Just four months ago we were stepping on the fast train to the future with the election as President of Andrew Paulson, a train nuclear-powered by the energy that shone, apparently, out of Mr Paulson's entrepreneurial arse.
Now that very same arse is being kicked out of office - not by the electorate who put him there but by a small group of conspirators among the ECF Board.
Not that you would have known this in the five days since Saturday 8, when the attempted coup occurred, since none of the parties involved saw fit to inform ECF members about their action. Neither the reasons behind them nor even the fact of the actions having taken place was made public.
Indeed it wasn't until Professor David Robertson took the trouble to post about it, on the English Chess Forum, several days later, that rumours that had circulated about the coup were confirmed, on Thursday, by ECF Chief Executive Phil Ehr.
I mean at least in a real coup you get military music on the radio.
Now given that I am a member of the English Chess Federation, to which organisation I pay a subscription, I take offence at this.
Removing the elected president of a representative body overnight is a serious act. You don't just do it and the members don't even get to know. Don't get to know it happened, don't get to know why.
As far as I'm concerned, this is a statement of the obvious.
Still, it's not the first time, is it? Not the first time - not even the first time recently - that something really serious has happened and nobody bothered to tell us.
Curiously, that episode, like this one, had a dispute involving Nigel Short at its core.
On the previous occasion, it involved a case being carried out in the ECF's name - that's my name, and possibly yours - which ECF members were not allowed to know about, given that the ECF's delegate to FIDE, one Nigel Short, decided not to say it was happening. On this occasion, however, it involved an attempt by Paulson to remove the same Nigel Short as FIDE delegate. which manouevre met with the aforementioned attempt to remove him, Paulson, instead.
What a coincidence.
Now maybe it's just a coincidence. It may be that Nigel's dispute with Paulson was totally irrelevant to the conspirators' attempt to unseat Paulson and that it just so happened that there were competing no confidence motions at the same emergency meeting.
However, as the conspirators haven't bothered to make any public statement of their purpose in carrying out such a drastic step, I'm not in a position to evaluate their actual reasons*. I can, however, say that Nigel's dissatisfaction with Paulson was public and loud, whereas no other complaints against Paulson had been made in any public forum of which I am aware.
OK. It may be that they didn't want to make their complaints in public in case it was felt to be disruptive to the smooth running of the organisation, an argument I can respect.
However, if your priority was the smooth running of the organisation, you wouldn't plunge that organisation into a bloody great crisis by trying to organise a coup, would you?
Course you wouldn't. I mean either the grievances are important enough to raise openly, or they're not important enough to unseat the president over.(Or you could, you know, resign. It's less disruptive.)
So, for the while, I'm going to assume that FIDE politics are more than likely the real source of this particular conflict. Regardless of any other reasons, grievances or problems, serious or otherwise, the conspirators may have had.
And nobody's got any business unseating ECF Presidents over FIDE politics. Because FIDE politics aren't what the ECF is for.
The ECF is there to help organise and promote chess in England. It has a vote in FIDE politics. But that's a very minor facet of its existence. Secret legal cases shouldn't be carried out in the ECF's name because of FIDE politics. And neither FIDE delegates nor ECF presidents should be removed mid-term, or threatened with removal, because of FIDE politics. Not even openly. Let alone like this.
Now I think Andrew Paulson is a clown and a bully, and one, moreover, whose word is not to be believed. I think it was stupid to elect him President. But other people thought otherwise, and that at least has to be respected.
Because we're not talking about an irreparable dispute between board members at a wholly private company. We're talking about the elected leader of a representative body with subs-paying members. If you respect, at all, the decisions or opinions of these people, you don't behave like this.
Now I appreciate that both sides, not just the conspirators, kept quiet in the first few days after the vote. Conceivably it was agreed to do so. (Not that I can know, what with nobody having said so or anything.) As far as I'm concerned that would just make both sides equally guilty, a common theme in contemporary chess politics.
I also appreciate - as I've said above - that this sort of thing has happened before. So in a sense, however abnormal it ought to be, it's not so abnormal in the ECF, where there has normally been a preference for providing a minimum of information and keeping things confidential. It's cultural as much as personal. The normal way of doing business in the ECF has been - speaking generally - to work like a company, with a policy of confidentiality at board level, and to say that if members don't like this, then they can makes their voices heard at election time. That is, if you like, the organisational culture.
Trouble is, in the first place, if that election time no longer means anything, then what then? What now?
Trouble also is, in the second place, that this culture is the problem, because it has led some people to believe that the ECF can be their personal plaything. That the members are no more than a rubber stamp. That once the members have been consulted once a year (in what is very far from an ideal fashion, democratically speaking) then that's as far as it needs to go and people who wish to do so can play whatever factional and political games they want.
That's how, and why, you end up with secret CAS cases, with CJ de Mooi using the ECF as his personal networking project, with attempts to remove the president that you and I don't apparently need to know about. That's the system and that's the culture. Both system and culture need to change. Because they're not working very well, are they?
But that's as generous as I'm prepared to be. It's the organisational culture - up to a point. But at the same time, just about everybody involved, including the president (perhaps especially the president) has behaved in a way that brings them personally as well as the organisation into disrepute.
It may be I'm being terribly unfair. It may be I'm leaving out all sort of things that I don't happen to know about. Well, if I don't happen to know about them, why would that be, eh?
If any Board members don't like my interpretation of events (and if they reckon it's not to do with FIDE politics, somebody really needs to tell Nigel Short, who is behaving otherwise) then they should have given me their own interpretation. Preferably before they acted and certainly immediately they had done so. But they didn't.
So I don't trust anybody involved. And if I don't trust anybody involved, it may because nobody involved is to be trusted.
Two years ago, I wrote:
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.Since then, nothing, apparently, has changed. It damned well ought to have done, but it hasn't. The ECF is still a plaything for FIDE factions and it is apprently organised, not on the principle of the authority of its members, but instead, by coups.
The ECF should be independent and accountable, and it is neither.
[* I'm aware that the draft minutes of the meeting are available. But absent any commentary from the conspirators themselves, I'm not in a position to take those minutes as a full statement of their motives, let alone accept those motives in good faith.]
[Andrew Paulson index]
[Nigel Short index]