Friday, June 22, 2012

Keeping things vague

This is bits and pieces, really. Like my colleague Jonathan last week, I was thinking of writing about the barring of arbiters from unfavoured Federations from the upcoming Olympiad in Turkey. But it never quite happened, partly because where-to-start turned out to be an unanswerable question, partly because the basic issue is one of such patent unfairness that I wasn't sure it was worth writing a long piece in order to make a short point.

So here is that short point: the barring of the arbiters is a lousy and indefensible act of petty bullying which should simply and immediately be reversed. Thank you.

A petty bully

Then there's the question of the legal action against FIDE which prompted the aforesaid act of petty bullying. In particular the following passage, which has prompted a certain amount of discussion:
Sources close to the ECF Presidency have told me that there were legitimate legal concerns at that time, regarding the attitude of the court to the funding of the case. Broadly, the plaintiffs' financial risk is being borne by Garry Kasparov (or persons connected with him - the full details are not publicly available). At the time of the ECF's AGM last October, nobody was sure how the CAS would react to this fact, and it was decided that, as a matter of elementary legal tactics, the plaintiffs should not go out of their way to publicise the situation, and thereby hand their opponents a potential legal technicality, on the basis of which to try to get the case dismissed. Legal advice was also obtained, regarding the quality and reliability of the financial guarantees, and on that basis, it was decided not to disclose details of the case to the ECF AGM in October.
Maybe. But it's one of those passages that, the more you read, the less sure you are what exactly it means. Who "obtained" the "legal advice"? We can't tell. What "basis" did that establish? It's not clear. How did that lead to a conclusion not to disclose? It's not explained. "Nobody was sure" refers to what group of people? We're not told. It's impossible to tell. It's hard enough even to guess.

Especially so, because in the course of a long discussion in the course of which, several ECF officials discussed this claim, several have said that they knew nothing of any of this. Conversely, nobody, within or without the ECF, has stepped forward to say that they were party to this information.

So the whole thing could be made up, for all we know. On which point I am generally agnostic (though, for what it's worth, if anybody is making it up I don't think it's the blogger). But the whole situation is, it should (but does not) go without saying, utterly unsatisfactory. The decision of an organisation to engage in legal action is, even on this sympathetic account, hidden from the organisation's members, after a discussion between persons unknown, due to legal advice the provenance and content of which is also unknown, with the ultimate funding of this action - "persons connected" - once again unknown.

Recall was not in fact total

Really. You cannot muck people about in this way and then tell them to like it. If you want people to sign up to a war against Kirsan - which might in itself be a very good thing - then you can't expect it to be your own private war and none of their business. So, if anybody had, in fact, received advice that they should keep schtum rather than keep ECF members informed, their response should clearly have been "sorry, but we proceed when the members know what's happening, and not before". Because otherwise, what's occurring is something that could be called deceit.

Still, unless and until somebody tells us that they were party to this small conspiracy - until we know that it actually existed in the form described - it is difficult to say much more.

On some occasions though it is better to keep silent

Tallking of saying much more, I'd also thought of commenting on Nigel Short's curious behaviour on that long English Chess Forum discussion, linked to above (the mysterious legal discussion is but one small part of it) in which he inadvertently demonstrates why he is not more popular than he is. But you may read it all yourself. Should you wish. Or you may have better things to to do. You may prefer to enjoy the football, or the weekend. I merely observe, I do not recommend.

But let's give Nigel one go at least. Among the salvoes he launched was this:

As ever, click to enlarge

It's that where-to-start problem again. "I will answer to ECF members", says the chap who failed to inform one ECF meeting and failed to attend the next. "Foreign stooge", says - well, if we are to talk about stooges, who is the stooge here? The ECF is a plaintiff in a legal action, hidden from its members, organised by Nigel Short. Does this make us the stooge, and Nigel's stooge in particular?

Then again, Nigel in his turn appears to be operating on behalf of Garry Kasparov. So is Nigel Kasparov's stooge? But Kasparov appears to be getting his money from somebody else. Is he their stooge? Come to that, is Ali Nihat Yazici a stooge for Kirsan?

Can you think of more than three?

You could probably make a case for any, all or none of the above. (I'd go for the first and last at least.) But, you know, stooges - what's new? Stooges, gofers, puppets, both open and otherwise, are not exactly unknown in the chess world. Even that part of it which has the Queen's head on their stamps. I mean even without asking whether every chess column in the country is always written by the person whose name appears on it, one thinks of CJ, who couldn't be more obviously a puppet if he tied strings to his limbs and had Ray Keene pull on them.

Thinking about it, I wonder whether that's why the player-sponsorship arrangements for the last British Championships were so opaque (which in turn, is partly why there was such a fiasco). Nobody knew where the money was going to, and nobody knew for sure where it came from. Which is how and why things go wrong, but that's not the point for today: the point for today is that

  • both CJ and Ray wanted to take credit for it
  • both wanted the other to be able to take credit for it too.

You can't pull that kind of trick without keeping things extremely vague. Come to that, you can't really pull that trick unless one of you does glove and the other one does waving around.

The choice is between opacity, which is the way most things in chess happen, and transparency, which is the way they should happen. Personally I reckon it would help if people remembered who they were working for and hence who they needed to keep informed. Then again, they may consider that they're working for themselves. Or for somebody else. Or they may consider that we are working for them.

What's that up my back, Sweep? Is it somebody's hand? Is it Sooty?

Bye bye everybody! Bye bye!

[Nigel image: Chessvibes]

[Nigel Short index]

[CJ index]
[Ray Keene index]


Anonymous said...

If you wanted to be charitable to the ECF directors, it's possible they had a strategy in the October meeting to only disclose the ECF's involvement in the CAS action if someone asked the direct question. Nigel did disclose that he would be an observer in a case about Vice Presidents, which might have prompted such a question.

They followed the same strategy in April, only naming the backer when asked in the meeting.

ejh said...

I might (or might not) be inclined to be charitable if anybody would actually say that this is what happened. But we don't know. We very rarely do.

(Next week, hopefully, some chess.)

Jack Rudd said...

I was one of the Board members who voted in favour of the aforementioned legal action (with the caveat that we not expose the federation to financial risk by doing so). By the time of the October meeting, the decision in question had long since faded from my mind (not least because of certain other business involving the President), and that nobody had mentioned it didn't even cross my mind.

If I had the decision again? I'd probably still vote in favour, but I'd insist we tell Council at some point.

AngusF said...


Isn't taking FIDE to court over the appointment of extra Vice Presidents very far removed from the normal business of the ECF? How does it help English chess and how does it fit with the objects of the ECF as stated in its Memorandum of Association? Do you understand your role as a Non-Executive Director of a limited company?

Angus French