Kirsan Ilyumzhinov shakes hands with Gaddafi on 12 June 2011
Not for the first time, FIDE (World Chess Federation) President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov causes chessplayers worldwide to cringe with embarrassment as he meets Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in Libya on 12 June 2011.
There is no point in going into further detail here as the world media has already got its teeth into the story. In my view, the most complete report of yesterday's events and their background appears on the excellent 'Chess in Translation' website. A few observations: the general media now routinely refers to Ilyumzhinov as the 'Russian eccentric', linking the above story to the FIDE president's much-publicised account of his meeting with extra-terrestrials a few years ago and perhaps adding that he visited Saddam Hussain not long before the Iraq war. Of course it has been argued that Ilyumzhinov is far worse than 'eccentric' but this description is damaging enough from the point of view of competitive chess.
So, was this a public relations disaster from Ilyumzhinov's point of view with regard to his hopes of being elected FIDE president in three years' time? I'm guessing, probably not. FIDE works in much the same way as the world football federation FIFA, whose notorious president Sepp Blatter can get away with all manner of idiotic nonsense without it affecting his electability. A lot of international sports federation are what one might term DINOs - "democratic in name only". The heads of these organisations don't have to worry too much about the sensibilities of the people who are involved in the activity at grass roots level as it is all too easy for the voting members at national federation level to be bribed or corralled in some manner.
I suppose it can be argued that this doesn't matter quite so much in the world of football, where the sponsorship and TV money continues to roll in despite the grubby internal politics, but it is hugely damaging to chess since it is much harder to attract sponsorship from Western European or North American sources with the Russian eccentric at the helm. As a result, major chess events will continue to be held in obscure or dubious parts of the world where Ilyumzhinov is more able to strike up a relationship with other politicos whose dubious modus operandi resembles his own. Here's just one example.
The report which I've linked to above reports that Ilyumzhinov is planning an international chess tournament in Tripoli, starting 1 October. You've heard of Chess Boxing, now Ilyumzhinov brings us Chess Bombing: international chess with the added frisson of being blown to smithereens during play. And can you imagine the scene in Tripoli as those chess grandmasters brave or foolhardy enough to take part arrive to see a large banner reading "Welcome, Hostages!"?
Incidentally, any general media people reading this blog should not confuse 'chess bombing' with 'Armageddon chess', which sounds similar but is actually a chess aberration of an entirely different (but thankfully non-violent) kind. And a chess tournament played in the epicentre of war-torn Libya would be nothing new for battle-hardened grandmasters as they have been called upon to play major events in war zones several times during the Ilyumzhinov presidency. Even Garry Kasparov was obliged to dodge a few bullets from time to time during his career as world champion. Who says it doesn't take courage to play chess?
Later: Another interesting link reveals that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov actually has a 'Planet Kirsan' named after him. It's more of an asteroid, I imagine, and lies between Jupiter and Mars. "So that if anything happens, I tell everyone, I’ll have somewhere to run." (He has a sense of humour of sorts). Maybe he is trying to interest Gaddafi in a time share.