Funding chess tournaments... the right way

APRIL 2 — The biggest problem in chess today is sponsorship or rather its lack of. Ultimately, it is the inability of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) to sell a game with so many attractive attributes including global recognition and appeal. What’s more, it has a ready audience possibly in the hundreds of millions who play the game.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has now had 20 years at the helm of FIDE and what he has presided over is a total failure of an international sports organisation without purpose and direction.

It is completely dependent on money for its various flagship world championship events from Russia when other despotic states tire of their moment on an international stage or from the deep pockets of oil-rich Arab states.

FIDE’s other source of money is its members — the national chess federations and the players themselves — as it takes a percentage of prizes and budgets, and also charges every entry, title as well as rating fees.

In turn, national chess federations mimic FIDE in how they operate and together work to exploit the parents of kids attending and also participating in the numerous international youth events held year round and all over the world.

No need to look for sponsorship, just get the rights for an event and allow all to play so long as they stay at official hotels and yes, young kids need to be accompanied by parents who often have to also bring along the rest of the family.

The reality is that the people who run the game at international level are the same as those who run the game so badly and without success locally.

All are not only very short of ideas but lack even the most basic skills needed to run an international, national or state sports association.

So don’t even start to think of FIDE or the majority of its national chess federation membership as being able to effectively market the game!

Yes it does not have to be that way and many independent organisers, both of elite tournaments and large international opens, have been successful in keeping their local sponsors happy.

They have also been working more with technology providers to innovate delivery of “live” games together with great commentary to audiences in the millions, not only on TV and through Internet streaming and social media but also by very effectively offering excellent “small screen” experiences.

Locally we are even more badly off with our chess officials having even worst skills than those in FIDE; their experience solely based on repeating the known from the past and clearly with no ability to set objectives, let alone try to have targets for the promotion of the game.

So the organisers of chess competitions in Malaysia fall broadly into five distinct categories identifiable only by their personal agendas.

First are those tournaments organised by barely existing state associations. These are done to fulfil some minimum expected obligations, although in reality many don’t even pretend to do so and so fall seriously short. In most cases these are not more than a few people who for whatever reason insist on clinging on to their positions year after year.

Next are the organisers who try to have an international event (usually with help from long-time chess patron Datuk Tan Chin Nam) and of these the Penang and IGB Malaysian Opens immediately come to mind.

Still others like the Selangor Open are without sponsorship but try and keep a tradition alive (even if one questions what their overstaying leadership has been doing if they have to ask RM15,000 from the Kasparov Chess Foundation Asia-Pacific to underwrite their prize fund this year) and there are some rapid tournaments in Sabah with government connected money pretending to be more than what they are.

In most cases the agendas of the people responsible are sadly no more than to be someone in chess locally and perhaps also to be able to curry or trade favours, again it being all about themselves; the latest self-serving case in point being of course how the Johor Open came about and will continue to be.

Besides these, there are also various competitions, from international-rated events such as the one where the organiser cum arbiter also played, doing it to help his regular students get FIDE ratings and in the process even beating his own participating daughter in order to keep his self-proclaimed international standing.

Then there are events like the one organised by a group of syiok sendiri friends who are happy to every now and then redistribute their ratings by playing amongst themselves.

We, of course, also have the local rated events played over one day on a weekend run without any standard or supervision by simply anyone willing to pay the fees to the pocket of the MCF rating officer and by being “self-funded” as they call it, have often gone as far as to claim they are doing all a favour!

The entry fees are high, the prizes laughable (as low as 20 per cent of the collection) and as I have said before, naturally target kids, often with several age group categories but sadly as I have also said before, this is to make a few hundred easy ringgit every now and then for a day’s effort.

Finally we have what the Malaysian Chess Federation (MCF) does. It seems to exist just so certain officials can make money for themselves while the rest of the committee continues to accept what is going on rather than end such conflicts of interest.

The chess tournament at the Petaling Jaya Community Library last weekend. — file pic
The chess tournament at the Petaling Jaya Community Library last weekend. — file pic

Besides making a privately-owned national rating system all important, a national body has the right to award the various national titles and determine the selection of national representatives and this is in the hands of one person.

His target? The kids and their generally helpless parents desperate to participate in and holiday at the numerous international youth events all over the world. These parents are usually charged ridiculous entry and administrative fees at inflated exchange rates, and there is often a need to pay for coaching services and/or the expenses of an accompanying official. It has been said that on occasion, free official hotel rooms given by organisers have also been sold!

Of course one can service the market fairly and professionally and still make a living! In the last couple of years there has been one particular organiser who would fall into the category of a local-rated event organiser who has managed to show how it should be done.

Mohd Fadli Zakaria, aka “Stonemaster”, runs a company called Cerdik Catur Enterprises and has gotten sponsorship which is now in the region of RM200,000 a year, not much one might say but still a sum 200,000 times more than what MCF has raised in sponsorship.

Fadli and his team are busy every weekend all over Selangor but they also organise in KL, Perak, Negri Sembilan, Malacca, in fact anywhere in Malaysia should someone need a chess event!

Last weekend I saw him in action at a very well-run Open tournament held over two days at the PJ Community Library which provided RM10,000 for prizes and is in its fifth year.

A fervent self-promoter who is not only proud of what he has achieved but also savvy with the use and value of social media, Fadli certainly has his detractors but every sen of sponsorship is returned to the participants as prizes and it is not an easy life making a living from low entry fees (when waived by the sponsor, he takes a small fee for his efforts) and in fact MCF, without lifting a finger to help, is the major beneficiary of his work through the collection of fees for ratings and regular grassroots activities.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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