Chess for Jerusalem

FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov recently visited Israel. The election of FIDE President will be held in September 2018; meanwhile its current leader is actively travelling around the world: he visited Slovenia, Tunisia, Sudan, the UK and Finland. But Ilyumzhinov rejected suggestion that he was trying to win support of local federations on the eve of the elections. "I have one goal: to popularize chess," he said.

- Do sanctions imposed on you by the Americans prevent you from travelling or affect your activities as head of FIDE?
I live quietly. I have just established a charity foundation in Brussels. Similar foundation has been set up in Washington. I visit all countries except the United States. But I hope that I would be able to enter the US soon. I am not allowed to manage US companies, in which my share is above 50%.
- Is this fact used by your opponents in the course of FIDE elections?
Those who think only about the Presidential chair in the Federation use it. They say Kirsan is under sanctions. But I am under sanctions of one country only and I can freely visit and speak in other 187 countries of the world without any problem. I intend to go to other countries from here.
- You have recently said that they had tried to organize a coup against you in FIDE. Can you tell us more about what has happened there?
I don’t take it personally. FIDE is a public organization; different groups are struggling. However, seven elections have passed since 1995 and I won seven times. In 1995, my goal was to unite the chess world. You should remember that FIDE was split at the time. Kasparov left it in 1993. He held parallel championships; thus, my main task was to unite the chess world so that there would be one champion and one system for all. In addition, chess was not even considered a sport at the time. I met with IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch and only in 1999 the IOC Executive Board recognized chess as a sport and declared FIDE the only sports organization, which represent the interests of chess players in Olympic movement.
Then my new goal was spreading chess among children. The 90's were a time of crisis. When I joined FIDE, it had a debt of more than one million Swiss francs. There was no money to hold a match for the world title between Anatoly Karpov and Gata Kamsky in 1996. There was no money for the Women’s World Championship. Since 1994, from my personal funds I have organized six chess men’s championships and eight women’s championships in Russia.
In 2002, Garry Kasparov approached me with an idea to hold a match against the computer. An Israeli programmer Shay Bushinsky wrote Deep Junior program. As a result, the match was held in New York. Although it was not on FIDE schedule, but for development and popularization of chess I decided to support not so much Kasparov as general interest in chess and check how a man could play against the computer. The match ended in a 3-3 draw and therefore I passed the prize – a gilded statuette – to the chess museum, which I had opened in the chess palace of Elista.
The personal belongings of Mikhail Tal are also kept there. They had been thrown out as trash, when his Riga apartment was occupied by new tenants. A Yugoslav businessman collected them and offered me to buy them. I paid for all the cups, medals, notepads and notebooks that belonged to Tal and other players. There were more than 2000 exhibits, as far as I remember. We brought them all to Elista.
- Do you maintain relations with Kasparov now?
He was nominated as FIDE president candidate in 2014. However, I won and we do not communicate now. Although I believe that he did a lot to develop and popularize chess.
Kasparov is actively involved in politics ...
I am not interested in politics, but he is: he established political parties and holds meetings in Vilnius and Tallinn. He mixed chess with politics, but this is his choice –  he is an energetic and active person. He travels round America; he gives lectures, make speeches, write books. But I'm a propagandist of chess.
After I built the chess palace and chess city in Elista, I considered my work as President of FIDE as missionary: to develop chess in all countries and all regions of the globe. We have established new chess federations and held many tournaments in Africa, in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Angola, Algeria, CAR and Tunisia. Recently, I sent four grandmasters to Zambia. We brought many changes. We held the World Rapid Chess Championship a couple of years ago.
We began to implement the "Chess villages" programme in cooperation with President of South Africa. Chess is an inexpensive sport; you do not need large stadiums, swimming pools or skating rinks. We open chess classes in many schools of African villages now.
- Does FIDE assist Israel?
We have a programme to help developing countries: we buy chess boards and chess clocks for Africa and Latin America countries. However, Israel is a developed country. Since 1995, I have very good relations with all the members of Israel Chess Federation. About 5-6 years ago, I signed an agreement with Israeli Ministry of Education on 50/50 terms and allocated 50% from my personal fund for publication of chess textbooks and manuals in Hebrew, teaching of trainers and opening chess classes in schools including the Arab sector.
- Apart from chess, do you have any business interest in Israel?
Israel attracts me by its religious concentration. Whenever I visit Israel, I dip into the Jordan and come to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. A couple of years ago I attended the Holy Fire ceremony. It is good to meditate in Israel – its spiritual energy is very strong. I was meditating when I came here for two days last year. Currently, I have no business projects. But I have the idea to open a chess palace in Jerusalem, as it was done in other countries. There are friends who are ready to invest in construction of a chess academy comprising a hotel, school for children and a club for veterans.
We are making much effort for developing the "Chess for Disabled" programme aimed to help the children with cerebral palsy and autism. Chess can improve motor skills and concentration in children with cerebral palsy. We are now implementing this programme around the world including Israel.

Roman Pozen, NEP