Interview with the FIDE Administrative Manager Polina Tsedenova, one of the organizers of the FIDE Congress in Baku.
Question: Polina, how many years are you in FIDE and how many FIDE Congresses have you organized so far?
Answer: I started officially working for FIDE in 1997 and my first Congress was in Chisinau (Moldova) in September 1997. Of course I very clearly remember that one because we did it with a previous administration jointly. Their experience was very helpful but I`m sure we improved a lot. Since 1997 we had annual Congresses which mean there have been 19 Congresses already.
Q.:It means the FIDE Congress in Baku will be your 20th Congress! How difficult is it to organize such an event?
A.: It is really hard to believe this but indeed. 20 years of work, 20 various venues, various countries, 20 sets of Organisers and volunteers, 20 hotels )). All are well-remembered.
Actually we have clear guidelines which we share with the organizers. We try to do it well in advance. First of all the organizers get pointed with the guidelines, second, they find a proper Congress manager, third, they find the adequate number of volunteers and fine facilities. I usually travel before any Congress for an inspection to see what they propose to us and they cooperate and collaborate in 95% of the guesses let’s say.
We have a General Assembly and we have an Executive Board. Of course it’s much easier to organize an Executive Board meeting because it has fewer people and fewer attendances, fewer logistical issues. But generally speaking FIDE Congress is a very important thing. During these years my feeling, which I expressly say to everyone and always to the organizers, is that it’s undermined. Of course I can understand we cannot compare a Chess Olympiad and a Congress. At the same time considering that the FIDE Statutes say a FIDE General Assembly is the highest body which decides all important issues for the chess world, which actually in all ways have some impact on the life of all chess players and chess officials and everyone who is related to chess, I think the meaning of the of the FIDE Congress is usually undermined among chess players.
Q.:Many people don`t really know how the FIDE Congress is functioning…
A.: Neither chess players nor organizers really understand what kind of event is the Congress and many people mix FIDE Congress and let’s say a General Assembly or an Executive Board. Congress is the general term for the whole globe of the meetings which are under this umbrella. FIDE Congress today consists of several parts: General Assembly, Executive Board, commissions’ meetings, continental meetings and other meetings.
We have 187 national federations’ members of FIDE, who can delegate one person to represent their federation and vote on behalf of a federation and the meeting of these delegates we call a General Assembly. This meeting is organized every two years and it occupies the last three days of the FIDE Congress.
The Congress starts with the meetings of FIDE commissions. FIDE has more than 20 commissions and we separate the meetings during the duration of 4 days from morning till evening. Before the congress these commissions have to have annual meetings, prepare report, prepare documents, which after that they submit for the ratification of the General Assembly. When I started working we used to have a Central Committee of FIDE which was about 50-60 people and it was very bulky and it was not very convenient to have both the central committee meeting and the General Assembly. In 1999 it was decided to abolish it. My first ever job in FIDE was during the Central Committee meeting in Elista 1996 as an interpreter. I was not in FIDE at that time but had to translate the whole meeting because of Kirsan Nikolaevich.
At the moment we have an Executive Board which also occupies one full day and the task of the Executive Board is to go through the whole agenda of the General Assembly and to highlight the most important points not to make the meeting of the General Assembly too long.
For example if the Executive Board says we recommend something to be ratified, sometimes the delegates just take it as it is without any debate and it saves time for all of us (so we can also have time to go and watch the precious games ☺).
Before or after the Executive Board, depending on the time table, we also have Continental Assemblies of all four continents which we have convened in the same venue. After that they also produce the reports for the ratification. We also have affiliated organizations, based on the regional proximity or languages (Francophone federation, IberoAmerican (Spanish-speaking Federations), Mediterranean, Commonwealth). All of these bodies can also request a meeting during the FIDE Congress. The idea is the more meetings we have, the more ideas are produced, the more proposals are on a table, which will be discussed therefore. It makes life more interesting and multifaceted for the chess community.
Q.: What are the common problems which appear in the process of the preparation and organization of FIDE Congresses?
A.: My concern is that we try to put strict deadlines according to the FIDE Statutes but many federations don’t follow the terms. In several federations the administrative problems exist. People don’t read FIDE Statutes, people don`t follow the information we sent them. We send them all the information on the deadlines on the specific dates when they have to provide something. I don`t know why it`s happening, maybe because some federations are relaxed or have lack of the personnel or staff but then we have to deal with it. And then sometimes we have very negative reaction – people scream at you, abuse you verbally but usually it happens during election years or pre-election years. We are trained and in all these years I think I developed very-very thick skin for all these situations but before it was very difficult.
Usually there are some accusations before the elections but we always do our job in the same way as we do for every Congress. We have the same participants, we have the Statutes, we follow the procedures we help the organizers. It’s not our fault what people our fantasizing or imagining. The employers are employers and we don’t have to suffer sometimes. I remember after elections in Khanty-Mansiysk, after the results were announced, several of the delegates who voted against Ilyumzhinov came to me personally and said: “We want to congratulate you personally because we are happy that you don’t lose your job”. This is what I actually appreciate as well as good remarks made in interviews afterwards. Nowadays the atmosphere at the FIDE Congresses is much more relaxed, even during the election years. Before it was very strained, nervous and not very pleasant.
Another problem is the issue of delegates. Sometimes the federations forget they have to change the delegate. The Statutes are very strict now and it says that the delegates have to be published and if they are not published by certain date before the General Assembly they are not considered to be delegates. This creates some extra work sometimes.
When we just started to work and we had a meeting in China, I met one manager of Marriott from a province in China and he said I’m so used to this mentality, so if anybody tells me to organize an event yesterday, I will do it. And this is us, this is a Secretariat. We are very helpful and flexible. Sometimes people complain that I’m very strict and bossy but I think so far we made a very good cooperation with Federations and Commissions and I’m very grateful to all Chairmen and people who work for Commissions. With most of the federations we find an understanding during the Congress, they see that we are there to help and we are there to facilitate their work and they are there to facilitate ours. There are of course some very negative exceptions which actually confirm that the work is being done well. Usually we have very warm recollection after that and very nice examples of cooperation with people.
Q.: I’ve heard of your great memory which some players are just dreaming of. Is it truth that you remember most of the people who participate in the Congress including members of federations and Commissions?
A.: I would say that now my memory became very bad. When I started working we didn’t have that much social networks and I used to remember all the telephones of the Presidential Board members by heart. I didn’t even keep them on my phone, but of course this is very unnecessary thing. I know all people who work in Commissions, who are active in Commissions. The delegates change but if I see a person I try to remember the person and who he represents. The Secretariat is the heart of the Congress and everyone feels good when he/she is greeted by first name or at least by last name and when you know which country they represent. It can be surprising for the new federations or for people who don’t come for the last 20 years in a row, let’s say.
Q.: Which other qualities are helping you in your work?
A.: First of all you have to be very organized yourself. Second you have to be very flexible. Third you have to be open for any challenges, to be ready for any instant solutions or some actions, you should be able to work under stress, under time pressure and you have to be a very good team player.
Q.: How many languages do you speak yourself?
A.: I don’t know why people have the impression I speak many languages. I don’t speak many but I try (☺). I have Russian, I have our native language Kalmyk, I speak English, Greek, I speak French but cannot translate from English or Greek to French. My interpreter background helps me a lot because if I see for example Italian text I can deal with this. But Chinese and Arabic languages – not really or not yet.
Q.: How many people usually work during Congresses?
A.: I’ve been told by the previous administration that usually we asked the organizer to provide help but as FIDE employees we always go there as well, including the Executive Director, me and the colleagues from Athens, Elista and Moscow offices. Sometimes we even recruit foreign employees if they have good experience and we act as a small army (☺). We have very concrete specific tasks which we distribute between ourselves. We interconnect but we don’t overlap each other’s responsibilities.
I`m very glad in connection with Baku that from the first meeting which I had last year there that they really understood what I want and need in terms of the organization. Whatever suggestion and advice I was giving to them I could see the implementation during my next visits. They have maps, visual tools to help each other. We requested not less than 10-15 volunteers and in Baku I was told by the organizers that I will have a team of 22 people which I don’t recall after Elista Congress 1998 where I had many. Two years ago in Tromso there were very difficult Congress and elections. The location was not really good and I had 3,5 volunteers (smiling). I said half because one of the volunteers showed up for 2 days and then disappeared. My philosophy is that I always welcome people, who want to work, to help and I try not to lose them. From all these years I still keep in touch with 1 or 2 people from each of the congresses from 1997. People who work for us as volunteers return sometimes. For example Ulrike, who worked in Dresden 2008, returned in Istanbul 2012 and during this Congress she will be a delegate and she is always eager to come. I have a lot of such cases from Khanty-Mansiysk, from Bled 2002. These people are very valuable first of all for the help they have produced and also I know that they have the qualities and it’s good to have a pool of people, whom to choose if we need help during Congresses.
Q.: How does it look like the daily job of the Secretariat during the Congress and do you have time to sleep?
A.: During these days we usually follow the program of the Congress but it doesn’t actually limit our work. Everybody knows where to find the Secretariat, so whatever help or information you request they will try to provide and try to find a solution. This is usually a very crowded place, very busting with information exchanged, with communication, with people from all kind of backgrounds going back and forth. For example if someone needs to distribute the invitations between the delegates we will help, someone needs to change something in rush and we will do that.
At the same time you always try to come to terms with the reality. If the organizers give you three volunteers you work with three volunteers. If you don`t get an office you go and sit at the lobby of the hotel for one week. If they don`t give you a printer you go and rent it by yourself. If there are no volunteers you ask the waitresses and hotel staff to help you. We have been through many difficulties. The thing is never to lose your cool and the decisions will come. I always tell to everyone that we have to be very transparent, very clear and whoever comes to the secretariat we try to show him – this is what we do, this is how we do it. In general terms if somebody wants to come and work in the Secretariat we allow this because we have nothing to hide.
I’m very happy that in Baku we will have many volunteers, some of them also Spanish speaking, which is important as we didn’t have before. For me Spanish was always as a drawback. In our Secretariat, as we always have Russian, English, Greek, French, German but we didn’t have Spanish.
Q.: Where will the Congress take place?
A.: The organizers have decided to use the Fairmont hotel which was the venue for the World Cup last year. It has very good facilities; I have been there last and this year as well as FIDE officials. I`m sure the organization will be very good because the hotel already knows our needs and our expectations, the organizers are in a good contact with the hotel administration and the conference department of the hotel. The agency for the interpreters, who will work during the General Assembly, has been finalized. During my last visit I have had a meeting with volunteers. The volunteers help in the smooth organization of the meetings. Also, sometimes during the meetings I need to help people to communicate, if for example someone speaks only Russian, Spanish or French.
We also need very good simultaneous interpreters and sometimes you go through personal contacts to find them. I also have one friend Anna-Maria who worked for us in Istanbul in 2012 as Spanish-English interpreter. She has experience with other sports federations but ready to work for us any time because she believes that chess is very interesting to translate. I suggested her for Tromso, she brought her colleagues and I think in Tromso we had a very good team of simultaneous interpretation. I also try to keep an eye on it because it not an easy job to translate the General Assembly and it was a disaster on several General Assemblies.
Q.: How can any chess player take part in the life of the FIDE Congress?
A.: There is of course prejudice among some chess players that FIDE Congresses are boring and all decisions are pre-taken already and known in advance, which is completely not true! Chess players have to go through basics. First of all they have to know which commissions we have, at least those which are useful for them. We have a Qualification Commission, we have an Anti-Cheating Committee, we have Commission of Rules, we have World Championship Commission, Journalists Commission, Women’s Commission. All these have been done for them and not for somebody who comes just once per year. This all about titles, rules, conditions of the top players, anti cheating measures, which unfortunately became part of their life, it’s about Journalists Commission, which tries to solve a problem how to make chess more popular, there are many social projects, social actions. They have to realize that FIDE Congress is open for them. Some people say that they don’t have an accreditation of the Congress participant. For me this is not necessary. If they have Olympiad accreditation this is enough. They can come, participate and express their opinions but many chess players don’t actually give it a try. I would say it works better among women players. Most of women’s former world champions and some top players are very active. I cannot say the same about men.
Q.: How can you describe a FIDE Congress in a few words?
A.: This is the chaos which we are trying to control (☺).
Q.: After your last visit to Baku what are your expectations in respect of the organization of the 2016 FIDE Congress?
A.: I am confident that the 2016 Baku Congress will be a success. Wonderful facilities, a strong team of the Organisers, a well-prepared team of volunteers and great cooperation with FIDE are the indications of this. I really look forward to this event.