Suddenly, in the midst of a bitter campaign for the presidency of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), something weird, if not funny, has happened. The incumbent, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who is battling to retain the office he has held for the last 15 years, claims that he was kidnapped by aliens at his home in Moscow 13 years ago. Save your laughter, dear reader, the man is deadly serious.
Ilyumzhinov, who is also President of the Russian republic of Kalmykia, recalled the extraordinary events during an interview on Russian state television about three weeks ago. The wealthy politician said he was relaxing at his Moscow apartment when he heard his balcony door being opened and someone calling him.
"I went there and looked. There was a semi-transparent pipe. I went into this pipe and saw people in yellow spacesuits."
The FIDE President's amazing story was highlighted in a number of leading newspapers in Russia and the developed world. The Daily Telegraph of London reported that Ilyumzhinov recounted the episode "with no apparent sign of irony, adding that the aliens explained that they were collecting samples." The Russian politician is quoted as saying that he himself would probably not have believed the alien visitation if there had not been three witnesses, "these were my driver, a minister and my assistant." According to the Telegraph, "the eccentric politician has made similar claims before but his repeating them on prime time state TV at a time when he is standing for re-election as President of FIDE has caused consternation."
Ilyumzhinov, 48, a multimillionaire businessman, told his Russian TV talk show hosts, "I am often asked which language I used to talk to them. Perhaps it was on a level of the exchange of ideas."
In an earlier interview with The Guardian of London, the chess boss recalled that the aliens had taken him to "some kind of star." He added: "They put a spacesuit on me, told me many things and showed me around. They wanted to demonstrate that UFOs do exist."
The story becomes more intriguing, if not more hilarious, when The Times reported that Ilyumzhinov's Russian political peers suddenly became quite agitated over the possibility that the Kalmykia president may have let slip state secrets to his abductors and whether Moscow had proper procedures for dealing with aliens.
Andrei Lebedev, a State Duma deputy, was apparently moved by the "holy terror" of Ilyumzhinov's claims and recently wrote to Russian President Dmitry Medmedev asking him to launch an investigation.
Ilyumzhinov, The Times observed, is no stranger to controversy. In 1993, then aged 30, he was elected to the top political post in Kalmykia, pledging to give Kalmykian shepherds a mobile phone and US$100 each.
His critics accuse him of acting as a dictator of both the impoverished Kalmykia republic and the World Chess Federation. What the FIDE boss hopes to achieve by his other-worldy recitation is as mysterious as the tale itself. What effect it will have on his effort to turn back the strong challenge of former world chess champion Anatoly Karpov will eventually be revealed at the FIDE General Assembly on September 24 when some 143 delegates representing member federations will cast their vote to elect the next president. The Congress, at which major administrative decisions are taken, coincides with the biennial Chess Olympiad which, this year, will be held in the Russian city of Khanty Mansiysk next September.
How Trinidad and Tobago will vote in this contest is a matter for the T&T Chess Association to decide, and one expects that its members are closely following the twists and turns of the campaign which is producing its own curious, caustic and convoluted episodes. When asked about it, Association president Quintin Cabralis said T&T's vote will result from an open debate at the T&TCA annual general meeting on June 13. "We must be concerned about the future of the sport we love and, as a result, we have got to be clear as to what each candidate has to offer," he added. Media reports that Karpov has actually been nominated by the Russian Chess Federation are vehemently denied by the Ilyumzhinov camp. However, according to former world champion Garry Kasparov, who is backing his old rival for the top FIDE post, a total of 21 countries, including the USA and several European states, have already declared their support for Karpov.
Kasparov makes his case largely by railing against the decline of Russian chess under Ilyumzhinov's presidency. The T&TCA, however, must be convinced that a change to Karpov is likely to benefit the sport as a whole, particularly small developing countries such as ours.