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Fide’s sugar-coated gambit?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

After 19 months of waiting for some tangible development, the Chess in Schools programme promised by the world chess body is back in the news. 


A recent announcement by the T&T Chess Association reports on the three-day visit of Ali Nihat Yazici, FIDE Vice President and Chairman of its Chess in School Commission. During his brief stay, from April 29 to May 1, Yazici met with members of the T&TCA executive, spoke to officials of the Ministry of Education in Trinidad and the Secretary of Education, Youth Affairs and Sport of the Tobago House of Assembly.


Now, DR must ask, were the discussions which Yazici had with Education Ministry officers intended, at last, to implement the plans outlined in the Memorandum of Understanding signed in Port-of-Spain on October 11, 2012? It appears not. Where the MOU envisioned a manageable, pioneering programme confined strictly to T&T, Yazici has now come up with “a regional initiative,” including countries such as Guyana, Barbados and Puerto Rico and aimed at “boosting chess in schools throughout the Caribbean.”


Another question from DR: If after 19 months the FIDE Chess in School Commission could not, for whatever reason, implement any part of its MOU in T&T, what are its chances of realising this ambitious “regional initiative”?


In fact, it would be interesting to hear what Nigel Freeman, executive director of FIDE, now has to say. It was Freeman who endorsed the MOU together with Kathleen Thomas, Permanent Secretary in the Education Ministry, and Russel Smith, general secretary of FIDE Americas and then president of T&TCA. 


In an interview with DR at the UTT College, Valsayn, Freeman then explained that the MOU would provide for the teaching of chess to school teachers who, in turn, would teach the game to their students as non-academic subjects. Addressing a group of teachers at the College, Freeman urged them to take up the offer and adopt the sport as one of their teaching disciplines. 


Later, DR was informed that the Commission was on the search for a teaching IM who would be provided with living quarters in Trinidad which would also house the much needed T&TCA secretariat.


This fairly simple plan appeared feasible enough; it was intended as a pioneering effort making T&T the first country in the western hemisphere to benefit from such a FIDE project. 


Why then the unexpected switch to a more complex “regional initiative”? Are not the chances of success for such a project likelier if it were taken initially on an exploratory basis? And does FIDE have the level of finance and manpower to implement and maintain such programmes “throughout the Caribbean”?


DR has no concrete evidence for this, but it seems to him that this regional chess-in-school effort may well be a sugar-coated gambit aimed at winning support from the region for current FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and his administration in the presidential elections carded to take place in August 2014. 


Over the last 18 years, efforts to oust the wealthy and eccentric President of the Russian state of Kalmykia from his position as FIDE president have been increasingly contentious, with a barrage of disturbing accusations coming from his opponents. 


The current effort led by ex-world champion Garry Kasparov is no different as Web sites of both sides sizzle with vote seeking pledges, promises and undermining attacks. 


In welcoming Yazici’s visit, the T&TCA saw it as an opportunity to deepen its relationship with FIDE “as it strives to further develop the sport of chess in T&T.” 


That ambition, of course, is praiseworthy but it seems to DR that T&T and the region have been well served by existing FIDE connections; Allan Herbert, FIDE Development Commission Chairman, based in Barbados and Russel Smith, general secretary, FIDE Americas, international arbiter and former president of T&TCA.


Smith, in fact, was one of the three signatories of the 2012 MOU, so why was he left out of the arrangements and events of Yazici’s visit?


In its approach to the FIDE elections, the T&TCA must be careful not to be influenced by dubious blandishments.


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