Friday, October 01, 2010

Love of money will tear us apart again

I nearly laughed out loud when I heard Karpov had been thrashed: the only thing that stopped me was the fact that it was Kirsan who had thrashed him. I did, however, laugh when I read Chessbase saying dolefully:
Karpov's votes came mainly from European countries.
Well, stone me. How surprised are we supposed to be? I mean, given that Karpov and his chums couldn't have made it much more clear that only Europe matters if they'd actually made it their campaign slogan.

So, the least trustworthy gang in contemporary chess were able to defeat the second- least trustworthy. I suppose that in some kind of parallel chess universe - and not one in which the game has been devised by aliens - it would be possibly to reflect thoughtfully on the reasons for the defeat, notably that the mistakes of the Bessel Kok campaign were treated as if they were virtues.

But that universe would not be very parallel to this one. Loud were the shouts of anguish and louder still the cries of incomprehension, which were not all that surprising given the widespread absence of critical thought that had accompanied coverage of the defeated campaign on its way to its inevitable defeat. And sure, if your candidate is perfect and your campaign the best that can be imagined, what other reasons for defeat can there be, other than skulduggery and injustice?

Loudest still, perhaps have been the shouts for secession from FIDE, from more than one party, in the days after the defeat. I have seen something like this coming for some time (hence my remarks, in the piece linked to above, regarding Kasparov's sudden closeness to Carlsen) and they are the logic of the rhetoric of Karpov's supporters. If what matters in chess is only the top players and the European countries, why not break away? Kirsan would provide the perfect excuse. No more costly Olympiads, no more tiresome pretence that we care about chess development beyond its European (and no doubt North American) frontiers, no more catering for Harry Golombek's polar bears and penguins. Though not all penguins would be excluded.

It would be a stupid and a venal move, something which, in itself, is unlikely to deny it a hearing. One imagines that the election of comedy-villain Silvio Danailov as ECU President may militate against Europe speaking with a single mind, which is something at least to be grateful for. Though then again if he were to be in favour he would no doubt be presented in a completely different light in the Oceania-has-always-been-at-war-with-Eurasia style of which Anatoly Karpov was the most recent beneficiary. We'll know when he starts appearing on platforms with Garry Kasparov. Or Nigel Short.

Of course it isn't easy to beat a crook and a buffoon in an election, otherwise Italy would have a different leader to the one it's got. But it would disgust me if people were seriously to entertain the idea of a breakaway from FIDE in which we divided the world into a mostly European elite on one hand and an Asian, African and South American under-people on the other. There is nothing about that which appeals to me: and the genuine motivation behind it wouldn't be a concern for democracy or good governance, but a desire to corner the market in high-profile and profitable chess events. The truth is that for some people at least, it's a business feud. The questions of ethics are a sideshow.

Who would that chess world be all about? If Simpson's-in-the-Strand is any guide, it would be about hedge fund managers, tax exiles, celebs, chancers, cronies and Carol Vorderman. To be honest I'd just as rather take my chances with Kirsan. And I would much rather take my chances with Kirsan if the alternative involved fracturing the world of chess again and delivering this half of it into the hands of the charmless bunch who stood against him. Because there are cronies and bastards on both sides of the fence. Looking at some of Karpov's loudest British supporters, that much is obvious.

There is, I suppose, another way. When Mark Crowther writes:
players need to start being active in their own national associations and replacing the FIDE delegates that voted for Ilyumzhinov
I can't, I don't think, claim he means exactly what I would mean by it. But I would mean having something to say to the people who were being asked to replace the people who are Kirsan's placemen. And by definition, these would be very largely people outside Europe and North America. And again by definition, this would mean finding out what they wanted and needed from chess. But what, in fact, people have normally been saying about people outside Europe and North America is that these people have no value. They don't count.

That would be a better idea. Better than Barry Martin and Carol Vorderman. It would be good. Of course it would be good. Of course, because it would be good, it isn't going to happen. That's a parallel universe. That's not the world of chess.


Mark Crowther said...

After the last elections for FIDE I didn't write anything about the organisation for such a long time. I was extremely sceptical about the Karpov campaign.

A few months ago Malcolm Pein needed an article for his Chess Magazine and he twisted my arm as I really didn't want to do it, mostly because they take me forever to write.

We agreed it would be something on the FIDE elections and off I toddled. The upshot was after three days of research (I'm talking extremely full days) I had an article that was hugely out of control on length, and only the start was written in something like English. What I did discover is that it was amazingly easy these days to read articles in Russian via google translate. And what a resource of new material to my eyes there was. Well the first article was on the 1994 Moscow election and the controversial nomination process by the Russian Chess Federation of their Presidential Candidate. Sadly for me I finished on the sentence the "case against Kirsan" and so I had to go and write that as well.

I then spent three weeks researching Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. What I used as a starting point was an Australian video interview with Kirsan in 1997 and an Al-Jezera interview about 10 years later and I listened not to the commentary, but to what Ilyumzhinov actually said. I then went away and tried to verify what he said. I came to the conclusion pretty soon that what you think you know about Kirsan mostly comes from his own mouth and where accounts exist, they mostly flatly contradict what he says.

One can go to some very wild places on the internet but when one of the very biggest portals in Russia has a page on Kirsan which feels that the first para should end [he has ...] "repeatedly been accused of numerous financial improprieties and violations of federal law, but [has] never [been] brought to justice." then you get the idea.

So yes, I believe people who are voting in the FIDE elections had a duty to look at Kirsan's background and I defy anyone to tell me how this man is electable. The above page doesn't contain the most damaging material and again has a number of key facts that were in fact sourced direct from his mouth. For instance I don't believe Kirsan was so very rich when he became FIDE President, a very specific article suggests he borrowed the money to buy Kasparov's trophy, a gesture that gave him a media profile and allowed him to claim to be rich.

The main reason to vote in Karpov this time was simply to put an end to the rule. Give Karpov four years and see what happens. At least it would break the cycle which now looks like it will last at least another 8 years, I don't believe anyone will have the money to try again in 4.

I would simply question the competence of those who voted for him to be delegates. Unseating Kirsan is going to be a difficult task. One thing that emerged during the elections was that there are about 20-30 Federations who pretty much exist on paper as proxy votes. That's a big part of the margin.

So its back to reporting on chess which I enjoy so much more. I get ulcers just thinking about this stuff.

ejh said...

Mark -

Thanks very much for for all of that and my apologies for not repaying sooner - once the school term gets started I tend to be away from the computer, sometimes all day and sometimes for days at a time.

What you say about chess at the end - I've said many times, as somebody who used to write about football long before I ever wrote about chess, that basically, whatever your views and outlook, if you were writing about football it was because you were interested in watching these people trying to kick a ball into a goal. And then, pretty much all of a sudden, you had to know about accountancy and civil liberties issues and all sorts of things. Everything I know about Creditors' Voluntary Arrangements, I learned from football, and I wish I hadn't.

It's interesting what you write about Kirsan. He wouldn't be the first person in sporting history - or recent Russian history - to make a lot of claims about his wealth in order to get to a position where those claims actually became true. Of course people should have voted him out, regarding which this, too, is highly interesting:

One thing that emerged during the elections was that there are about 20-30 Federations who pretty much exist on paper as proxy votes.

For sure. But this is where it think the interesting thing would be to find chessplayers who live in the places where these paper Federations exist and ask them what they know, and what they feel about it. This can't be so hard for somebody to do - provided they're actually interested in those people, which a lot of Karpov-followers manifestly are not. That would be a good starting point.

But of course, if we have a problem with chess federations which pretty much exist on paper....then there's certain people who aren't in a position to complain about that.

Jack Rudd said...

Here's my idea (which, not coincidentally, has some ideas in it taken from another one of my interests - that of voting theory). The way to defeat Kirsan is to field more than one opponent.

Chasing the European vote, you have your Kok/Karpov "only Europe matters" figure. And then you have someone who enters the race with the express aim of hitting Kirsan in his heartlands. Get someone to do a lot of stuff to build the game up in Africa, say. Do it well, so he becomes a big name there - and then have him stand for FIDE President.

I don't know whether it will work, but it's certainly an approach that would, if nothing else, raise the profile of the game in the region you targeted.