Why Ilyumzhinov Won
By David Levy

There is a wise old American saying: “You can’t fight City Hall”. In the case of FIDE it was tried in 1986 and failed. It was tried in 2006 and failed. It has been tried in 2010 and failed. Perhaps, some day, those idealists in the chess world who wish for regime change will learn.

Ilyumzhinov has given and continues to give huge amounts of financial support to chess, some $50 million by his own estimate since he first took office in 1995, and this makes him a very hard man to beat in a FIDE election. Despite this he certainly has his detractors, especially amongst professional players. But even if all their complaints about him were justified, and I am not suggesting for a moment that they are, the professional players represent only a tiny fraction, less than 1 per cent, of the world’s competitive chess players. FIDE does not exist solely or mainly to provide this tiny minority with a living. FIDE is for every competitive chess player and therein lies one of the most obvious reasons why Karpov had virtually no chance in this election – for the vast majority of countries represented at the FIDE Congress in Khanty-Mansiysk the concerns of chess professionals are not near the top of their priority lists. Chess professionals have their own organisation – the Association of Chess Professionals – and in my view it is by attracting sponsorship of its own that the ACP can become a strong organisation, one that is able to negotiate with FIDE over the concerns of the professionals from a more equal basis.

Ilymzhinov’s election campaign exhibited very little anti-Karpov rhetoric. Where Karpov’s campaign fell down badly was in its anti-Ilyumzhinov emphasis, which seemed to be employed as a substitute to make up for a lack of well-founded claims about the future financial viability and prosperity of a Karopv-led FIDE. Sure there were promises of all sorts of wonderful developments in the chess world, predicated on sponsorship that Karpov assured the electorate he would be bringing into the game. But where was the proof? Where were the multi-nationals confirming they they would replace Ilyumzhinov’s millions with their own financial support for FIDE? It simply wasn’t there, and Karpov has absolutely no track record in the field of sponsorship.

The bottom line in all this is the bottom line in FIDE’s accounts, plus the millions that Ilyumzhinov has given in order to enable many major chess events to take place, often resulting in him bailing out events whose expected financial support failed to materialize. Who would the FIDE delegates be more likely to believe is the best person to keep FIDE and many chess events on a viable financial foundation: someone with no track record in chess sponsorship, or someone who has consistently excelled in that field over the past fifteen years?

Karpov is a chess genius, a former world champion, a player who holds the record, by a big margin, for the number of tournaments won during a chess career. In many respects he would be an ideal leader for the chess professionals, since he knows just about everything relating to their collective needs and concerns. But he has no relevant administrative experience, no track record to suggest that he could successfully run an organisation the size of FIDE. Does FIDE really want its own Arnold Schwarzenegger – someone famous who lacks the experience necessary for the job and who has led California to a deficit tottering on bankruptcy? The FIDE electorate has emphatically shown that it places more trust in the man with a track record, despite the criticisms levelled against him, rather than take a leap into the unknown.
On a different point, it seems to me that Karpov’s campaign team scored an own goal that just might have made a big difference to his election chances. While I am delighted to see Karpov and Kasparov on such good terms, I believe that it was a serious error to have Kasparov, the strongest chess player of all time, campaigning alongside him. Kasparov is hugely popular everywhere in the chess world and in many other forums besides, but not with the Medvedev/Putin government. He has long been striving for a different Russia, with the result that he is not exactly the Kremlin’s favourite grandmaster. By allying himself so openly with Kasparov throughout his campaign, Karpov could be almost certain that the Russian government would use its influence against him. I cannot understand why he and his team did not appreciate this. If the Russian government had thrown its weight behind Karpov, who knows how the voting might have panned out.

In the final weeks of the election campaign team-Karpov resorted to desperate tactics. They brought an ill-considered legal action against Ilyumzhinov at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, attempting to have Ilyumzhinov’s candidacy declared illegal. Did they seriously believe that it could be so easy to unseat the incumbent? If they had really been as confident as their announcements suggested they would most likely never have tried such a ploy. But try they did, and they were slapped in the face by the court just a day or so before the FIDE delegates had to cast their ballot papers.

So the delegates came to Khanty-Mansiysk to vote for a president. I have been in Japan since the start of the Olympiad so I have not witnessed it first hand, but judging from photos on ChessBase.com and elsewhere, and from comments from observers who are present, it looks like a great event, and has prompted grand-organizer Ali Nihat Yazici to proclaim that it will be a very hard act to follow when he organizes the 2012 Olympiad in Istanbul. In this atmosphere, and with Ilyumzhinov waving his magic wand again to arrange for the reimbursement of all teams who are out of pocket due to late changes in the dates of the charter flights, who were the FIDE delegates most likely to vote for? The man who provides so much money for chess, or the man whose campaign talks a good game about future sponsorship but without any concrete evidence that he can keep his election promises?

No, money isn’t everything, but when you are running FIDE it sure helps!

David Levy served as the FIDE delegate for Scotland for 17 years, was on the Central Committee of FIDE for eight years, and led or participated in three FIDE election campaigns in the past.
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