By Michael Khodarkovsky US Chess Delegate to FIDE   
September 10, 2015
MichaelKlead.gifThe FIDE Congress that takes place in years between FIDE General Assemblies and World Olympiads is usually fairly uneventful.  Representatives of national federations and members of various FIDE Commissions gather to discuss and resolve outstanding and current matters.  This year’s 86th FIDE Congress in Abu Dhabi, UAE, was not supposed to be an exception to the norm. Quiet and collegiate atmosphere at the meetings and hotel lounges was somewhat reminiscent of the lifestyle of the friendly and accommodative hosts. Nevertheless, an insider could sense a certain level of concern related to the financial stability of the organization and sponsorship of the World Championship cycle.

However, the first alarming signal was vocalized during the Verification Commission  meeting, where those in attendance raised questions about the significant losses for the 2014 fiscal year.  As indicated in the Commission’s report, the balance sheet disclosed a very substantial reduction of 723,065 euros in FIDE’s assets over the course of 2014.  The delegates debated the justification given for the high cost of the President’s travel, which exceeded the budgeted 120,000 euros by more than 50% totalling 184,299 euros.  Questions were also raised about the increasing cost of the President’s office in Moscow, Russia, which totalled 152,603 euros. Of great notice was that almost half of this amount is a travel cost for the 4 staff members in the Moscow office, two of whom are merely part-time employees. The travel cost for the Moscow’s office for 2014 was more than the travel cost for the staff in the offices of FIDE headquarters in Athens, Greece and Elista, Russia combined.

In the summary to the Executive Board, Graham Boxall of Jersey (JCI), Chairman of the Verification Commission, reported: “Our assets and reserves came down to 1.28 million euros by the end of 2014 – that is less than one year’s turnover. To lose 700,000 euros again in a single year now would badly compromise our financial security. We would have to think about reminding our esteemed President about his electoral promise of several million dollars (reference to Mr.Iljumzinov’s promise of 20 million dollars in his electoral address to General Assembly in 2014 – MK) – just to keep us afloat and running our core business”. Mr.Boxall added: “Our activities have broadened considerably and they have done so on the assumption that we can afford them. But going forward we will have to tread carefully, be less ambitious for a while perhaps, concentrate on our core activities, and think twice about expenditure and giving out our money.

One of the cornerstone problems that FIDE is experiencing is a lack of sponsorship for the World Championship Cycle.  Since 2012 FIDE gave exclusive rights to the company AGON Ltd. to attract sponsors for major chess events  such as World Championships and Olympiads. It was anticipated that CEO of AGON Ltd., Mr.Ilya Merenzon would attend the FIDE Congress and report to Executive Board. For some reason, he was not able to attend, but did submit a written report toward the end of the Congress. 

In the aforementioned report, he states that “Agon has a team of sponsorship sales working in Russia, Germany, the US and Switzerland,” and “have some initial success with sponsors: for 2016, we have commitments from the following brands: Goldman Sachs Investment Banking, Audi, E.ON (Germany), Isklar Water (Norway).”

The report also stated that “Agon has secured a prize fund (EUR 2,000,000) and is working on developing sponsorship contracts. We’ll inform the Board and, if approved, announce the city and venue in November of 2015, exactly a year before the championship.”

After  all items on the agenda were addressed, FIDE Vice President, President of Russian Chess Federation, Andrei Filatov made an unexpected proposal to endorse FIDE President Kirsan Iljumzhinov to run for FIFA President! This in his view would popularize chess and FIDE Mr. Iljumzhinov replied that he will consider the proposal seriously.

In support of the proposal, Grandmaster Adrian Mikhalchishin, Chairman of Trainers Commission approached the microphone and told the story that once after Armenian Team won the World Chess Olympiad, their team’s captain GM Arshak Petrosian was offered to be a head coach of the national soccer team. “Arshak declined that offer. So don’t repeat Arshak’s mistake” said Adrian Mikhalchishin and encouragingly proclaimed: ”GO, Kirsan Nikolaevich, GO!!!”

On that amusing note, the official part of the 86th FIDE congress concluded.