied it to me:

Dear Chess Colleagues,

Yesterday I along with Peter Sowray, the director of international chess, Claire Summerscale, the director of international chess, and non-executive director Mike Truran resigned our positions within the English Chess Federation, although we will stay on, if required, until the end of May to ensure a smooth handover for our successors.

The decision has been immensely difficult. Since the new board took control in a contested election in 2006, it has made substantial progress in improving both the profile and activity of the ECF. It has made mistakes along the way, but generally, I hope you will agree, it has been a board which had the interests of English chess at heart.

However, in order for English Chess to achieve that of which it is capable, more fundamental changes are needed. This is what the board was elected to deliver.

We were under no illusion about the hurdles that would need to be overcome, nor were we even sure that the Federation itself would wish to embark on major change.

However, it was clear from the first that in order to progress this agenda two fundamental conditions were required: A unified board and a Council wishing to hear the debate with an open mind.

I regret to say that neither condition could be met, despite my best efforts.

At Finance Council it became depressingly clear that a minority - and I do stress the word minority - had little intention of grasping the opportunity for debate. Unfortunately, voices within the ECF which speak loud and often have a disproportionate influence.

At the same time, over the past year, it has become clear that not all the members of the board wished to support the type of changes that the large majority of the board believed were essential, indeed were implacably opposed to them. That is their right, of course, but seeking to persuade the Federation about the need for change with the background opposition of key figures is impossible. I am not a magician.

It is an huge privilege to be a director of the ECF and to serve a Council which on the whole, in my view, tries its best. But with this privilege comes the responsibility to leave the Federation in a better position than when one took office. This needs to be recognised more. And as your CEO, as I could no longer guarantee this, I felt the only honorable course was to resign.

In saying this, I make absolutely no criticism of those directors who have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with me but have, for the present, decided to remain in post. I thank them for their support. As I say, this has been a period of soul-searching for us all.

In the case of Claire, Peter and Mike, the ECF has lost three of the hardest working and most effective officers it has had for many, many years. I am proud to have worked alongside them. As indeed I have been proud to work with many ECF delegates and officers.

I should like to thank all those who have helped the board during the past 18 months, and those hundreds of volunteer organisors, members and players whose voices are rarely heard, but without whom there would be no Federation.


Thank you all

Martin Regan

ejh said...

Just personally I should say that at the moment, I'm none the wiser as to the detail of the dispute, never mind the rights and wrongs.

Anonymous said...

If you are not familiar with the practical details of English chess, you may not be aware that the financial contribution from the players comes as a mixture of per head and per play financing. For example, the various leagues in which clubs such as Streatham participate pay a fee to the ECF based on the number of games played in their events. This in turn is recouped from league entry fees. Similarly for tournaments. This means that you do not need to be a member of the ECF to participate in most English chess events. In turn this ought to encourage new players or at least not be a disincentive.

The board was proposing to scrap this system (known as game fee) in favour of a compulsory membership. Thus even to play as a filler in a local league would require the player to be an ECF member. The other effect would have been that the cost of financing English chess would have been moved away from the most active players and increased the cost for marginal and irregular players.

Council which comprises amongst others representatives of leagues and congresses rejected the board's proposals. They might have felt that the downsides of a compulsory scheme had not been properly considered. They might have felt that shifting the financing burden to less active players was a high risk strategy.

Jonathan B said...

I've read in a couple of places today that the ECF has £1 million at its disposal. Is this true does anybody know?

If so, you'd have thought - at least I would - that it would be able to arrange a decent British Championship and even a GM tournament or two every now and then.

Anonymous said...

I've read in a couple of places today that the ECF has £1 million at its disposal. Is this true does anybody know?

It's one of those things that's both true and false. The ECF yearbook shows net assets of only about £ 60 thousand - compared to income and expenditure of about £ 320 thousand each. However there's also accumulated funds of legacies which is where the million comes in. These are held outside of the ECF presumably for legal and taxation reasons. The problem is that legacies come with strings attached. One of the largest legacies was from the late John Robinson. This has been used to set up the John Robinson Youth Chess Trust. According to the ECF yearbook, the amount of the trust was in excess of half a million but "the capital of the Trust should be maintained and only income spent". So the ECF has large sums in the background but it doesn't exclusively control them and can't spend them.

Tom Chivers said...

Currently at the top of the ECF website it reads:



ECF Directors
Following the April Council meeting on Saturday the following Directors
have tendered their resignation effect 31 May 2008: Martin Regan (Chief Executive), Peter Sowray (International), Claire Summerscale (Junior Chess & Education; Women's Chess) and Mike Truran (Non-Executive Director).
Anyone who is interested in helping the Federation by serving as a Director until the October Council elections are invited to contact the ECF office. Click here for the Directors responsibilities.

Mike said...

Does anyone think the "English chess explosion" of the 70s and 80s was really mainly due to the actions of the (then) British Chess Federation? (They did a bit to get our top juniors playing strong overseas players, but that was about it, I think).

Bearing this in mind I don't believe either the argument of the resigners that the decline of English Chess is somehow down to the old duffers on the ECF board or council. The rise and decline of English Chess is due to wider societal factors: what is happening in schools; how people spend their leisure time; how people perceive chess because of the images they receive from the media etc.

Although I disagree with their reasons for the decline I liked many of the things that the resigners were proposing, but I'm afraid it looks to me as if they just wimped out when they met some opposition.

Mike G.

Jonathan B said...

"So the ECF has large sums in the background but it doesn't exclusively control them and can't spend them"

Well that makes sense - and would suggest the idea the ECF has a million quid at it's disposal is inaccurate.

ejh said...

The rise and decline of English Chess is due to wider societal factors: what is happening in schools; how people spend their leisure time; how people perceive chess because of the images they receive from the media etc.

I agree with Mike, and gave some reasons for my agreement here: one notes particularly the absence of chess from TV, local papers (it couldn't be more different where I am) and even the BBC website, which one would have thought covers everything else.

I also think that people often use the cry of "sponsorship! They should do more to attract sponsorship!" as a sort of saloon bar cry, as if it were easy to do - doing the shouting is the easy thing, as is blaming "bureaucrats". That's not to say that there are no bureaucrats, or that nothing can be done that isn't being done already, but it is to say that making loud noises is often a substitute for thought - which applies very much to one particular loud-mouthed bully on the Atticus forum.

It doesn't apply, however, to the resignees - I think I've met all of them except one and I will be sorry to see them go. If they feel they were being unreasonably obstructed in what they were trying to achieve then I don't suppose they felt they had much option. They had, at least, sat down and worked out where they wanted to go, and whether or not I agree with what they decided (actually, I really don't know) then they're to be applauded for making that effort. There really is a need for some hard thinking by the chess community in general.

Tom Chivers said...

For my part, I was trying to explain all this last night to my girlfriend, when I realized I had no idea what I was talking about.

ejh said...

Chess politics: harder to explain than chess.

Tom Chivers said...

*I emailed Claire Summerscale about it all, and below is a copy of her reply*

Dear Tom
My statement is thus:
I know that many of you will have already heard that I have resigned my positions within the ECF as Director of Junior Chess & Education and Manager of Women's Chess, along with Martin Regan (CEO), Peter Sowray (International Director) and Mike Truran (Non-executive Director)


I would like to quote Martin Regan at this point, as he quite simply phrases why we have resigned better than I could hope to:

"Since the new board took control in a contested election in 2006, it has made substantial progress in improving both the profile and activity of the ECF. It has made mistakes along the way, but generally, I hope you will agree, it has been a board which had the interests of English chess at heart.



However, in order for English Chess to achieve that of which it is capable, more fundamental changes are needed. This is what the board was elected to deliver.



We were under no illusion about the hurdles that would need to be overcome, nor were we even sure that the Federation itself would wish to embark on major change. However, it was clear from the first that in order to progress this agenda two fundamental conditions were required: A unified board and a Council wishing to hear the debate with an open mind.



I regret to say that neither condition could be met, despite my best efforts.



At Finance Council it became depressingly clear that a minority - and I do stress the word minority - had little intention of grasping the opportunity for debate. Unfortunately, voices within the ECF which speak loud and often have a disproportionate influence.



At the same time, over the past year, it has become clear that not all the members of the board wished to support the type of changes that the large majority of the board believed were essential, indeed were implacably opposed to them .That is their right, of course, but seeking to persuade the Federation about the need for change with the background opposition of key figures is impossible."



I have worked extremely hard within the ECF to improve opportunities for juniors in England and to some extent I feel that I have made a difference, but without the support of Martin Regan as CEO, Peter Sowray and Mike Truran, my position as junior director is unfortunately untenable.



I would like to thank Martin, Peter and Mike for their help and guidance. They brought a wealth of expertise, experience and energy to the ECF board and their resignations will leave a large hole in English chess.



I will of course complete any projects which are currently underway. I hope that people know my dedication to junior chess well enough to know that I would not cut and run. Current projects include:

GDST Championships

National Girls' Chess Championships

All England Girls' Championships, Gold Finals

Glorney tournaments

I will ensure that the World Youth, European Youth, Under 16 Olympiad all have excellent squad managers to ensure their smooth running.



I would appreciate volunteers from parents who are interested in organising squads to go to other international events such as World Schools, Euro youth team championships, forthcoming events in Hungary etc.



I would like to thank you for your support and I hope to see many of you at the 4NCL this weekend.



Regards

Claire Summerscale

Jonathan B said...

Mike,

I was more thinking that the decline in English chess has been the result of a failure to build on this chess explosion rather than the administrators being responsible for the rise in the first place.

As for the wider societal factors in place ... things seem to go a bit better chesswise in France, Spain and Germany who aren't so astonishingly different from the UK are they?

Anonymous said...

As for the wider societal factors in place ... things seem to go a bit better chesswise in France, Spain and Germany who aren't so astonishingly different from the UK are they?

From the outside it is difficult to get a perspective. The impression one forms is that national /regional leagues and week long congresses form most of the chess playing activity in these countries. I would say that particularly in Germany, the concept of chess tourism is widely accepted. There is an organisation which is both a chess promoter and a travel/hotel agent so you've got one-stop booking for your week's chess holiday. Shorter working weeks and longer paid holidays probably help as well.

I also think there's some taxation issues. In Spain, I believe that local authorities (juntas) are required to spend certain amounts on cultural activities - chess tournaments being an obvious example. In France I think that a donation to a chess club can attract tax`relief at a very high rate. This has the effect that even remote rural clubs can raise the funds to import players from other countries to their regional league events.

ejh said...

Quite so. Money comes out of general taxation to pay for cultural and sporting activities. There are a variety of political and historical reasons why this happens in, for example, Spain and not in the UK, but it does.

Secondly, as I suggested above there is a very big issue of media coverage. One illustation of the difference is that Spain has a daily sports paper, Marca, which you'll find at news kiosks and in just about every last bar in Spain. It covers chess: this is the online page. And this pattern is copied with smaller, regional sports papers and newspapers alike. Note that chess is simply accepted as sport here.

Also, in much of Europe, sport is organised through big clubs which cover a variety of different sports: so Real Madrid or Barcelona, for instance, are far from being just football clubs. Some of these clubs will include chess among their remit and it will add to a club's prestige, and indeed the prestige of a town or region, if their chess club is seen to do well. So chess is promoted, it is seen, it is visible, it is available.

All these things are not true in the UK (or for that matter in the USA). This was what was different about the period roughly 1972-1992, that you could see The Master Game and world championsip matches on the telly, and this induced kids to take up and folow the game.

There are also other differences between then and now (see the link in the second posting in these comments) but there is, I can tell you, a very large difference between the Anglo-American and the European worlds in their attitude to chess and it's not to the former's advantage.

ejh said...

Apologies, I mean the link in the posting at 10:03 this morning.

Peter Sowray said...

Hello,

I’m struggling with the image of Tom explaining the ECF machinations to his girlfriend. In an effort to help him out, here’s a bit of background … particularly about why I resigned on Sunday. The others can speak for themselves, if they wish. Of course, these are my views and mine alone. I don’t expect everyone to agree and there’s no problem if you don’t. We’ll still be friends, I hope …

My starting assumption is that English chess is in decline. Lots of evidence for this. Just as an example, I went into my local branch of Waterstones today. They have quite a large section devoted to ‘Indoor Games’. There was one chess book. Yes, one. We are way behind poker, bridge, backgammon, sudoku, etc. With a concerted effort, we may one day draw level with ‘join the dots’. Partly it’s down to social changes, but it’s much worse here than in other countries.

I got involved with the ECF about 18 months ago. My friends thought I was bonkers. But I thought the timing was right because there were several very favourable factors. Firstly, there were a number of like-minded people who were also keen to see chess in England flourish. These people were smart, commercially astute and knew chess. Secondly, the ECF had just come into about 750 thousand quid. Thirdly, London had recently been awarded the 2012 Olympics, so there were going to be some interesting opportunities.

In retrospect, my ideas about what needed to be done to reverse the decline were pretty scratchy. I was clear that I thought the ECF needed to change radically. I signed up and stood on a ticket with Martin Regan and some others (details are still at http://www.new-ecf.co.uk/ if Tom’s girlfriend is interested). The ECF Council voted me in.

Of course, I knew that the problems were complex and that any attempt to change the ECF would require a great deal of effort, particularly to try to improve the way the Federation was perceived. On average over the last 18 months I’ve spent roughly a day per week on ECF matters. I tell you this not in any attempt to gain sympathy or admiration from Tom’s girlfriend, but simply as evidence that I was serious.

My background is in business. I’ve been on the board of a publicly quoted company. I’ve been involved with turnarounds. So I was not completely naïve and I knew that one of the things I had to do was to get a few quick wins under my belt to gain some trust and confidence. I think some of the things I did were positive. I also made my fair share of screw-ups. At around the same time, Martin, Claire and Mike were bringing a whole heap of dynamism and competence into the organisation.

But, once inside the organisation, it became clear to me that there were some serious problems.

Firstly, money. I got into terrible trouble for saying that the ECF had about a million quid. Technically, this is an over-simplification. Yes, there are strings attached. But almost all the strings were put there by the ECF itself to ensure that the money could never be invested in chess (or ‘frittered away’ in ECF-speak). I never really worked out why this was. I suspect it all dates back to some nasty financial accidents in the mid 80s. So, it’s not a simple matter spending money, even if you can make an excellent business case for doing so.

Secondly, people. This is a much bigger issue. Even if the ECF wanted to undertake any major projects, like a 2012 event, it was clear that someone was going to have to do the work. There are many good people who work for the ECF, some as volunteers. But they are all busy. So we would need to recruit a lot of new blood. One of the main reasons I championed ‘One Member, One Vote’ was that I hoped it would help to achieve more involvement from chess players in their Federation.

Thirdly, mindset. I’ll let Tom’s girlfriend into our dirty little secret – want to know what goes on behind the closed doors at an ECF Board meeting? Self-flagellation. We’d go on, and on, and on, and on, about issues of blame allocation, almost revelling in the latest screw-up. It’s disheartening for everyone. A ‘can’t do’ attitude prevails.

Fast forward to Saturday’s Council meeting. In preparing for the meeting, the Board had unanimously agreed to broach the subject of a compulsory membership scheme. It later transpired that some Board members were more committed to this idea than others. I saw this as a litmus test of whether we were likely to succeed in pushing our reform agenda through. The basic argument was that a direct membership scheme would allow the Federation to develop specific services for members, and the money raised could be ploughed back into broadening the appeal of the ECF. We were suggesting a combination of sticks (can’t have a grade if you’re not a member) and carrots (scrapping game fee, members get a vote). Furthermore, scrapping game fee would allow us to greatly simplify how the ECF collects its revenue.

We were not prescriptive in suggesting the amount that membership should cost for two reasons. Firstly, it takes time to put together fully costed proposals. Secondly, we genuinely wanted some input from Council. I had in the back of my mind two scenarios … my preference was for a £20 membership, but there was also a £5 option if people wanted to scrap the ECF grading system and move to Elo and to outsource many of the other ECF functions.

The discussion was not encouraging. Firstly, the Council meeting was poorly attended … I think I counted about 20. Then we got bogged down in a discussion about game fee vs. membership and the meeting was split … I counted 60% for game fee, 40% for membership. For some reason, this issue splits on a North vs. South basis … if the meeting had been in the North, I suspect it would have been the other way round. Finally, the meeting was not particularly civil.

I slept on it overnight. I didn’t want to abandon the reform agenda, but I recognised that the only way of making progress was to try to force something through at the October Council meeting. A £20 (say) membership would be opposed by Council irrespective of its objective merits. We might have been able to force something through if we put a gun to Council’s head, but the aftermath would be so rancorous that we would be bound to fail in the implementation anyway.

So, for reasons of my sanity, I decided to resign. I have a life.

Incidentally, I notice on another forum that there is talk of setting up an alternative federation. Count me out. It’s completely unworkable.

I fear that this post is way too long … and I’ve probably bored Tom’s girlfriend to tears. But I’m happy to respond on this blog if anyone is still awake.

Peter

Anonymous said...

Personally i think it is a bit of a myth that English chess (from a playing strength point of view) is in terminal decline. There has been enormous investment in Junior chess in recent years and there are positive results for those who want to look - half a dozen NEW grandmasters in the last couple of years, and this new blood finally breaking into the England team on merit.

Controversial view, and hig ly simplistic, but i think one of the biggest single problems for English chess is The Times newspaper. The newspaper which is surely the newspaper of choice for people who might consider putting serious sponsorship in tournaments, and it spends most of the time talking about Staunton, failing that it doesn't shirk from "scandal" on its main news pages.

Richard

Jonathan B said...

Peter,

on behalf of this blog and it's readership. I'd like to thank you for your detailed contribution.

I'm not sure Sarah is a very frequent visitor to these parts but I trust Tom will be pointing her in this direction today. I for one will be testing her on her knowledge of internal ECF matters at a later date.

ejh said...

Peter - thanks very much for contributing. I'd come and say hello at the next 4NCL this coming weekend, but I suspect we're at different venues this time round!

I think your example about Waterstones is an intersting one though it may also owe something to changes in purchasing policies at that chain these last few years.

The North v South thing - yes, having spent a couple of years playing chess in Newcastle I was aware of that and I'd have thought Martin Regan would be too. (I remember briefly touching on this during a discussion about locations for the British Championships on the BCM blog.)

I really don't know where I stand on the issues that divided the meeting and I wonder whether this may be part of the problem. I think it's perhaps too easily assumed by people involved in chess politics that both issues and the people are familiar to chessplayers in general: in my experience this is not at all so. And I wonder whether the whole "where do we go from here?" debate has been sufficiently thrashed out in the public eye, in the chess magazines and indeed the chess blogs. As it is, it's too easy for people to think and say that such-and-such a change is just going to cost them money, or entail an unnecessary obligation, because the case hasn't been explained to them, or if it has, only at second-hand by those who are opposed to it. (Of course, I write this at distance, and it may be that I'm quite wrong about this.)

Anyway, as I say, regardless of the rights and wrongs I am sorry to see you and the others go.

Anonymous said...

In preparing for the meeting, the Board had unanimously agreed to broach the subject of a compulsory membership scheme. It later transpired that some Board members were more committed to this idea than others.

This is a bit odd. it's been my perception that the BCF/ECF has been trying to move by stealth towards a compulsory membership scheme for a number of years. It probably started when they chose not to ask FIDE to recognise game fee payment as equivalent to "membership of a national federation" for inclusion on the international rating list. Taking this further, they also chose to interpret "membership" in the narrow English legal and commercial sense as meaning shareholder with the result that you have to sign up for a pound of the ECF's debts to become a member. Perhaps this was an indication of a divided board - introduce an additional hurdle to make a compulsory membership more difficult to achieve.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure about the ins and outs of this issue, haven't read into it enough. It was nice though to get long, direct responses from some of the main players so to speak. Thanks for that.
I would agree with Richard though that I don't think the picture is as bad as made out. In the past I have been critical of the many people (its a lot more than you may think- they tend to keep quiet about it incase someone tries to steal their "patch") who are making a living out of teaching juniors chess, as I just didn't see any evidence of strong juniors coming through in tournaments I was playing in. I must say now that I sense that is changing. The Surrey Congress was awash with juniors doing really well ( GM and IM scalps were taken). Maybe it is still possible that a second English chess explosion could occur. I still think though that it shouldn't be solely focussed on juniors. Adults should also be given opportunities to "better" themselves. London wise an annual Lloyds Bank style Open tournament and a central venue where you could go along on almost any day/evening and get some good chess (be it blitz or a semi-formal tournament)would be a great blessing.
Andrew

Peter said...

Just to follow up on a few of the above comments …

I think ejh is absolutely right on the need for a debate. At the Council meeting on Saturday, Martin Regan attempted to start the “What is the ECF for?” discussion. Alas, we were not able to move past the technicalities of the membership vs. game fee debate.

At the moment the ECF has a Business Plan document (it is posted somewhere on the ECF web site). It is an 18 page shopping list of activities the ECF wishes to undertake. In its dreams. This program is utterly unrealistic given the current operating budget and number of people working in the ECF. Indeed, I suspect many of these items would be best tackled outside the organisation.

There needs to be some prioritisation.

My own view is that the absolute #1 priority should be to get more people (irrespective of age) to play chess. Every new initiative the Federation undertakes should be with a view to this. The ECF will know that it’s starting to succeed when it has 10,000 members. It should plough a significant % of its revenue (50%, say) into marketing (in the very broadest sense). It must achieve the virtuous circle of: more members = more revenue = more chess activities = more members. If we have more members we can drive the membership fees down.

But, look this is just one viewpoint. It’s a debate that needs having.

To anonymous – yes, I believe that the ECF has been trying to move to a compulsory membership scheme for a few years now. It should be open about this. Folks are not dumb.

To Richard and Andrew – yes, I think we have been fortunate in having a relatively large crop of talented youngish players. At least on the men’s side. I’m thinking of the generation born in the 80s. But we’ve also had a couple of world class players who now no longer play, which may not have happened if we had a healthier chess scene.

Peter

ejh said...

My own view is that the absolute #1 priority should be to get more people (irrespective of age) to play chess.

This is my view entirely. I mean entirely, I think - it can't great world champions or candidates and there's honestly not a lot the ECF can do about the fact that whenever a Luke McShane comes along somebody's likely to offer them a job that's a great deal more reliable and lucrative than playing chess. But it can ask - "how do we make more chessplayers?" Answers will differ, but that's no problem, that's a good thing. And at least asking the question will have the virtue of raising the real problems involved - and looking for solutions to them, rather than imagining we can wave a magic wand called Finding Sponsorship.

Anonymous said...

Martin Regan attempted to start the “What is the ECF for?” discussion.

What is the point of such a debate? It's a national chess federation,so it has a specialist function alongside the 150 other national federations. That more or less defines what it should do or enable. There's room at the edges for functions to be inside or outside the ECF as long as they happen. In the USA the chess federation runs a magazine and sells books and equipment. In the UK we leave that to commercial suppliers like the BCM and Chess & Bridge. In Germany, the chess federation runs the national league. In the UK, that's run by the 4NCL.

My own view is that the absolute #1 priority should be to get more people (irrespective of age) to play chess.

Many people would agree with you. Opponents of compulsory membership would consider that such a scheme has exactly the opposite effect. At the moment there are tournaments a new player can enter at a cost of £10 to £15. If you add an extra £20 on top of that and require additional form filling to join the ECF, why doesn't this have the effect of discouraging newcomers?

ejh said...

What is the point of such a debate?

Surely there's always a point to such a debate? It's an organisation representing chessplayers and promoting chess, therefore chessplayers always have an interest in asking what it should do.

(Note - it would be helpful if anonymous comments were signed with a name. It doesn't have to be a real name, just a consistent one, but it helps identify one anonymous contributor from another! Thanks.)

Anonymous said...

Things are moving fast with the ECF and Directors resigning, but it is excellent that this site has generated such an informed discussion. A couple of thoughts to throw into the mix.
Firstly, I think some of the directors who resigned were doing an excellent job - take a look, for example, at the England Team that competed at the 4 Nations tournament in Norway. Never in my memory have England played such a forward looking young team and this is sure to provide inevaluable experience for future success.
The question then is why did they resign? I think the debate revolves around the future financing of the ECF. In short, some of us recognise that Game Fee does not work in the long term. Congress organisers are unpaid tax collectors and in difficult years there is a huge incentive for them to opt out of the system (inevitably leading to increases to game fee to maintain revenues causing further stresses on the system).
What is required is a compulsory membership scheme. In the past, I have been a member of the French chess Federation, the US Chess Federation, the Irish Chess Federation and the Scottish Chess Federation. However, there is no requirement for me to be a member of my own federation and indeed I choose not to be.
However, I feel Peter (Sowray) is incorrect to say that there a North South divide on this one. Northern Counties (in general) support a membership scheme because they want it pitched at an unrealistically low level. A properly financed scheme needs to start at a minimum of £20.
Why can't other people see this? I suggest you take a look at the ECF board (what is left of it!) Amazingly very few are involved in chess, of course there are exceptions, but most enjoy meetings and the trawling through minutes rather than organising chess.
You may also notice something interseting on the ECF website, it used to say that the ECF had secured cheap accomodation for the British. This has now being changed to say negotiations on accomodation have broken down. This will have a major effect on competitors, but notice how the announcement is (I'm sure by accident) hidden away.
It is clear that the ECF is in a dire situation, but I continually hope that people will see the light, but perhaps we need more resignations!

GM anon

Ed said...

The directors who resigned seem to be good people, but I'm afraid the specific policies they were trying to implement are poor. Compulsory membership and "one member one vote" are the way things are done in the US Chess Federation, and you should take it as an axiom that anything that makes your federation more like the USCF is a bad idea.

Compulsory membership greatly inhibits people from playing organized chess. Only the hard-core players will shell out anything like USD 40/GBP 20; casual players finding that they have to pay this on top of tournament entry fees simply walk away.

There is almost no league chess in the US. The only team leagues I know of are in New York and Pittsburgh (and the new US Chess League which is played over the internet). Significantly, none of the existing leagues has anything to do with the USCF. If ECF introduces compulsory membership, I think the best you can hope for is that your leagues will quit the ECF; the ones that don't will mostly fold within a few years as players walk away from the big membership fee.

"One member, one vote" sounds like a great idea, but in the five or so years since it was introduced in the USCF, the members have chosen to to elect: a convicted felon; a tournament director who was found to have made up fictitious events to increase his rating; a man who had been permanently barred from
the US securities industry; and a fellow with a largely unsubstantiated CV who is accused of posting thousands of scurrilous and obscene messages on the chess newsgroups, forged under another person's name. Seriously, we were better off with an oligarchy.

(If it's not clear from the above, I'm an American, and therefore stuck with the USCF's policies. Save yourselves before it's too late!)

ejh said...

Compulsory membership greatly inhibits people from playing organized chess.

Well, it depends. In order to play league chess in Aragón I have to be a member of FADA - in fact, arriving just too late in the year to register, I had to wait almost a whole year before I could actually play. But this doesn't, in fact, inhibit people from playing - there are far more chessplayers per capita in Aragón than there are in England - perhaps because it's free. But, as per earlier contributions on this thread, it's free because it can be free, because the money comes from somewhere else.

It's a real problem for chess people in the UK and North America, as it may one day be for chess people in Western Europe if their economies and social values come much closer to the Anglo-American model. How do you raise the money to finance chess, if to try and charge for it deters people from playing? I don't have an answer to that.

Anonymous said...

The Chess Federation of Canada went through this process in 1973. It went from being an organization with a nominal per capita fee collected through clubs, plus a rating fee, run entirely by volunteers, to one with a membership fee (compulsory to play in rated tournaments), a magazine, book and equipment sales, and contracted-out office staff. In 1975, I became the CFC (that's Canada, not Chelsea)'s first full-time Business Manager. The model worked well for decades. The CFC went from being worth about $800 to say $200,000, but in the last couple of years went into a nosedive. At ChessTalk, one of the suggestions to reorganize the CFC has been to scrap the membership fee, going only to a rating (grading) fee. That will elicit a Mona Lisa smile in anybody's girlfriend, if she's had the fortitude to read this far.

I will say that in 1973, the matter of a membership fee was sent to Kalev Pugi, a member of the Executive (equivalent to the ECF's Board), who over the course of months compiled a report which outlined the possibilities and benefits, but which frankly speaking was a promotional document. The report was mailed out to the Governors (equivalent to the members of the Coucil of the ECF, I'm guessing) for their feedback, and you can be sure that every one of those Governors was approached either by phone or in person by Mr. Pugi or a like-minded individual. After discussion, the matter went to a vote, and of course with the groundwork so well laid, the proposal passed with colours flying.

Incidentally, I was surprised by the implication that membership with ECF gradings would be 20 quid, but with FIDE Elo ratings only 5 quid. There's something missing from that equation.

Jonathan Berry

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, I was surprised by the implication that membership with ECF gradings would be 20 quid, but with FIDE Elo ratings only 5 quid. There's something missing from that equation.

That's just evidence that the proposal wasn't thought through. The existing ECF gradings are mostly done through volunteers at minimal net cost. There's some income from sale of printed grading lists - but not much since the website was developed. Elsewhere the manager of grading has commented that the net expenditure shown in the accounts is actually the FIDE fees for the existing rated tournaments.

Much of English chess is played with time limits of less than 4 hours for the game, so it wouldn't be eligible for FIDE rating.You'd hope the board knew these things!

RdC

Anonymous said...

Well, it depends. In order to play league chess in Aragón I have to be a member of FADA - in fact, arriving just too late in the year to register, I had to wait almost a whole year before I could actually play.

That must be another of those cultural differences - if you walked into most English clubs with a rating of 2100 you would be offered a game in the next available match, even if it involved travelling to the most distant away venue. You'd probably be offered a place in an NCL team quite rapidly as well. oh and what about the local congress that's coming up.

Still I think that in the south of England, the problem is one of excess capacity. There are plenty of events but not enough bodies to populate them. It might be that in the North, there's excess demand. in other words players would like extra games but there aren't enough events.

It's an explanation of sorts why the south prefers "pay by play" and the north prefers "pay by head".

RdC

Anonymous said...

Please excuse my ignorance, but if:
(a) compulsory membership is the first step on the road to saving English chess;
(b) the stumbling block for compulsory membership is the cost to each individual; and
(c) the ECF has tons of money,
why does the charge have to be so high (£20) - why can't it be done for (say) £5 each?

Ali Ocken

ejh said...

I think the status of the ECF's "tons of money" is actually disputed...