For personal gain, revenge but certainly not for the good of the game

NOVEMBER 5 ― During the ASEAN+ Age-Group Championships held earlier this year in Singapore, the AGM of the ASEAN Chess Confederation (ACC) was also held and as always has been the norm, every country attending was given a position.

After the meeting voted Panupand Vijjuprabha as ACC Secretary-General, his predecessor, Malaysian Chess Federation (MCF) Treasurer Haslindah Ruslan, was given the job of ACC Treasurer-General.

Both Haslindah and MCF Secretary Gregory Lau were seen and heard throughout the event lobbying for MCF President Tan Sri Ramli Ngah Talib to be the new ACC President.

It was, however, quite a stretch for all to consider Ramli's proposed candidacy seriously although he had been appointed an Asian Chess Federation (ACF) Vice President despite his lacklustre leadership of Malaysian chess.

So ACC founder and then Singapore Chess Federation (SCF) President Ignatius Leong was re-elected unopposed but in the last month he has relinquished all official positions in chess for two years following the controversial decision of the FIDE Ethics Commission to sanction him and Garry Kasparov.

He has, of course, appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

At the recent Malaysian Chess Festival, there was also enormous politicking but mainly for the upcoming MCF AGM (now postponed again, illegally, and to dates unknown next year).

In the meantime, ACC had been going about its business and introduced two potentially game changing events; the first being the ASEAN Championship in December which as ACC Deputy President Utut Adianto, an Indonesian Senator who is a former World Top 30 Grandmaster, puts it: “It would be a benchmark for ASEAN to compete with the rest of Asia and eventually the rest of the world.” while the second is the ASEAN Young Masters Cup in February 2016 which will provide a much-needed platform for the best young talents in the region to get chess grandmaster and international master title norms.

Now it seems that the takeover of ACC is well on its way after the Russian government has brought their influence to bear, not so much with National Chess Federations but through their governments, a tactic they employed so effectively during the last FIDE election.

This type of political interference in a sport, all too common in today's broader geo-political struggle between the world's super powers, will not only jeopardise long-standing relationships within the ACC chess community but will possibly threaten the existence of a very successful organisation which has greatly raised the level of the game in ASEAN and its neighbouring countries for almost two decades now.

But since when has any of these actions been about the game of chess?

Locally the rot remains deep and wide but in early 2013 it looked like Malaysian chess had a way forward with then Deputy President Zuhri Abdullah's decision to go for the MCF Presidency. Ramli turned to Datuk Sri Dr Edmund Santhara, then KLCA (Kuala Lumpur Chess Association) President, for support.

My personal view is that Zuhri would have brought about real change but he was also a parent of one of our brightest young players. While he was prepared to and did what it took to win, along the way some irresponsible parties brought race into the picture and that was not something I had seen in local chess before.

The MCF AGM, however, threw up two major challenges; the first being that the accounts were a mess but without approving it, no meeting (and election) could proceed and so a compromise was struck whereby it was agreed and minuted that a full forensic audit would be made by the newly-elected council, but the second was even more complicated as for the first time, the incumbent council refused to resign their positions before the start of the election, claiming they were not dissolved and so still had the right to vote!    

In a closely-fought election, Santhara proved to be the only uncontested winner and after the election he convinced me to help him by taking on both the role of FIDE Delegate and more importantly serve as MCF Technical Committee Chairman.

We immediately began to try and put some structure into MCF ― starting with policies and procedures and then assigning roles and deliverables to each member of the council. At the same time, the final renovations of a National Chess Centre together with offices for MCF, Kuala Lumpur Chess Association and the Chess Association of Selangor, as promised by Santhara, were also begun.

With the MCF finances in shambles, Santhara agreed to advance RM50,000 immediately for development needs, on top of sponsorship separately given to rescue the Malaysian Masters and to revive a National Inter State Team Championship.

But very quickly, some in MCF were not happy with the change they initially supported when they realised that the same rules applied equally to all. Led by Vice President Lee Ewe Ghee, also a parent, an EGM was requisitioned ― not just to remove Ramli but also Santhara who was doing and paying for everything ― but with the unusual twist of challenging the positions of both the No. 1 and No. 2 leaders, it did not in the end take place.

Sadly it was still a stalemate and that crippled the proposed change in MCF we were trying to achieve and so I decided to quit and Santhara followed three months later.

Yet when MCF was finally suspended by FIDE for longstanding non-payment of arrears, Santhara because he was then still Deputy President and after Ramli said he had no money, stepped in with yet another a loan, but this time made through KLCA.

Until today neither this nor the previous RM50,000 has been refunded or accounted for, let alone acknowledged.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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