Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: «Chess Will Definitely Become an Olympic sport»

Under U.S. pressure, The International Olympic Committee tries to drop the sports that are unfavourable with the American audience, on a regular basis. For example, ball hockey has been marginalised by the IOC for decades while the Russian Sambo has only vague prospects of inclusion.
However, after many years of dedicated work chess has finally got its chance at the Winter Games.  It is worth remembering that the idea of turning chess into a mainstream sport belongs to the FIDE President, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov.
Prior to his arrival at the World Chess Federation, this ancient game was considered an elitist club, where only a handful of the world's Grandmasters competed. Not only did Ilyumzhinov invent knockout championships, he decentralized FIDE by maximizing the rights of the various federations, giving them the opportunity to earn money, thus making chess the game that is played by millions.

According to official data, more than 600 million people play chess on our planet.  More than 100,000 tournaments are held every year, where previously only four competitions were in the FIDE calendar before 1995.
Kirsan Nikolayevich told 'Rossiiskaya Gazeta' about the long road to the Chess Olympiad:
“The former head of the global Olympic movement, Marquis Juan Antonio Samaranch, very much appreciated chess.  However, he immediately warned us that the road to Olympus would be a long one. First, chess should be recognized as a sport, and secondly, it would be necessary to unite the world of chess. IOC must deal with a single organization rather than a dozen 'travelling champions'.
I must say that we have fulfilled all that Samaranch suggested. In 1999, the IOC recognized FIDE as the only sports federation responsible for the development of chess and for representing the players' interests. We were able to unite the chess world with the famous Prague Agreement, signed by Kasparov, Karpov and Kramnik in 2002.
I remember Samaranch attending the opening ceremony of the final match of the 1st World Cup knockout between Karpov and Anand in 1997.  Anatoly Evgenyevich was late for the opening ceremony.  «I said that chess had a long way to get to the Olympic program», Samaranch said. «Now I realise that it will very long indeed. Can you imagine a situation in which a football team is late for a match or an athlete for a race?  It is impossible.  Chess must be raised to a certain standard.»
«Many people did not understand why FIDE imposed an automatic defeat on those arriving late instead of just postponing the match.  However, it was done within the framework and in conjunction with the Olympic Committee”.
– Was the introduction of anti-doping rules also part of this strategy?
- Yes, because it is important for us to participate with the various IOC boards.  In addition, our attitude to doping is extremely negative. Alcohol will not be tolerated either in chess.
Did the following IOC President, Jacques Rogge applaud your efforts?
- It has been and remains a problem. With the arrival of a new leader and his particular vision of the Olympic movement, we largely had to start our work from the beginning. We held several meetings with Rogge, and at first, he reacted to the idea of chess with abhorrence.  However, we managed to change his attitude.
Dr. Rogge advised us to get the maximum support of the national federations and Olympic committees. In the two years that followed, I visited 108 countries, met with a number of presidents of NOC and heads of the Ministries of Sports.  As a result, more than 150 countries have signed an appeal to the IOC to include chess in the Olympic program.
- And what about today?
- We have fulfilled all the requests of the IOC.  FIDE is the largest non-Olympic Federation and chess is recognized as a sport by more than 155 countries worldwide.  We were represented twice in the Summer Games at the Pan American and Asian, the regional games, and Krasnoyarsk, the city organizer of the 2019 Games, requested FIDE to include chess in the programme of the Winter Games.
I recently met with the new head of the IOC, Thomas Bach, who showed excellent knowledge of our sport.  We had a good talk and spoke, as they say, the same language.
Bach said that chess did not require the construction of expensive stadiums; one can play in a hotel.  We, in turn, reminded him that FIDE was founded in 1924 in Paris, exactly when the Olympics Games were played.  We agreed to continue the dialogue and will meet in August or September this year.


For reference
The Winter Olympics has programmes of events running morning and evening. Chess will fit perfectly in-between, running from 3 pm to 7 pm.  It will be of interest for both TV and for chess fans.
Any chess Grandmaster, including those from Africa, Asia, or America, who win a medal, will undoubtedly raise interest in their country for the Olympic Games.
Before talking about the inclusion of chess in the programme of the Winter Games, it is necessary to amend the sixth paragraph of the Olympic Charter, which limits winter sports to those that are connected with either snow or ice.
It is also necessary to include FIDE in the list of International Sports Federations, the governing body that constitutes the «core» of the Olympics.  There is another option mentioned by Thomas Bach, and that is to negotiate with the Olympics hosts, because any capital holding the Games have the right to include another sport.


Expert Opinions
Nikita Kim, the 1st Vice-President of the Chess Federation of Moscow:
- It is obvious that chess has to be included in the Youth Olympics.  The programme of IOC development stipulates that chess has an educational component.  Moreover, we have «Chess in Schools» which is probably FIDE's main programme today.
Our global ideology is obvious.  If we teach children to think first, analyse and then make decisions, it may be possible that after a while we will live in a slightly better arranged and civilized world.
In this sense, chess is an indispensable tool.  The programme is supported by leaders of many countries and in which socially conscious businessmen are ready to invest.  The charitable foundation «System» and many other large companies in Russia support «Chess in Schools». For example, the president of the Chess Federation of Moscow, (which arranges more than 3,000 competitions for children every year), is the successful businessman, Vladimir Palikhata.


Ilya Merenzon, the CEO whose company owns the marketing rights to all FIDE's major tournaments:
- Why does chess need Olympiads?  Amongst other things, it would radically change the life of chess players.  The inclusion of chess in the Olympic programme will lead to the commercialisation of this sport.  The branding of chess is highly commercial. It is a great opportunity to be associated with the values ​​they represent: the strategy, the intellect, the will to win.  In addition, the inclusion into the Olympic family may give chess access to the sponsors who already support the games. 

Pavel Petrovsky