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An open letter

to the FIDE President Kirsan Iljumzhinov
from Yasser Seirawan, three-time United States Chess Champion

What GMs think

Open Letter From GM Yasser Seirwan to FIDE Preisdent Iljumzhinov

GM Gulko and GM Seirawan on the FIDE Crisis

GMs Hertneck & Baburin share their views on FIDE and the role and future of chess

Discussion Forum--share your views

Editor's note: GM Seirawan sent out an earlier version of this Open Letter to which he subsequently made a few editing changes. He apologizes for his earlier version.

Enough is enough

Dear Mr. Iljumzhinov,

The purpose of the present open letter is to register my despair and disgust over the current plight of FIDE and to highlight the urgent need for wholesale changes and a fresh start.

No international organization can ever hope to satisfy all of the people all of the time, but the key problem today is infinitely more serious: FIDE is no longer satisfying any of the people any of the time. When did FIDE last take an imaginative, workable initiative that received even a modicum of support from the chess world? When did it last deal with a major issue or event without shooting itself in the foot? Why has it stood by impotently as support and respect for it have evaporated, even amongst its traditional supporters? When did it last show any respect for the prestige of a game which is many centuries old? Above all, why has it allowed itself to become a laughing-stock through its serial incompetence?

The full catalog of disasters in recent years is too grimly familiar to need repeating here. The bouncing checks of Las Vegas and your unpaid promissory notes are just two well-publicized scandals from the past year that have made FIDE look clownish and tawdry. The latest debacle has been described by Peter Parr of Australia. As you are aware, he has explained in gruesome detail how the credibility of the entire FIDE title system is being further undermined, but the Australians aren’t the first abusers of the loophole mentioned by him. It was, I believe, first discovered by the Mexican Chess Federation, which contrived to create dozens of new FIDE-titled players by that particular abuse. With all this coming on top of the Myanmar ratings scandal, why does FIDE seem so unconcerned? If FIDE does not properly respect and protect its titles, why should anyone? Don’t fairness and rectitude count any more? Is FIDE really prepared to stand idly by and permit the wholesale destruction of its title system? Titles awarded by FIDE used to mean something. The way things are going, in a few years’ time I may feel obliged to ask FIDE to take back my GM title, as such titles will not only be worthless but their recipients will find their integrity questioned.

Credibility is hard won and easily lost. The recent fiascoes involving FIDE have been astonishingly numerous and various. Not all, I concede, are altogether FIDE’s fault. Top chess masters are strong-willed and there will always be disagreements and tensions between players and any governing body. Even so, how on earth has FIDE allowed itself to get caught up in multiple litigation, highly damaging whatever the outcome, with leading players Anatoly Karpov and Zsuzsa Polgar? Was it not your own election pledge to rectify the estrangement of Kasparov from FIDE events? Would it be unfair of me to suggest that besides the players just mentioned, Anand, Kramnik, Shirov, Morozevich and Galliamova are amongst those with angst towards FIDE? Are Champions Jun and Khalifman supportive of FIDE and its policies? For whom, pray tell, is FIDE working?

Your recent manifesto calling for the formation of a for-profit company to monopolize chess events hit an entirely new low. It was so ill advised and met with such unanimous derision throughout the chess world that serious questions again arise about the judgment of those behind a harebrained idea that was such an obvious non-starter. A FIDE organization which is so out of touch with the actual needs and interests of the chess world becomes more or less worthless, and at times it seems that FIDE’s prime concern is to antagonize as many people as possible and to expose itself to maximum ridicule. The fact that FIDE’s current Executive Board continues to support your ridiculous manifesto is proof positive that something is seriously wrong within FIDE’s cozy confines.

To quote another prime example, the recent announcement of Tehran as the site for the upcoming FIDE Championship Finals is a travesty which has left me, and many others, barely able to contain our rage. If FIDE insists on Iran hosting the Finals, it should not be surprised by the inevitable calls to boycott the event, which in turn will diminish the standing of the eventual winner. In whose interest is that?

Your choice and the FIDE Executive Board’s acceptance of Iran is a forcible reminder of your 1996 announcement of Baghdad as a site for the Karpov – Kamsky FIDE Championship. Then too, the choice of Baghdad was roundly criticized throughout the world. Eventually, you would retreat from this position, explaining that it had all been a ruse to gain publicity for chess. This knuckle-headed deception was a horrendous decision. Yes Virginia, there is such a thing as bad publicity. Even while you were hoodwinking the world’s media you had informed challenger Kamsky that he faced forfeiture for violating your edict that he contest the match in Iraq. Such mendacity by you played a not inconsiderable role in Kamsky quitting the chess world. Chess had sunk to another new low. In subsequent interviews you would explain that Iraq owed a great deal of money to Russia and that a chess match could be used as an inroad to meeting with the Iraqi regime at the highest levels to address that debt. That may be true, but FIDE exists to serve chess, not Russia’s debtors. Nor is FIDE there for its President’s personal gain. Whether in Iraq or Iran, your using chess for such purposes is a clear conflict of interest and a violation of your fiduciary responsibility as FIDE President.

It surely hasn’t escaped your attention that the reality today is that FIDE is cheapening and destroying almost everything it touches. Its credibility in its titles, its rating system, its electioneering, its methods of governance, its public announcements, its own statutes is now perilously close to zero. The current FIDE leadership has so clearly proven itself incapable of proper governance that there is, once again, renewed discussion of a replacement organization.

Your legacy is all too clear. Never has FIDE been in such chaos. Never has its reputation sunk so low. Never has it been so isolated from reality. Never, in short, has there been a greater or more urgent need for a fresh start. The disasters over which you have presided have not happened by accident. We cannot simply wipe the slate clean and pretend that none of it ever occurred. All those responsible within FIDE must assume the consequences of their conduct and pay the price for the state in which organized – or disorganized – chess now finds itself. After all these years of mistakes piling upon one another, it is time to say enough is enough. The time has come when the interests of chessplayers can be furthered only if the full present FIDE leadership – and you first and foremost as President – resign your posts. I urge you to do so with immediate effect. It will then be the mammoth task of your democratically elected successors to begin work on re-establishing FIDE as a respectable, and respected, organization, one which helps rather than hinders the development of chess and seeks to restore the game’s dignity worldwide.

On a closing, personal note, I stress that I have no ax to grind about the past, or any political ambition for the future. My sole concern remains what is in the interests of chessplayers of all levels throughout the world. The record shows that although I have never hesitated to criticize FIDE when necessary, I have sometimes found myself almost alone among masters and writers in defending it. Mr. President, it is time for you and your board to step aside.

On behalf of chess,

IGM Yasser Seirawan
Seattle, Washington, United States of America
June 12th 2000.

All text Copyright Alexander Baburin unless otherwise noted