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Thursday, 17 Oct 2019 11:10
Arkady Dvorkovich: "The real evaluation shall be made by the chess world"

During the first week of October, on the occasion of the first anniversary of Arkady Dvorkovich as FIDE President, we invited some representatives of the media to send questions to him. The result of this joint-interview offers some insight into the work of the new FIDE management along the past 365 days. 

Q: At the end of the first year of your work, which of your achievements would you list among the most important ones?

I would say that the main achievement is the obvious change of attitude from the chess community, professionals and federations towards FIDE and our activities. This can be sensed from the meetings, the responses, the many suggestions we receive... This trust in FIDE management shall be used wisely for the benefit of chess.

In particular, I would like to point out the following:

- The successful organization of the top-level tournaments during this year: The World Rapid and Blitz, the World Cup, the Women’s Candidates tournament, several stages of the Grand Prix... We also reinstated the Women’s Grand Prix, and the first leg, played in Skolkovo, was a great success. The Grand Swiss is in full swing on the Isle of Man, and since we know the work done in previous editions by the organizers, we are sure it will be a fantastic event as well [this interview was conducted right before the start of this event].

- We regained rights over our flagship events, the FIDE World Championship cycle. This is of paramount importance in order to attract sponsors and to showcase the game of chess in the eyes of a global audience. 

- We implemented massive programs for chess development. About 50% of national Federations are developing such programs with our assistance, and the volume of this support has increased several-fold compared to previous years.

- The internal FIDE organization. We built a new team with dozens of members, including full time, temporary employees, and volunteers. Of course, for this staff to perform like clockwork will still need some more time, but the team is already showing its determination and efficiency.

Some other challenges, like agreements with sponsors and partners, are long term goals, but we have already taken some promising steps. We commissioned global marketing research to Nielsen, and the results of this research have us now in a position to talk to sponsors with a clear focus. We have established positive cooperation with the giant, Coca-Cola, and that speaks volumes. Many potential partners have started a dialogue with us, and we are now fully immersed in the sponsorship recruitment phase. 

Q: Which of your campaign promises would you consider fulfilled?

The reform of the Women’s World Championship cycle, which has been unified similarly to that of men. It is a consistent system that includes World Cup, Grand Prix, Candidate’s tournament and the title match. The prize fund has also been increased significantly. I believe it is important that the Grand Prix system is now back; its absence in recent years felt like an omission. By the way, should be there more women’s round-robin tournaments in the future calendar,  the system might be replaced by knockout competitions, following men’s pattern. We don’t have Women Grand Swiss currently, but we are working on it and I hope that we will be able to add it to the calendar.  

The agenda of the General Assembly to be held in December includes a suggestion to make a major reduction of the FIDE fees. This one may have come later than we expected but it has been done finally. The packages are aimed at all countries and various social groups. FIDE veterans' fees have been cancelled already, while we also allocated an additional €50.000 to support senior chess players [€20.000 as stipends, and €30.000 to reinforce the prize structure of the Senior World Championships]. Veterans, kids, and developing countries benefit the most from these decisions.

Q: What were the mistakes made during this year?

There are always certain mistakes in organizing tournaments and hosting events. We are putting in place a reporting system after each event, as a routine, in order to make sure that these mistakes are not repeated. It is really important for us to listen to criticism and we are doing our best to address all concerns.

The World Fischer Random Chess Championship deserved somewhat more attention probably. On the whole, and speaking in chess terms, I would say that all mistakes were about tactics, not strategy.

Q: How would you rate yourself after this first year? Would you like to specifically praise anybody based on his/her performance?

I’d prefer not to praise anyone in particular because this is teamwork, and every member who has contributed to the implementation of our projects has my gratitude.

As for my own self-evaluation, I have certainly made one, but rather for myself - not for public consumption. The real evaluation shall be made by the chess world and FIDE stakeholders. If the delegates support my suggestions regarding the new FIDE Charter, the budget and fees reduction at the General Assembly, then I would rate my activity as successful.

Q: One of the first sports executives who congratulated you for your election in Batumi was Gianni Infantino, president of FIFA. Do you think that chess can experience in the next decades a boom comparable to that of football in the 20th century?

I do not think that our beloved game of chess should be compared with the beautiful game of football. Our world needs both. To make chess a really universal game, FIDE should focus on two priorities: bringing chess to schools as one of the best possible tools to improve the intellectual capabilities of our kids, and expanding online chess playing and training. On top of that, finding ways to make chess interesting to watch is critical for success. And I am sure that new technologies would allow us to do so.

Q: Before you got elected you promised strong cooperation with FIFA. What has materialized out of this in the first year?

Any material collaboration requires proper preparation. While I am confident that we will start our joint projects very soon, I also have found that FIDE, as an institution, was not fit to start immediately. That is why we have agreed that first, we will learn from FIFA's best practices in development management, finance, and marketing activities. Second, FIFA will send signals to some of the national federations about options to introduce chess training into football academies. Third, we will continue what we actually already started last year, namely working with football stars to give better visibility to our chess projects. I could continue the list, but the most important thing is to do what we agreed to do, and the ball is in our court. I will make sure we prioritize these projects in the nearest future.

Q: What are your main goals for 2020?

First of all, to develop the new FIDE Charter. If the Assembly approves it, this would allow us to reshape the work of the FIDE Commissions and Federations’ responsibility.

Secondly, making adjustments to FIDE's sources of funding, so we can obtain 50% of our budget from agreements with private partners.

Thirdly, to develop a stable 4-year calendar (2021-2024) which would make it much easier for players and organizers. This would also help to establish long term sponsorship agreements.

Q: A few corporate partnerships have been announced on the FIDE website. What percentage of the annual budget for 2020 will be coming from sponsorship agreements?

Our ambition is to reach a 50% benchmark, but clearly, it is an extremely challenging project. Still, I am confident that we will do much better than in 2019 (going from 5 to 15 per cent), as we had to spend a lot of time improving the delicate situation we inherited. This included reopening bank accounts, and completing a forensic audit. This was very time-consuming.

We have also mediated to help organizers in the task of finding sponsorship. Coca-Cola sponsored the Tal Memorial in Riga and the Polish Extraleague in Silesia, while Rosatom supported events in Helsinki and Tashkent. This is something we set into motion and we will continue this line of work.



Q: On July 23, 2018, Nigel Short tweeted: "FIDE should introduce a register of PB members' financials interests, with steep punishments, or even prosecutions, for non-disclosure, so that individuals do not vote to enrich themselves to the detriment of the organization." Taking into account your strong emphasis on transparency in your campaign, and the fact that Nigel is now a Presidential Board member, it would be interesting to know how far this suggestion is being implemented?

The first forensic audit has been a clear signal, that we are really serious about transparency. And that also helped to clarify some cases from the past.

Regarding the future, a priority is to make sure that there is a transparent procedure to deal with evident and/or potential conflicts of interest both in the Presidential Board and in the Management Board.

Q: What can you tell us about the venue for the 2020 World Championship match?

We are now negotiating the terms with potential organizers intensively. The negotiations are moving along quite successfully, so we believe that in October of 2019 the bid will be finalized.

It is worth mentioning that FIDE should see the match not only as a pure chess competition but also as a social event of general interest. Maybe we should cooperate with other events and join efforts in ways that could help us to popularize chess. We have a few ideas for 2020 that already being discussed with potential organizers, and I am confident they will work out well.

Q: How would you describe the relationship of FIDE management with the current World Champion? 

It is a well-known fact that the World Champion title has a somewhat sacred status in chess, to a much bigger extent than in any other sport. The World Champion is always a trendsetter. Magnus is one of the best chess players in the history of the game, and we respect him a great deal. I want to emphasize that his team had all the chances to see that. We hope that we can find a format of collaborative work, not limited just to the championship match, but with a broader scope.

Q: Talking about cooperation, how is the relationship with the Grand Chess Tour and Rex Sinquefield?

An important step was that in January this year we agreed on a tournament schedule, avoiding a clash between FIDE and GCT events. This coordination was very productive, allowing the leading grandmasters to take part both in the GCT and Grand Prix series. We would like to strengthen our collaboration, but we are yet to find the right way to do it. In general, we should work respectfully towards each other, and I would emphasize that we are always open to dialogue.

Q: One common critique is that too many FIDE events are held in Russia.

This is the result of long term processes, to begin with. A lot of bids from Russia are obviously a consequence of the historical popularity of chess there, as well as the consequence of Sergey Karjakin becoming the Candidate in 2016. We are grateful to Russia for its bids and interest in chess. 

Having said that, expanding the geography of top-level tournaments is actually one of our priorities. We hope that the situation will change gradually and we will diversify the host countries as more sponsors come on board. For example, we expect that one of the tournaments of the next world championship cycle will take place in India. The championship match will be one of our steps to accomplishing this goal. And we have just incorporated venues like Isle of Man, Monaco, Lausanne, and Sardinia. During this summer I visited several South American countries and Morocco, and I am heading to Japan this week [Ed: Arkady Dvorkovich had already returned from Tokyo when this interview was posted]. We are trying hard to bring top chess events to all these places.

Q: How would you rate the current cycle structure? Will it be kept as it is now? Don’t you think that the amount of knockout events is a bit excessive? 

This problem is yet to be solved. I hope we can make a decision in the first quarter of 2020. For the most part, the structure will remain without changes.

As for the knockout tournaments, I believe it’s quite balanced now. It should be mentioned that when we admit a player to the Candidates Tournament based on his rating, we actually take into account all tournaments that take place all year round, most of which are round-robin tournaments. 

The only global change that I would personally support is admitting to the Candidates some players coming from some of the super tournaments. But this is a tricky endeavour since it depends first of all on the interests of private tournaments organizers. They all have their own preferences regarding the number of players they select, and they extend invitations following their own personal criteria. There is room for negotiations, but it is a complicated task. It looks unlikely to be resolved within this cycle, but we can think about it for the 2023-2024 cycle.

Q: Many people believe that the future of chess includes reducing time controls. What is your opinion? 

As you can see, there is a lot of rapid and blitz in the current World Championship cycle. FIDE follows the trends, the interest of fans and sponsors, and those of broadcasts and shows, and we gradually adjust the format accordingly. There is an obvious trend for shorter time-controls, and we are monitoring it closely. 

Q: What is your opinion on Fischer Random? 

I think the decision to give official status to the Fischer Random World Championship proved to be the right one. And now we should promote this game more actively. For the second edition, we should discuss the format, taking into account what we have learned from this first experience. It is important to think it through and draw conclusions. It might be worth discussing a two-year cycle, similar to the classical one, and organizing other major Fischer Random events during the break. 

We also need an official Fischer Random rating, but I cannot guarantee that this will happen by 2020; more likely the timeframe will be 3 years. The reason being is that there are a few things we need to analyze. First, time controls, because most of the Fischer Random events organized so far have employed rapid time controls. Secondly, we need to analyze the games already played and determine if any starting positions offer an excessive advantage to White. 

Q: Question: What do you think about the problem of cheating? There is a suggestion to disqualify based on computer data alone. 

I think that professional sports, big-time sports can introduce their own rules governing participation and disqualifications. At the same time, we should, of course, improve programs of control and upgrade the qualification of arbiters and players. In general, I believe that if the aggregate of software tools shows a high mathematical probability of cheating, it is possible to suspend a player from a particular tournament. But if we talk about a ban from future competitions, the suspect should probably be caught red-handed. And this person should have the right to engage experts in his appeal, including to the CAS.

We are very firm in our fight against cheating, and during the Q2 Presidential Board meeting in Baku, we adopted a resolution to toughen punishments and revise the current rules for prosecuting cheaters. We are developing legal mechanisms that would allow for the exclusion of violators from the game.

Q: Chess captivates people from all walks of life, regardless of their age. What makes this game so attractive, in your opinion?

A simple answer is that chess combines many things that people love: an intellectual challenge, where everyone can discover something special in every new game; strategical planning, beautiful combinations, unexpected moves; an opportunity to fight and experience a whole range of emotions - from celebrating victories to the disappointment after defeats. 

And now most of these elements can be enjoyed online by millions of people since the internet provides easy and almost universal access to chess.