Losing Gambit: Could Russia not support a Russian in the election of head of FIDE?

A meeting of Supervisory Board of the Russian Chess Federation attended by its leaders and representatives of the regions was held in Moscow. The meeting’s agenda included summing up the annual results of different activities. However, it missed one important point: approval of candidacy for post of President of the International Chess Federation for which elections will be held in the autumn next year.

It would seem, this issue does not require discussion. FIDE has been headed by Russian Kirsan Ilyumzhinov since 1995. He has already announced his intention to run for another term. Moreover, several dozen countries announced their intention to support the Russian at elections (recall that representatives of 189 countries vote -- One country, One vote).

Logically speaking, this issue should be resolved in a universal agreement on the candidacy of Kirsan Nikolayevich. And up to a certain point the meeting went smoothly, until Vice President of the Russian Chess Federation Andrei Selivanov pointed that agenda did not include discussion of the forthcoming FIDE elections and a candidate from Russia.

"If we have a clear understanding that we support the incumbent FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, we must claim to include nomination of his candidacy from Russia in the agenda and recommend that RCF congress support the decision of the Supervisory Board," Selivanov said.

Then suddenly, everybody was greatly surprised by President of Federation Andrey Filatov, who, unexpectedly, said that it is too early to talk about approval and support of Ilyumzhinov. First, Andrey Filatov urged everyone not to rush to conclusions, noting that other candidates from Russia may appear. In particular, the name of a member of the Government of Russia was called. In case this person does not take up assignment after March 2018, he may well wish to run for the presidency. Later, Filatov tried to explain to those present that Ilyumzhinov did not give an answer whether he would take part in the elections and that he allegedly did not provide any documents or petitions to RCF.

This statement is very contradictory: according to information received by Rossiyskaya Gazeta from members of the Supervisory Board, Ilyumzhinov is not obligated to make any petitions to receive support from his own national federation. If the discussion was limited to this thread everything would have seemed normal. However, the matter ended in a completely improbable phrase: "who knows, maybe we will have to support a non-Russian?" Russian Chess Federation head urged the Supervisory Board to ask the congress to determine who Russia would nominate without reference to citizenship.

The underlying motive was obvious for those who understand the intricacies of FIDE policy. A few days earlier, Filatov noted that 4-5 people could run for FIDE presidency among which, to everyone's surprise, he singled out FIDE vice president, the Greek Georgios Makropoulos calling him "a worthy candidate and a respected person".

Ilyumzhinov and extremely unpopular in the chess circles Makropoulos -- everyone in the chess world knows it -- are competitors in the current elections. How did it happen that leaders of Russian chess are ready to pay long odds on a dark horse while having such an obvious Russian candidate? Especially when, as members of the Supervisory Board reminded (that remark was pointedly ignored), Ilyumzhinov intention to run for another term had been personally approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 21.

Finally, none of those present could understand how the Russian organization can support the candidacy of an alien. In the end, Ilyumzhinov is one of only two Russians who lead large international sports federations. The second one is the head of the International Fencing Federation Alisher Usmanov. There is hardly any need to remind you of unsportsmanlike challenges that Russian sports are currently facing in the international arena. However, situation so far was normal in chess and fencing, which is undoubtedly the merit of Ilyumzhinov and Usmanov. Would the refusal to support one of them in this situation resemble the well-known non-commissioned officer’s widow, who has punished herself for alleged transgressions?

RCF leadership did not provide a clear answer to these questions. RSF President refused to comment after the meeting. RSF Executive Director Mark Glukhovsky made a very general statement.

A decision to nominate the candidacy of FIDE President will be taken by RSF congress. Finally, the meeting of the Supervisory Board --at the insistence of its members -- brought it to the discussion of the congress. However, two leaders of the RSF insisted on an extremely vague wording: "raise the issue of FIDE President". And there was nothing more: no name or citizenship. That is, everything went as Filatov had suggested.

Of course, this decision raised serious questions among members of the Supervisory Board. "Ilyumzhinov is a Russian, he has been heading FIDE for many years and, despite the fact that he is under US sanctions, he achieved much more than all the other FIDE officials combined," Andrey Selivanov emphasized. "He is well known in all countries of the world and is ready to run for president. He has something to show -- the results of his work to promote world chess are outstanding. Currently, Russia holds the biggest events of the world chess calendar. Today, Ilyumzhinov occupies the right position. The Russian Chess Federation has never supported foreign candidates; it's nonsense, and I'm sure this will never happen. Kirsan Nikolaevich should not give us any petitions. His candidacy was approved by Vladimir Putin last summer. Thus, I was surprised to hear from the Russian Chess Federation head that there was no Ilyumzhinov's petition on his participating in the elections."

"Previously, the Supervisory Board of RSF always nominated Ilyumzhinov: both when our federation was led by Alexander Zhukov and Arkady Dvorkovich. I do not know the reasons for today's collision," says Valery Bovaev, a member of the Supervisory Board. "Kirsan Nikolayevich conducts great work and negotiates with federations of different countries. It was due to him that Russia retained the number one position of world chess and, thanks to him, all major chess events at the level of the World and Olympic Games are held in our country and Russians occupy leading posts in all chess institutions."

When a correspondent of Rossiyskaya Gazeta contacted Ilyumzhinov, he was surprisingly calm about the incident: "This is just the opinion of one or two officials of the Russian Chess Federation. What's more important to me is that the people who actually develop chess in our country support me. I often visit regions and, taking this opportunity, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all those who in various difficult conditions work hard for the development of chess in our country."

The RSF congress, where a decision is to be made on the candidacy for post of FIDE head, would be held on February 3, 2018. The election of President of the Russian Chess Federation will take place on the same day. According to Rossiyskaya Gazeta, unpleasant surprises are possible there. The fact is that one of the political heavyweights, well-known for his propaganda of sport and healthy lifestyle, plans to nominate himself for this post. Does it mean that the game is continuing?