The Tromsø 2014 Olympiad organisers were playing with fire last Wednesday when they adopted FIDE’s favourite open letter format and said they were willing to go to court to uphold their right to exclude teams that missed the registration deadline. The response was perhaps inevitable – an endless barrage of open letters, some bruisingly worded by lawyers with threats, demands and imminent deadlines. The ball is well and truly in the organisers’ court, with the Tromsø team declining to comment publicly before 11am on Monday 21 July.
On the same day the Olympiad organisers announced their decision to exclude the Russian women's team and others from the event the Russian Chess Federation (RCF) and the World Chess Federation (FIDE) both responded strongly. That was nothing, though, compared to what was to come. It’s hard to keep track of all the open letters that followed – such “shock and awe” was perhaps the point – but let’s at least attempt a summary, with links to the original sources.
UPDATE: 11:30 CET, 21 July 2014
Under immense pressure - as you'll see if you read the rest of this article - the Olympiad organisers have now agreed that the Russian women's team and the other teams that missed the 1 June registration deadline can play. Their response came in an open letter to FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov on the Olympiad website, which included:
However, COT2014 takes a positive attitude to the FIDE President’s request out of consideration for the players, federations and good sportsmanship. Consequently, COT2014 accepts that the federations that have not registered teams by the deadline of June 1, 2014, are hereby permitted to register their respective teams, as they would have been on June 1.
The organisers hope for help from FIDE with the extra costs involved in more teams playing and also "a positive and constructive dialogue with FIDE up to and during the Chess Olympiad and with no further legal threats".
Keep reading to see exactly what they're referring to. We'll also have to wait and see if this is the end of the matter. Some of the many lawyers' demands - for instance, for the resignation of two members of the organising committee and an apology for/withdrawal of the original letter announcing the teams' exclusion - were not addressed in today's response.
Not so long ago all seemed to be well between FIDE and the Tromsø organisers. When FIDE Executive Director Nigel Freeman and VP Israel Gelfer visited Norway in May they felt the event was on course.
Commenting to the local media on the doubts about Olympiad financing Nigel Freeman responded:
It would have been better if we’d been informed earlier, but we’re sure they’ll resolve the situation.
That opinion was repeated on the FIDE website on 22nd May (over a week before the now infamous 1 June registration deadline):
The financial situation was discussed and they were advised that they would receive a final answer in the next two - three weeks, which is expected to be of a positive nature.
Freeman also had some praise for the organisers:
There are always problems with Chess Olympiad events. Compared to previous organisers, Norway and Tromsø have had far less problems. In many of the other Chess Olympiads, we’ve had greater financial problems.
Last Friday, however, that had all changed, as FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov wrote an open letter to the organisers.
Unfortunately, the strong influence and partnership of one FIDE presidential candidate, and his employees, within the Organizing Committee is causing for the first time in Olympiad history, so many problems in a top FIDE event.
He went on to reel off a series of complaints (such as arbiters being housed 70 km from the playing venue) before switching to the main issue of teams excluded from the event.
When it came to Russia he repeated the arguments already employed by the Russian Chess Federation (e.g. that a deadline can’t be enforced when the Olympiad was still in doubt and that the organisers invoiced the RCF for both the men’s and women’s teams), but conceded:
The only reason that Russia could not register their women team was that they were waiting for FIDE’s decision on the Kateryna Lagno case, which was only finalized on 12 July.
Ultimately Ilyumzhinov cites Article 6.1 of the Olympiad regulations (the disputed clause by which the FIDE President “is empowered to take the final decision on all questions relating to the Olympiad as a whole”) to reinstate all the excluded teams. The women’s teams of Russia and Afghanistan and the men’s teams of Gabon and Pakistan are allowed to participate “taking into account the real problems… faced during the registration process”. For the latter three teams that relates to arguments about who was in charge of the federations – of which more later.
The remaining teams (all men) – Cambodia, Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, Oman and Senegal – are implied simply to have missed the deadline. Ilyumzhinov cites article 3.7.2, however, to claim that the maximum sanction is a 100 euro per person fine for late registration, and says FIDE will cover those costs.
Oman had little time to organise an Olympiad team
The letter sets a deadline of 11am CET on Monday 21 July for
the organisers to confirm the countries will be accepted. Although Ilyumzhinov
threatens to use the Olympiad’s bank guarantee to compensate the excluded
countries, the letter does at least end on a positive note:
We hope to enjoy a successful and well organized Olympiad in Tromsø.
That positive note was echoed when Goran Urosevic asked Ilyumzhinov about suggestions the Olympiad might be cancelled or moved:
No, it will stay in Tromsø. The General Assembly adopted Tromsø and there is no further discussion.
It seems, however, FIDE’s lawyers hadn’t received the memo, as the open letter from Reymond & Associes significantly upped the stakes yet again. As well as demanding all the teams be allowed to take part it gave the same Monday deadline for the resignation and replacement of two members of the Olympiad Organising Committee, Tournament Director Ignatius Leong and Deputy Tournament Director Morten Sand. The reason? Allegations of “complete bias and a concrete conflict of interests” between their role on the organising committee and their involvement in Garry Kasparov’s campaign to become FIDE President.
The lawyers end with a threat to:
...sue individually the members of the OC and/or signatories of the decision of 16 July 2014 for the financial damages caused by their infringements of FIDE regulations, in particular (but not only) if the Chess Olympiad in Tromsø must be cancelled and be held in another country.
In contrast to such ominous threats the Letters received by FIDE regarding the announcement by the Tromsø Olympiad Organisers (letters in support of FIDE’s position) perhaps pass as light relief. It would be hard, for instance, to disagree with Martin Huba, the President of the Slovak Chess Federation, that we’d all like to see the “excellent Russian girls” participate in the Olympiad.
Kirsan Ilyumzhinov took an unusual approach for the president of a major international organisation, posing in a homemade T-shirt:
Social media is a double-edged sword, of course. Responses included:
Sure enough, another lawyer’s letter followed. The legal arguments are mostly familiar, although the firm clearly tried to earn their fees by pointing out fine distinctions such as the use of “shall be” not “may be” in the clause stating that “late notification of team particulars shall be accepted up to 20 hours before the start of Round 1” (if I was a well-paid lawyer I might wonder what exactly the word “particulars” means in this context…). They also point out the inconsistency of the organisers in allowing some teams that contacted them with problems in advance to submit their registration late, although presumably excluding those teams as well wouldn’t solve that issue.
The letter is well-worth a read, though, because it doesn’t limit itself to legalese. For instance:
Your letter is a new page in FIDE history: one that disregards all principles of fundamental fairness and shuns the FIDE motto of “Gens Una Sumus” (We are one family). Even President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov recently commented on your inappropriate conduct: “The Chess Olympiad Organizing Committee forgot its true purpose – to provide equal opportunity to all players of the world chess community to attend the tournament.”
The letter ends by demanding confirmation of the eligibility of both Russian teams, including Kateryna Lagno, to play in the Olympiad. Then there's just time for another lawyers’ trick – a near impossible deadline with which to comply: “5 p.m. CET today, 18 July, 2014”. The Russian Chess Federation’s Mark Glukhovsky later confirmed to chess24 that no response had been received by that time.
That wasn’t quite all. The letter from FIDE’s lawyers had been copied to “His Royal Highnesses [sic] the Crown Prince in his capacity of Patron of the Chess Olympiad Tromsø 2014”. The Russian Chess Federation didn’t aim quite so high, but President Andrei Filatov wrote another open letter to Ms Marit Wiig, General Director of the Department of Sport in the Norwegian Ministry of Culture. That impassioned personal plea was adapted to the recipient:
I would like to apologize for being too emotional in this letter, but chess is an extremely important and popular sport in Russia. Imagine what Norwegian fans would fee[l] like if, for example, Ole Einar Bjørndalen had been banned from the Sochi Winter Olympic Games through the fault of the Organizing Committee.
The letter, sent on International Chess Day (20 July), was of course aimed at upping the pressure on the organisers, although it contains nothing substantially new unless you count the demand for a public apology.
So far the organisers have limited themselves to a terse press release, stating:
The board of COT 2014 will now devote its time to reviewing this letter. COT 2014 will make its position known within the deadline set in the FIDE letter, that is, by Monday, 21 July, 11:00 (a.m.) Central European Time.
Until then, COT 2014 will not issue any further comment.
There was at least an attempt to break the ice on International Chess Day:
Although the direct recipients of the letters from FIDE and the RCF are yet to respond, others have made their feelings known. The UCF are fundamental to this whole situation since their refusal to allow Kateryna Lagno to transfer to Russia seems to have led to the missed registration deadline. On 18th July they published an open letter of their own, strongly criticising the procedure and verdict of the FIDE Presidential Board that approved the transfer. Their fundamental case appears to be that although Lagno has spent time in Russia she’s failed to produce evidence, such as a residence permit, of being resident there. The first requirement of the FIDE transfer regulations states:
A player may be registered under a Federation if he or she has citizenship, naturalization or residency in the country of that Federation.
Without residency paying a transfer and compensation fee alone wouldn’t be enough to force through a transfer, but the Presidential Board was satisfied with the evidence presented to them.
Even by the standards of FIDE elections this year’s contest to become the next FIDE President has been an ugly affair, with the Olympiad now getting dragged into that mire. Kasparov, as you’ll have seen above, has been accused of being behind the recent decisions by the Olympiad organisers, but he sees those accusations as a smokescreen, commenting on his campaign site:
Ilyumzhinov’s gang and his allies at the Russian Chess Federation are desperate to politicize this unfortunate mess of their own making.
He objects to the use of clause 6.1 to overrule the other regulations, and draws attention to some of the other teams excluded from the Olympiad:
Lastly, it is complete hypocrisy for Ilyumzhinov to now speak of the other excluded federations, especially since four of them – Gabon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Senegal – failed to meet the deadline due only to their legitimate leadership being attacked by Ilyumzhinov’s administration in the Electoral Commission for purely political reasons.
More details of potential irregularities are given in an extensive article at Chess.com that quotes Electoral Commission member Andrei Korobeinik, who was outvoted 4:1 on 6/6 decisions that apparently went in Ilyumzhinov’s favour.
Kasparov goes on to suggest a compromise should be reached that allows everyone to play, although for him that would need exactly the opposite of what Russia is demanding:
The RCF should begin by admitting they consciously violated the rules and apologizing to the organizers and the other federations for doing so.
Have too many bridges already been burnt, or is a compromise still possible? In a plea written as an open letter (because if there was one thing this situation lacked…) IM David Levy called on the Olympiad organisers to recognise their responsibility as the mother (to FIDE’s father) of the event:
Sometimes, as is the case this year, parents squabble, which is saddest of all for their children.
The only problem is that the one sentence in the letter that hints at a solution is opaque at best:
In an organizational project such as the Chess Olympiad there are few problems that cannot be solved with additional money, and I feel sure that, whatever additional money you need in order to enable you to accept the FIDE President’s instruction to admit all the teams who originally registered, with good will on both sides you will find a way to solve that problem.
Let’s hope the lack of clarity on who could provide the extra money is only a question of grammar! In any case, we’re likely to find out more when the 11am deadline for a response passes.
And lest we forget, there are only 11 days to go before the Olympiad
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