Mikhail Metzel/Associated PressKirsan Iyumzhinov during a news conference in Moscow on Oct. 5.
The president of the World Chess Federationsays he hopes to open a chess academy in New York City in the near future and double the number of people who play chess worldwide. And, yes, he believes that the game was invented by extraterrestrials.
Those are some of the comments from Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, 48, president of the federation — which is also known by the acronym FIDE for its name in French, Fédération Internationale des Échecs — who last week responded to questions submitted by Gambit readers.
On Sept. 29, Mr. Ilyumzhinov was re-elected to a four-year term at the Chess Olympiadheld in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia; he has led the federation since 1995.
Though Mr. Ilyumzhinov handily won the election against Anatoly Karpov, the former world champion, 95 to 55, with each member of the federation casting one vote, he received little support from Western European countries or the United States. Afterward, he approached The New York Times through an intermediary, Ilya Merenzon, who is a partner at Press Release Group, a company that describes itself as a media-relations firm specializing in Russian-American communications, and offered to answer readers’ questions about the federation and his plans for promoting chess.
The questions were in English and Mr. Ilyumzhinov replied in Russian. Mr. Merenzon provided translations. Mr. Ilyumzhinov also spoke by telephone to a reporter from The Times to clarify or expand on what he had written.
Part one of the interview appears today. Part two will be published Wednesday and part three on Thursday.
A Chess Center in New York City
Question: It was widely reported that you offered to buy the site of the controversial proposed Muslim cultural center near the destroyed World Trade Center in Manhattan for $10 million and build a chess center there. Does FIDE have $10 million? If not, why was an offer made and how does such a publicity stunt advance the cause of chess?
I made this offer after reaching financial agreements with Russian and European sponsors who expressed their readiness to participate in the project. My offer to build a chess center in New York was of course advertising. But it was advertising for chess. I believe that chess can help solve political questions. It’s a democratic game: You don’t need expensive uniforms or equipment, and anyone can learn it and play. Chess is a unique game that unites all religions and countries.
FIDE will in any case begin construction of a chess center in New York; it’s a very important city, and our New York center could host world tournaments. We also want to propose that the city make use of FIDE’s educational program and integrate chess into school curricula. I would note that a few hours after the publication of my letter to Bloomberg, I received three additional offers from Russian and foreign philanthropists wishing to finance the construction of a center. I hope that in a few years’ time we’ll be meeting in New York in a new chess center.
The Federation’s Finances and the President’s Salary
How much is the FIDE president’s salary? Now that you are no longer president of Kalmykia, (a Russian republic he led from 1993 until last month) is being president of FIDE your full-time job? Or do you have other businesses and/or sources of income?
I don’t receive a salary from FIDE. I support myself using the money I earned when I was an entrepreneur – before I got involved in politics I was a successful businessman. My assets are handled by a management company, and some of the money is allotted to a fund that I use for charity projects.
In the telephone interview, Mr. Ilyumzhinov said that he had made his money through a variety of investments before he became president of FIDE and Kalmykia. He said that he owned Volkswagen and Audi dealerships and sold Toyota and Mitsubishi cars. He also held equity stakes in a couple of banks and newspapers, as well as TV 6, a television station that broadcast from 1993 to 2002. He said he did not know what his current net worth is.
How much of FIDE’s budget is used for salaries? How much for promotion? How much for marketing? How much for expenses?
All this information is available in the financial reports published on the FIDE web site[the first four annexes]. I want to note that FIDE is one of the most financially transparent organizations. The treasurer always delivers a report at meetings of the general assembly, and anyone who wishes to can read a copy of his speech. The treasurer’s work is verified by an audit commission, and by tradition we invite my opponents from the last elections to join the commission. The final audit is performed by the world-famous financial services firm Ernst and Young. I would also like to express my gratitude to Nigel Freeman of Bermuda for his careful and professional work.
According to the audited report on FIDE’s Web site for 2008 (the latest year available), staff costs in the four offices (Athens, which is the headquarters; Elista, the capital of Kalmykia; Lausanne, Switzerland; and Moscow) were almost 373,000 euros (about $503,000 at current exchange rates), total expenses were 1.485 million euros ($2 million), and 75,000 euros ($101,000) was spent on marketing. There is a lot more detail contained within the financial statement.
The Election and Its Aftermath
The Court of Arbitration for Sport said in the recent court case that “the presidential board members who have a conflict must excuse themselves from the decision making” in the election process. So why did you and other FIDE officials preside over the election proceedings?
All FIDE procedures are detailed in the organization’s registration documents. The highest authority in FIDE is the General Assembly (which includes representatives from all the FIDE member countries). I acted and will continue to act in full accordance with the charter of the organization that I lead.
Many people in the chess world (particularly in Western Europe) do not trust or even dislike you, especially after the recent election. What do you plan to do to improve your relations with some of those people and to try to bring the chess world together?
The results of the election speak volumes about who has the sympathies of the chess world at the moment. At the same time I’m always open to collaboration. Immediately after my victory in the elections I had constructive talks with representatives of the United States and Spanish Chess Federations. And President [Robert von] Weizsäcker of the German Chess Federation became a member of FIDE’s executive committee. There is no antagonism between us. But we do share a goal –- the development of chess around the world. There may be differences in our approaches, but the aim is the same. We all love chess and are ready to go to great lengths for its development.
Does Karpov have a role within FIDE? What is it? Would you be willing to give him a bigger role? If so, what would it be?
A minute after the election results were announced, I offered the 12th world champion the position of FIDE vice president. But Karpov requested a different position, and in the end he was appointed the lifetime ambassador of FIDE to international organizations.