Sunday, September 07, 2014

The flipside of Dominic Lawson V

It's possible that on reading yesterday's piece your reaction was something along the lines of "look, this is all very deplorable but it was thirty years ago - surely everybody has skeletons to hide if we go back long enough?"

Well yes, of course. I'm sure we all do. (Though if you don't want your errors from way back when to be taken into consideration, you shouldn't be invoking the Eighties in your candidate statement, should you?) However, this isn't so much a question of what happened thirty years ago as what has happened over a thirty-year period, running up to today.

Keene and Lawson's cut-and-paste book, complete with Lawson's racist stereotyping, was thirty years ago, for sure. But it was rather less than that when Lawson decided a good man to work with would be a man accused of defrauding British chessplayers. It was rather less than that when he ran Nigel Short's obnoxious obituary. And it was just this summer when he wrote his vicious piece in the Mail and complained in the Sunday Times that teenage girls were dressing like harlots.

Moreover, there's another way to look at it, which is that Dominic Lawson has had a long, long time - thirty years and more - to recognise who is a villain in English chess. Yet the obvious has apparently eluded him.

So once again we find ourselves talking about Ray Keene. Why? (Or as they say in the Mail, why oh why?)

It shouldn't be necessary, after such a long career of thieving, cheating, dishonesty, mediocrity and misconduct, to say that Keene is a man who should be avoided. But one of the maddening things about English chess is that it is necessary, even now. There are still plenty of people about, some of them in positions of trust and responsibility, who think that an appropriate way to deal with Ray Keene is to say he's never done them any harm and to pretend they don't really know very much about his track record. (If only this were an isolated example. Or this. Unfortunately, they're not.)

So not only does he keep getting away with it, but the same message - KEEP RAY AWAY FROM THE ECF - is almost permanently required.

Now did it occur to anybody within the ECF that when they nominated Dominic Lawson as our prospective President, a long-term association with Ray Keene was something about which they should be concerned? I mean it's obvious to everyone, everyone can see it, so did they see it themselves? Did they ask about it? Did anybody even ask Lawson about his most notorious acquaintance in chess? Did they understand that being a properly-run organisation means your representatives having nothing to do with spivs and cheats?

Doing the right thing doesn't start and finish with opposing Kirsan, does it? It means doing it yourself, too, in practice.

It's all very well picking somebody who's well-connected, but it matters who they're well-connected to. (And you know, people being well-connected can be half the problem, because of the mutual back-scratching and making-sure-your-mates-are-all-right which can follow.)

I have, as this series will have demonstrated, a lot of objections to Dominic Lawson which aren't actually connected to his acquaintance with Ray Keene. I have no idea why senior figures at the ECF saw fit to nominate so divisive a figure, unless they either didn't care how divisive he would be - or, more likely, didn't even notice. But divisive is exactly what he will be.

I also object to the way his nomination has been fixed, with essentially no time or opportunity allowed for a challenge to be made. I have no doubt that this outcome was deliberately engineered. If you unveil a surprise nomination just hours before the deadline for other nominations then what you are doing is trying to avoid a context and avoid meaningful discussion. Simple as that.

But on top of that, what bothers me is this. Let us suppose that Lawson becomes President. Among his roles will be seeing if he can raise the profile of chess and attract more funding. Who does he know with a track record in this department?

Step forward his old friend and colleague Ray Keene.

Having Ray involved in publicity and fundraising - in any capacity - will to all intents and purposes mean that a man with a long record of cheating and theft, and a man who is outside the ECF because of it, has his hands within touching distance of ECF money.

Even if it didn't, it'd mean associating ourselves with the tawdriest and most discredited figure in English chess. That'll be good publicity, won't it? Look at us, everybody! Look at our standard of ethics! Look at how much we really don't care.

But you know it'll happen one way or another. And you can anticipate, already, the weaselly arguments that will be rolled out to justify the ECF - of all organisations - inviting Ray back into the fold. By Lawson's supporters if not by the man himself.

I can feel myself retching already. (Mind you, most of what has happened in the ECF over the past twelve months has nauseated me.)

I began this series with a comparison, provoked by Lawson's Mail column, of football and chess. One of the more tiresome and stupid habits prevalent among the football-watching community is the way in which many of them are prepared to support any old crook provided they think the crook might wave some money around. (Also see: cricket.) The lesson never seems to be learned.

In chess, too, it seems some people never learn. It's one thing to have skeletons in the closet. It's quite another to leave a trail of them wherever you go - and yet people pretend they just don't notice.

Now Dominic Lawson is not actually Ray Keene. A man may be known by the company he keeps, but not, perhaps, condemned for it.

Nevertheless Lawson has had thirty years to know who and what Ray Keene is. Tunis hasn't changed his mind, nor Brain Games, nor apparently the plagiarism scandal (which you'd think would matter to a professional journalist, or for that matter, a professional moralist.) So what chance is there that he's going to notice what a corrupt individual his friend is now?

I'd like him to notice that. On his own time. But not as my President and representative. Thanks very much.

[Ray Keene index]
[Dominic Lawson index]

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