Arbitration, Chess, and the Whimsical Strongman

Arbitration, Chess, and the Whimsical Strongman

It’s not often that you run into a story that combines international arbitration, Kremlin politics, post-Soviet autocrats, utopian urban projects, transnational networks, electoral politics, and chess.  So, read on…

According to the New York Times’ chess blog,

A lawsuit against the World Chess Federation will be heard by arbiters at the Court of Arbitration for Sport on Sept. 15 and 16, two weeks before an election for the presidency of the federation.

The lawsuit by five national federations and the presidential campaign of Anatoly Karpov is seeking to have the ticketof Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the incumbent, disqualified.

A quick pause here to say a few words about the curious case of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who not only has been the president of FIDE, the World Chess Federation, since 1995 but is also the President of the Republc of Kalmykia, an autonomous republic within the Russian Federation.  The New York Times has described Ilyumzhinov as a “whimsical strongman.” (!?)  The BBC, however, notes that

Mr Iyumzhinov denies persistent accusations of diverting the republic’s resources for his own use as well as of human rights abuses and of suppressing media freedom. When Larisa Yudina, editor of the republic’s only opposition newspaper was murdered in 1998, he strenuously rejected allegations of involvement.

What is “whimsical” about a strongman who allegedly steals from his own people (and may even order them killed)? Why, that he would devote millions of dollars to construct on the windswept Russian steppes Chess City— a model city devoted to the glory of chess! (For a travel narrative of two American chess players going to Kalmykia to meet Ilyumzhinov– and many other Kalmyks–and visit Chess City, read The Chess Artist).

Suffice it to say that Ilyumzhinov has intertwined his personal reputation and his republic’s reputation (and finances) with international chess competition. And he is a polarizing figure both in Kalmyk politics and in chess politics. And now his fifteen year reign over the world Chess Federation is being challenged in an international sports arbitral forum.

Ilyumzhinov’s challenger for the FIDE presidency, the Russian chess grandmaster Anatoly Karpov, is joined in his suit by the national chess federations of the United States, France, Germany, Switzerland and Ukraine. They are represented by White & Case.

According to a previous Times blog post,

Both candidates are Russian and the rules of the federation, which is also known by the acronym FIDE (for Fédération Internationale des Échecs), state that a candidate for office must either have the nomination of his or her home country, or of a federation of which the candidate has been a member for at least a year.

Karpov, who also has the nominations of France, Germany and Switzerland, claims that a vote by a majority of the Russian Chess Federation on May 14 to endorse him was legitimate and that he therefore is the Russian nominee.

After that vote, Arkady Dvorkovich, the chairman of the board of supervisors of the federation, and a high-ranking Kremlin official, took control of the federation and decreed that the vote was invalid. In a meeting on June 28, a quorum of members of the federation voted to give Dvorkovich sole authority to act on the federation’s behalf until a new meeting can be called in October — after the FIDE elections. Dvorkovich then reaffirmed an earlier letter he sent to FIDE in April endorsing Ilyumzhinov for president.

The lawsuit seeks to reaffirm the May 14 vote. It also seeks to show that Ilyumzhinov has not been a member of the Argentinian and Mexican federations for long enough to be nominated by them.

Elsewhere, the Times explains that:

If the arbiters should rule in favor of the plaintiffs, it might make the election moot, though there is no way to know how quickly the court may decide. But the lawsuit was filed on July 8, so the court seems to be moving quickly.

Power politics, power chess, and international arbitration. The case will be heard September 15 and 16. Stay tuned…

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