Friday, July 30, 2010

Ex-chess champ Karpov on the campaign trail

Former world champion Anatoly Karpov wants to bring dignity back to the game.


THE message was clear enough. The World Chess Federation (Fide) must change or else it will continue to lose influence and significance, said Anatoly Karpov, the 12th world chess champion.

Karpov, 59, was in Kuala Lumpur for three days last week as part of a whirlwind visit through several Asian countries to raise support in his bid to be elected the next Fide president.

According to Karpov, the leadership in Fide had not achieved much in the past 15 years and had neglected the interests of many of the chess federations in its fold.

One of the sore points that Karpov raised was that the incumbent Fide president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, had alienated international sponsors.

Face-to-face: Karpov playing with 12-year-old Yeoh Li Tian.

“Chess is one of the most active sports in the world and Fide has 158 member countries.

‘In terms of members, we are among the biggest international sports federations and yet we don’t see long-term ties with sponsors that should benefit us,” Karpov charged.

“For example, world chess championship matches used to offer prize money by the millions of dollars but ever since the present Fide president came on board, we have seen lower prize monies. In fact, the many changes in the formats for the world championship cycles have caused a lot of confusion. Is it any wonder that international sponsors have shied away?” he asked.

If his team gets elected at the Fide congress this September, one priority would be to bring dignity back to chess. According to him, short 10-game or 12-game matches were hardly reflective of chess struggles at the highest levels.

“World championship matches should not be less than 16 or 18 games but Fide presently finds difficulty to bring in quality sponsors who can support matches of this length.” he said.

Karpov gave another example of the decreasing visibility, saying that significant activities like world championship matches used to be played in the big cities of the world – New York, London, Seville, Paris – but he claimed that since 1995, these events were being moved to lesser cities.

“It doesn’t say much for chess that this year’s chess Olympiad – the traditional biennial gathering for the worldwide chess family of close to 160 countries – is being held in Siberia, in a place called Khanty-Mansiysk,” he claimed.

And in truth, that is correct because I’ve written about Khanty-Mansiysk before. Even getting there is going to be problematic as most connecting flights are only available from Moscow and it’s a journey of several days.

But the chord that struck home was that in recent years, national chess federations have been feeling the pinch of having to pay increasingly higher fees for all sorts of activities. Smaller chess federations such as the Malaysian Chess Federation find that annual fees have gone up significantly.

Getting new players onto the Fide rating list, no matter their rating levels, means getting billed. Then there are the fees for registering even Fide-rated events. All these add up and it is not surprising that there are countries that find themselves temporarily out of benefit from Fide because fees are in arrears.

The MCF, for example, found out that our players were temporarily removed from the Fide rating list because of unpaid dues.

According to Karpov, countries should not be forced to fund Fide. It should be the other way around, that Fide should instead be helping the countries raise funds for their activities.

“It should make sense,” he argued, “that a happy national chess federation will contribute more towards the progress of chess.”

Apart from Malaysia, Karpov and his small entourage that included his candidate for deputy president, Richard Conn Jr, had travelled through China, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand.

While in Kuala Lumpur, Karpov paid a courtesy call on Olympic Council of Malaysia president Tunku Imran ibni Almarhum Tuanku Ja’afar at the OCM office and was guest of honour at a function hosted by the Malaysian Chess Federation’s honorary life president, Datuk Tan Chin Nam, who incidentally also sits in Karpov’s Advisory Team.

The former world champion also played two exhibition blitz games with Malaysian international master Mas Hafizulhelmi and up-and-coming youngster Yeoh Li Tian, winning against both players.

Quah Seng Sun can be contacted at

--- The Star Online

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