The curious case of Koneru Humpy and the All India Chess Federation

JULY 9 — It was only last week that I raised the relevance of continuing to have a Commonwealth Chess Championship when it has so clearly now become just another decent-sized International Open Chess tournament in India.

 I also lamented the fact that any real publicity they received was due to incidents resulting from poor organisation.

Here I should clarify further about what I meant. Firstly, there was publicity of course and of the type that begins with the very naming of the event (and being able to say that it is) the Commonwealth Championship. This counts for a lot in a country that is still so much shaped by its long history with the British Empire.

Secondly, while the international chess press was all about the defaults of players failing to meet the time control, questions were raised as to the competency of the arbiters. While at no point did the players not acknowledge they had some responsibility too, the fact is it was ultimately because of serious shortcomings and lack of professionalism on the part of the organisers. 

What surprised (but did not shock) me though was the decision of the All India Chess Federation (AICF) to file a complaint against Koneru Humpy — their long-time and arguably still only realistic hope for Woman's World Champion — with the World Chess Federation (FIDE) Ethics Commission.

The list of charges range from the trivial to the absurd and are also clearly malicious as they ensured it was published in the press.

Some background is in order regarding the history between AICF and Humpy as their relationship has always been troubled, primarily because Humpy was a huge talent from very early on.

Until the recent emergence in India of a whole generation of talented young grandmasters, Humpy was good enough to be selected to their men's team with a rating of 2600+.

Following in the steps of their former World Champion Viswanathan Anand, she decided to do things very much on her own terms. 

I don't know Humpy personally but certainly count Anand as a friend and I have to say that while both do not really fulfill the minimum obligations — representing one's country in team events like Olympiads immediately comes to mind — which I think a No. 1 player and a World Champion or World Championship prospect should do (and something their major rivals have no problem doing year in, year out), AICF has till now only privately griped about Humpy when she was unavailable.

This latest move by AICF against Humpy is also very strange because if  there really was a case, then they should have just referred her to its own disciplinary committee.

Going to FIDE seems to be not only a subversion of due process but also absolutely the wrong forum as it could not have been about anything raised by her in the appeal she made after being forfeited as that was her right.

Even if it was something said by Humpy when interviewed by the press and I only know of one I found nothing controversial or offensive in it although quite a lot of what was revealed at the meeting by the writer and especially her personal take would not have gone down well with AICF.

I have last week also noted that Bharat Singh, the tournament director, is also the CEO of the AICF, president of both the Commonwealth Chess Association and the Delhi Chess Association which is the organiser of the Commonwealth Chess Championship.

He would also be intimately familiar with the FIDE Ethics Commission and how it can work, having served on it and actively participating in a number of controversial decisions leading up to the FIDE elections in Tromso 2014 and is now both Deputy President of the Asia Chess Federation and Chairman of the FIDE Technical Commission.

Since the 80s I have had longstanding friendships in India, and many of those I have played chess with are in leadership positions in AICF. But since the watershed FIDE elections in Tromso last year, too many have since become both arrogant and autocratic to the point that no other opinions — let alone any dissent — is tolerated.

The FIDE Ethics Commission, I believe, will refer Humpy's case back to ACIF and hopefully she will not be forced to fight for her reputation and career in Indian courts. 

Early on, the Association of Chess Professionals (ACP) -- Humpy is a member -- had commented on the poor organisation and questionable actions of the arbiters at the Commonwealth Chess Championship and got a commitment from the Chairman of the FIDE Arbiters Commission to look into the matter.

With the subsequent action by AICF against Humpy, we now also have the following official position taken by ACP:

"Indian Chess Federation (AICF) attacks its best female player, ACP Premium Member Humpy Koneru with the appeal to FIDE Ethics Commission and very harsh rhetoric:

ACP is concerned about the situation and will monitor the situation closely, asking FIDE to investigate this case thoroughly, checking the possible misconduct by the organisers and arbiter(s), which served as a trigger for the whole case.

Please, find below Humpy's statement we have received in this regard:

'It`s painful to read such adverse and annoying statements by my own federation published in The Hindu. But what I have done is for justice and for respect towards chess players in India.I believe change cannot be achieved without the difficult situations, struggle or the pain. I wish that in future no player should suffer facing such circumstances.'"

All this is so unnecessary, as in the near past Humpy would have been treated respectfully and so the matter would have been amicably resolved. But now in all likelihood, a train wreck has left the station on a journey that could have serious consequences and no positive outcome for the many who are involved.  

Not only in chess it seems but in Malaysia as in the rest of the world, we are seeing more and more of this type of display of strength "because I can." 

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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