I was a little shocked to learn, last week, that the English Chess Federation, of which I am a member, was taking legal action against the President of FIDE.
A little shocked, if such be possible. I mean not shocked in the way that Oedipus was shocked when he found out who his girlfriend really was. But not shocked, either, in the sense that Captain Renault was when he found out that gambling was going on at Rick's. Not hugely shocked, nor not really shocked at all. Nor even shocked in the sense of "outraged", since Kirsan's the sort of guy that somebody really ought to sue. No, I was just a little shocked because nobody had bothered to tell us. Even though the ECF had just had an AGM and all.
Yes, somehow the information that we were taking the chess world's most powerful figure to court was not considered quite important enough to tell the membership about it: not even the FIDE Delegate, one Nigel Short, was able to find space in his report to mention this frippery. Indeed, it didn't come to light until occasional comments box visitor Roger De Coverley looked closely at the FIDE President's report to the last Congress and then started a thread on the English Chess Forum asking about it.
All I've done is read the thread, and I have no more information about the business than appears (or is speculated on) there, but if I understand what is happening, which is a sizeable if - though if the ECF had been forthcoming about the case, it's be a smaller one - the basis of the case is as follows:
- The case revolves around the appointment of extra FIDE Vice-Presidents, which, it is alleged, is unconstitutional
- It is being paid for by Garry Kasparov - or so it is suggested, and at any rate will not, it is claimed, cost (or risk) the ECF a penny
- Kasparov (or whoever it may be) is not able to take the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne because the complainant needs to be a federation affiliated to FIDE, and hence, presumably via Nigel Short and/or CJ de Mooi, it's been agreed that the ECF should do it.
That's pretty well as much detail as I reckon I know, insofar as I reckon I know it, and to me it's a damned sight less than I ought to know. There really is no good reason I can think of for keeping this quiet. I mean I don't even know whether I object or not: that's not the point. I don't particularly have a view on the merits of the case either. I just object to not being told.
Now I haven't got time to engage in an extended polemic on the reasons why I think we ought to be told about stuff like this. I think it's obvious enough. More than obvious enough.
Ever read the ECF's Memorandum and Articles? It's not an exciting document, nor a short one. Nevertheless I wonder if it could do with a short addition, making a statement about its identity. Something like:
The English Chess Federation is an independent body which is accountable to its members.
This ought to be a statement of the obvious, but apparently is not. Especially the part about accountability to its members: we should have the right to know what's going on, and in principle, at least, there is nothing that should be kept from us. (And in practice, absolutely as little as possible.) But the part about "independence" is also of value. It's nobody else's organisation to pick up and manipulate as they please. Not Garry Kasparov's, not CJ de Mooi's, not Kirsan Ilyumzhinov's.
If these principles were recognised, and respected, certain things that do not happen now, would be more likely to happen, and certain things that do happen, would be more likely not to. In particular:
- the ECF would not be used on the quiet by private individuals to pursue their own legal and political battles
- the ECF President would not use the ECF's official title, email and website and then claim he is operating his own private events
- the financial organisation of the British Championship would not be quite so opaque to its members
- British Championship organisers would not find their tournament being opened by a speaker who they had not invited and of whose invitation they knew nothing
- the ECF would not find themselves manoeuvred into working with, and endorsing, an individual who is not even an ECF member because he owes them a sum of money.
These things are of course of varying degrees of seriousness: but they all display, in some degree, one or more of the themes of opacity, unaccountability, and the organisation being subservient to the wishes and interests of private individuals. Independence and accountability: these are presently, shall we say, somewhat neglected in the operating culture of the ECF, and I don't believe that an organisation which neglects them is a healthy organisation.
It's one thing that the ECF facilitates a legal action against Kirsan. It's quite another that it doesn't think that's any business of the subs-paying members. It's one thing that CJ de Mooi can't distinguish his private from his official role: it's quite another that he's indulged. Who is the ECF for? It's not for Garry Kasparov or CJ de Mooi or Ray Keene. It's for us, the members. It would be appreciated if it would act as if the members were its authority and its priority. Independent in our interests, and accountable to us.