FIDE condemned Russia’s war against Ukraine, terminated contracts with Russian sponsors, banned the flags and names of Russia and Belarus from its events, moved the Chess Olympiad from Moscow on the day after the invasion, and sanctioned Sergey Karjakin – all of this under the leadership of a Russian FIDE President. This leadership may not change until 2026. Arkady Dvorkovich is the only declared candidate for the election on 7 August. But can chess afford a Russian at its helm for four more years?
FIDE risks to become an outsider in world sport and a no go area for western companies.” Malcolm Pein.
The organizer of the London Chess Classic and chess entrepreneur Malcolm Pein points out the risks: “FIDE can become an outsider in world sport and a no go area for western companies.” In the short term he expects the Play Magnus Group and the Grand Chess Tour to benefit by finding sponsors more easily, but even this may not last if top chess is too closely associated with Russia.
Himself seen by many as a suitable candidate for the presidency and foreseeing a candidacy this year from afar, Pein told ChessTech: “I have no intention to run given the current conditions.” Pressed on what conditions he was referring to, he replied: “I don’t see a mass movement to remove Arkady.” Pein thinks that Dvorkovich has done a fine job as President and restored FIDE’s image after the chaotic years of his predecessor, “but he was too close to Putin for too long”. With its demand for Dvorkovich to step down, the English Chess Federation is an exception.
Dvorkovich was a member of the Russian government for 18 years and served from 2012 to 2018 as Deputy Prime Minister. Deemed an economic liberal and moderate he is not under EU or US sanctions – but what if this changes? Whether he will then step aside and who eventually follows him, has been discussed within the FIDE Council, but only Dvorkovich may reveal it, and he didn’t answer to our query. He has been avoiding Western media since he spoke to the American magazine Mother Jones in early March.
Rumours that he was under house arrest in Russia due to a criminal investigation were most probably just that: rumours. Dvorkovich traveled to India when the Tamil Nadu government dedicated $10 million to the Chess Olympiad. Next came the announcement that the Scheinberg family agreed to sponsor a major FIDE event every year until 2026. This Wednesday Dvorkovich is due at a FIDE Council meeting in Abu Dhabi where he is expected to present his next milestone: The emirate will host the World Rapid and Blitz Championship later this year.
Dvorkovich is the best president FIDE has ever had.” Bachar Kouatly.
“Western sponsors have hardly played a role for FIDE for a long time,” said FIDE Deputy President Bachar Kouatly: “In the rest of the world, Dvorkovich keeps finding money for chess.” Kouatly, whose grandfather was President of Syria in the 1950s, was a candidate for the FIDE presidency in 1994, but denies that he has any ambitions now. The Frenchman calls Dvorkovich “a technocrat” and “the best president FIDE has ever had” in credit for the structural reforms implemented by him. While personally condemning the war, Kouatly warns against judging by European standards and points out that many countries all over the world see it as a conflict between Russia and Ukraine in which they prefer to stay neutral.
The most outspoken critic of Dvorkovich’s reign is Danish grandmaster Peter Heine Nielsen, coach of Magnus Carlsen and husband of Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen, the Speaker of the Lithuanian Parliament. He points out that in 2018 Vladimir Putin personally asked the Israeli government to press their chess federation to vote for Dvorkovich, and that last September FIDE distributed greetings from the Russian dictator to all chess federations. Nielsen also mentions that a few days before the start of the war, Dvorkovich had a PR appointment with the Russian military, and on the Board of Trustees of the Chess Federation of Russia, he continues to sit side by side with Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
According to the Dane, Dvorkovich continues to exercise ”soft power“ for Russia. ”Chess is one of the sports with the fewest sanctions against Russians and at the same time with the closest ties to Russia,“ explains Nielsen. ”Chess has to become independent of Russia, in our own interest and for moral obligations.“ As long as Russians have influential posts and prestige, Russia will use this to display normality to its people. ”We have to send a strong message that what Russia is doing in Ukraine is the opposite of normal.“ However, Nielsen does not see any signs that the chess community is heeding his appeal.
Chess has to become independent of Russia, in our own interest and for moral obligations.“ Peter Heine Nielsen.
Under the revised electoral rules, effective since 29 December 2021, article 21.5, challengers of Dvorkovich have until 7 June, two months before the set election date, to declare their candidacy. There will most likely be at least one, a FIDE insider predicted, but you shouldn’t bet on a candidate with serious chances to get elected.