OCTOBER 29 ― When working with a non-governmental organisation (NGO) and in particular one that is about chess, one would expect to be relatively free of politics when trying to bring about development.
Yet the reality is quite the opposite even if the political challenges are a little different. At the end of the day, the objectives are not too different though.
The Kasparov Chess Foundation Asia-Pacific (KCFAP) came about in Singapore almost two years ago when the legendary 13th World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov made a sweep of the region in support of his running mate Ignatius Leong. This was part of their campaign in Kasparov's run for president in the FIDE (World Chess Federation) election.
Kasparov himself had already set up sister foundations in Brussels and Johannesburg to his original New York-based Kasparov Chess Foundation and immediately saw the huge potential in Asia.
Of course KCFAP was given initial funding to start with, and both Kasparov and Leong were keen to show the region what could be in a future where FIDE invested in local chess communities rather than the current practice of giving positions, titles and appointments to events.
A few months after this chess NGO was set up, I was roped in as its Executive Director.
My job was to help look at the viability of projects submitted by various National Chess Federations in the region, to help shape them to their needs and for maximum local impact while ensuring that contractual obligations were met.
No local ― let alone international ― politics for me or so I thought but I was sadly mistaken!
When Leong was asked to be Kasparov's running mate in the FIDE Election the mutual friend who put them together also drafted a contract with the best intention of putting down the key obligations of both parties for the sake of transparency and also to ensure that no questions of conflict of interest would be raised with KCFAP.
Yet it turned out to be exactly the opposite when this draft contract ― which contents Leong had no knowledge of ― was sent to his official FIDE email and somehow later leaked.
In a very nasty FIDE Election, complaints were made to the FIDE Ethics Commission by both those aligned with Kasparov and the incumbent FIDE-Kirsan Ilyumzhinov camp but while the complaints made by Kasparov's allies were very well documented and with a heavy weight of evidence, the single complaint from Ilyumzhinov was that a draft contract constituted a buying of votes!
Kasparov of course found this absurd and did not even want to respond post election. After all with the clear help of the Russian government, Ilyumzhinov was able to enter his twentieth year at the helm of FIDE and the general feeling was that these were now all just pre-election posturing.
With the elections over, a new Ethics Commission was formed and unsurprisingly, they summarily dismissed all complaints against Ilyumzhinov. But instead of doing what everyone expected which was to dismiss the complaint against Kasparov and Leong, it was the single draft contract sent to an email and so different from the actual document signed that was deemed proof of guilt and worthy of sanction!
Even in sanctioning, the actions of the Ethics Commission were peculiar; announcing guilt but then delaying announcement of the actual punishment.
Now a month later, we all know what it is ― a two-year ban on Kasparov and Leong from holding any office in FIDE or affiliated organisations ― an action that Kasparov who holds no office is predictably ignoring but which Leong who had always been active in both the Singapore Chess Federation and ASEAN Chess Confederation he co-founded has appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Will KCFAP realistically be able to continue to support chess in the region given these developments?
Since the FIDE Election held in Tromso August 2014, KCFAP has besides many smaller initiatives, funded the Myanmar International Open in 2014 and 2015, the Guam International Open in 2015, and the coming New Zealand Chess Congress in 2016, seed funded the Evelyn Koshnitsky Women's Chess Trust Fund, and been a major backer for an official FIDE event ― the World Schools Championship 2015 ― in Thailand.
KCFAP has also in Malaysia supported the Selangor and KL Opens, as well as the Malaysian Chess Festival and is supporting a proposed Causeway Chess Festival in Johor.
Of these, the Malaysian connection is of course the most surprising given that when Kasparov announced his second trip to the region, then MCF (Malaysian Chess Federation) Hon. Secretary Tengku Ahmad Badli Shah who was also acting MCF Deputy President and a great fan of Kasparov's, asked if he would visit but the many promises made in return for this favour to help raise funds and the profile of the game in Malaysia were all never honoured.
At Tengku's request I facilitated a meeting with Leong and MCF President Tan Sri Ramli Ngah Talib who enthusiastically promised full support for Kasparov as FIDE President and so Kasparov was convinced to cut short his trip in Australia.
These promises of support were repeated to Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin in front of the key MCF officials during Kasparov's visit and again in public but after the programs for chess in schools, young talent development, and in a university were developed and agreed to, Ramli in subsequent meetings repeatedly refused to sign the contract which was a KCFAP requirement in order to disburse its funding.
In the meantime Ramli met up with Ilyumzhinov and perhaps that explains these and subsequent actions by him.
After being nominated by Ramli as candidate for ACF (Asian Chess Federation) Deputy President, Tengku was before his departure to Tromso stripped of the Delegate position and suffered the further indignity of Ramli and his own Federation voting against him at the ACF meeting and so like his other MCF Deputy President predecessors Zuhri Abdullah and Datuk Sri Dr Edmund Santhara, Tengku has left chess together with the many projects he initiated with KCFAP.
The non-chess playing MCF President continues to endure.
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.