General Mar 27, 2017 | 3:30 PMby Colin McGourty

Ilyumzhinov resigns… or does he? (updated)

The FIDE website today claimed that its President, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, announced his resignation yesterday at the end of the quarterly Presidential Board meeting in Athens. No sooner had that notice appeared, though, when both Ilyumzhinov and Russian Chess Federation President and FIDE VP Andrey Filatov took to Russian media to dismiss that version of events, describing what took place as “a set-up”. Kirsan says he signed nothing and will continue in his role. UPDATE: FIDE respond to say Ilyumzhinov ended a meeting by 3 times saying "I resign", while Ilyumzhinov insists he'll remain in power at least until the 2018 FIDE General Assembly in Batumi.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov remains the FIDE President, but for how long? | photo: Russian Chess Federation

The announcement that wasn't

The following abrupt announcement appeared today on the FIDE website:

At the end of the Board meeting held in Athens, Greece on the 26th March 2017, Mr Kirsan Ilyumzhinov announced his resignation from the position of FIDE President. The Presidential Board has been formally advised of this announcement and an extraordinary board meeting has been called in April.

And just like that, it seemed, 22 years as President of the World Chess Federation were over for Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Or were they?

People had barely noticed that unheralded news story when the Russian media was filled with stories in which Ilyumzhinov denied he had resigned. He told the Tass News Agency:

They wanted to oust me, but they didn’t manage. I didn’t sign anything and I’m not resigning. I think it’s the hand of the Americans, and it’s what you call a set-up. It’s a plot by the American Chess Federation and their allies. They’ve tried to do it before more than once. And in Athens they tried to put the issue of my resignation up for discussion, but they didn’t manage. In general, I’ve even had threats and demands that I resign.

He told RSport:

I don’t know where the information about my resigning comes from. It seems someone decided to joke or is confusing their wish with reality. It has no relation to reality and such an issue wasn’t raised at the Presidential Board. Some of the members of the council tried to persuade me in that direction – those forces, that included me on the sanctions list are the ones now demanding my resignation. They discussed that behind the scenes, but the question wasn’t raised at the Presidential Council.

Kirsan said almost exactly the same in a comment for the Russian Chess Federation, whose President Andrey Filatov backed up Ilyumzhinov to the TASS News Agency:

As a FIDE Vice President this is the first I’ve heard of this. It’s a set-up. Moreover, I only just met with Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and he said nothing of the sort. We discussed FIDE’s plans for the future and the direction in which we’re going to work. Rumours of Ilyumzhinov’s resignation have no grounds whatsoever.

The one voice putting the opposite view in the Russian media, however, was FIDE Executive Director Nigel Freeman. He told Sport-Express:

Mr. Ilyumzhinov announced his retirement. In April an Extraordinary Presidential Board will take place to discuss that topic.

The announcement and its denial were met with amusement and bemusement by chess fans and other observers:

Is there smoke without fire? Did Ilyumzhinov informally announce his retirement but then change his mind – at least about the timing of the announcement?

Fake news?

The background

Whatever the truth that eventually emerges, it’s been obvious for some time that Ilyumzhinov had become a “lame duck” president ever since he was placed on the US Sanctions list over ties to Syria. Shortly after that an announcement was made that Ilyumzhinov would “withdraw from any legal, financial and business operations of FIDE” in favour of FIDE Deputy President Georgios Makropoulos. As now, it soon transpired that Ilyumzhinov was in no mood to take a back seat, since he continued to represent FIDE as President around the world, even appearing at the New York World Championship match Press Conference, if only by Skype.

Ilyumzhinov and Vega together back in 2011 | photo:

While Ilyumzhinov’s comments to the Russian media will largely have been seen as an attack on the USA (whose chess federation president did call for Ilyumzhinov’s resignation recently), it’s likely that his real problem is the Americas as a whole. Confederation of Chess for Americas (CCA) President Jorge Vega has been instrumental in making the Latin and Central American countries a key voting bloc of over 30 federations. He strongly supported Ilyumzhinov in previous elections, but his report on 26 December last year announced that was over.  

It wasn’t subtle - you can skip the middle paragraph and get the message loud and clear:

I can feel proud of the unity shown by our members who have made America the strongest political bloc that exists in FIDE.

In the FIDE context, the situation is more complicated because the President, Mr. Kirzan Iljumzjinov, continues to be sanctioned by the US Treasury Deparment, a sanction that has been in force for more than a year and is not seen to be over in the short term. In order to avoid FIDE being blocked by the Treasury Department, the President passed all the executive powers that the investiture of the position means to the Deputy President, Mr. Geogios [sic] Makropoulos, in November of the year 2015, being in practice like President with licence. Although Mr. Iljumzjinov has reiterated on several occasions that he will run to re-election in 2018, it is not clear how he will be able to do so if the sanction persists without putting FIDE in serious financial danger.

For the aforementioned, it is not surprising that in a relatively short period of time, candidates for the FIDE Presidency will emerge.

Vega also criticised Agon, demanding that FIDE end their contract over the failure to pay debts. That issue, and the issue of the Iranian Chess Federation failing to pay the prize fund for the World Championship in Tehran, featured in the List of Decisions also published by FIDE in the wake of the Presidential Board Meeting. What’s also notable there, though, is that there’s no mention of a resignation by the FIDE President.

UPDATE: 28 March

The FIDE website has now published and responded to Kirsan Ilyumzhinov's statements that "the information about my alleged resignation on the FIDE website is untrue". FIDE Executive Director Nigel Freeman says that Ilyumzhinov threatened to resign and then three times said "I resign" at the end of the meeting:

It seems clear from the evidence available to us that something like this version of events did take place at a heated meeting, since Ilyumzhinov's statements don't contradict it and instead point out that he hadn't submitted any "official request" in writing. 

It now looks as though we're headed for a crucial Extraordinary Presidential Board meeting on 10 April where Ilyumzhinov's opponents will have to decide whether to attempt to force his removal from the position of FIDE President. That may be difficult.

Russian Chess Federation President Andrey Filatov told RSport that Ilyumzhinov can't be removed against his will in the near future:

Legally Ilyumzhinov can only be suspended by the FIDE Congress. The Congress will be in one and a half years, and up until that point he'll continue working calmly.

Filatov also makes clear that Ilyumzhinov, contrary to what was stated by FIDE at the time, hadn't actually withdrawn from an active role as FIDE President, even when organising the match in New York:

Despite sanctions, Kirsan Nikolaevich was calmly able to organise and hold the World Chess Championship in the USA, despite the unfair sanctions policy with regard to him. 

Andrey Filatov and Kirsan Ilyumzhinov hold a press conference in Moscow | photo: Russian Chess Federation

At a joint press conference with Filatov in the Central Chess Club in Moscow, Ilyumzhinov also stated he will remain FIDE President until the next General Assembly. He appealed to both chess federations and FIDE Executive Director Nigel Freeman to cancel the extraordinary board meeting, which he described as a waste of money. Two letters were released, with the key one being the explanation for his repeated "I resign" as reported by Freeman. He mentions a "very emotional discussion", cites the fact that English is not his native language and goes on:

I can assure you that the meaning of my words is the following - 'I am ready to leave the position of FIDE President if this is will [sic] be necessary for FIDE'.

The letter to the chess federations states that he intends to work his full term as FIDE President until the General Assembly in Batumi in 2018:

All we can say for now is that some highly-paid lawyers are likely to be combing through the FIDE statutes in the days to come.

UPDATE: 29 March

Another day, another open letter on the FIDE website. This time it comes from FIDE Deputy President George Makropoulos, who had been considered the acting head of FIDE long before Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was subject to US sanctions. In the letter he supports his colleagues who have described Ilyumzhinov as verbally resigning and states that no-one asked the president to resign. He criticises Ilyumzhinov's press statements and, in what could be considered a threat, refers to "the recorded tape minutes of the meeting". It's easy to imagine that those minutes may be part of any attempt to immediately unseat Ilyumzhinov at the upcoming Extraordinary Board Meeting in two weeks' time.

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