FIDE Congress Meets in Thessaloniki

by Ismail Sloan

SALONIKA - NOVEMBER 1988 - When one thinks of Greece, one thinks of a sunny vacation on a southern Greek isle. However, the drizzling cold of the polluted industrial Northern city of Thessaloniki, located near the border with Bulgaria, was the reality which faced the participants at the 1988 World Chess Olympiad.

The gloom which prevailed throughout the Olympiad was only partially allayed by the sparkling chess, including the performance of Kasparov, who has now established himself in the opinion of many grandmasters as a stronger player than Fischer ever was. However, some suggested that it was unfair to compare a modern player like Kasparov against a now historical player like Fischer. For example, Grandmaster Sunye of Brazil stated, "The game is different now. Kasparov has got the first forty moves analyzed, and after that it is time to adjourn. The game is played mostly away from the opponent." Grandmaster Christiansen of the U.S.A. said, "Kasparov has teams of people working for him. Fischer did it all by himself, with nobody to help him, while listening to late night radio broadcasts by the Church of God."

However, the exciting news was not Kasparov's score of 8.5 out of 10 against the world's leading grandmasters, but the developments in woman's chess, especially the performance of 12-year-old Judy Polgar, who easily eclipsed the traditional world champion, Maya Chiburdanidze, and who was being talked about as not only the strongest female player and the strongest player for her age of all time, but also as a potential challenger for Kasparov's World Championship title.

However, there is the other side of chess: The grimy but equally necessary world of chess politics, which manages to excite the imagination of those few (such as myself) interested in the arcane issues of show trials, kangaroo courts, and summary executions (with one bullet through the bishop). Here are some of the great issues of the day, which gripped the imagination of those present at the General Assembly meeting in Thessaloniki:

1. Would Grandmaster Quinteros of Argentina, an old friend of Bobby Fischer and until last year one of the most active and energetic players in the world, actually be stripped of the grandmaster title and banned from playing chess for the rest of his life?

2. Would World Champion Kasparov actually be disciplined or censured by FIDE for his public utterance that "FIDE is like the Mafia," words deemed to be grievously insulting to the higher echelons of the Costa Nostra.

3. Would the proposed "Code of Ethics" be passed, which provided that a player could be suspended from playing chess for a period up to four years for any of a wide variety of reasons, including "any violation of the laws of chess", such as an illegal move.

It was these and similar questions which had those present in the meetings of the General Assembly of FIDE sitting on their hands with adrenaline pumping, waiting in anticipation for the answers.

In the end, none of the above things happened. In fact, just about nothing at all happened at the General Assembly, except that smoking was banned from all FIDE competition, starting next year. To the chagrin of so many, nobody at all was banned for life from playing chess. Nobody was even declared "persona non grata." Even the great man himself, Ricardo Calvo, walked into the General Assembly meeting, in spite of having been declared persona non grata by that august body one year earlier. However, he then left almost unnoticed about twenty minutes later, because the proceedings were just too boring.

This is not to say that there is nothing to report about the General Assembly meeting. Florencio Campomanes, who once again demonstrated himself to be a master politician, clearly realized that things had been going a bit too far and that the mood in Thessaloniki had the potential to turn ugly. Indeed, there were times when it seemed possible that the debate might turn to actual fisticuffs. In particular, during the debate on the African proposal (which was actually the proposal of American gadfly Jerome Bibuld) that Quinteros be both banned for life from playing chess and also stripped of the grandmaster title, the tension was so high that nobody could be sure of what would happen next. The hero of the day turned out to be an obscure player named Yann Joseph from Monaco, who had never attended a FIDE meeting before and was just "filling in" because the regular delegate from Monaco was unable to attend. After Dr. Ebigwei of Nigeria and De Silva of Angola had both spoken in favor of the proposed lifetime ban on Quinteros (plus a similar one year suspension on grandmaster Karl Robatch of Austria) Joseph was the only man in the room willing to rise to his feet and argue vehemently against the proposed ban. He called the entire proceeding against Quinteros a "kangaroo court", which, he said, was a court conducted by persons who were not lawyers, with no right by the accused to appear in his own defense, and based upon an alleged violation of a proposed FIDE statute which is not yet even enacted.

When both FIDE Deputy President Ghobash of the UAE and Dr. Ebigwei took great offense at the use of the term "kangaroo court", Joseph countered by saying, "But this is a kangaroo court, or at least it will be if it actually results in this man being banned from playing chess for the rest of his life."

For a moment, it almost seemed that the next sound would be the sound of gunfire directed at Joseph. Instead, it was the by now familiar sound of Campomanes suggesting that the entire matter be postponed until the 1989 General Assembly meeting to be held in Puerto Rico. To this, De Silva strenuously objected. "And then until the next year in Nova Sad, and then the next in Thessaloniki again." However, Campomanes countered with another proposal. The FIDE Congress was supposed to conclude at 1:00 PM but, since Campomanes had saved all of the important issues for the last, it was by now already 1:25 PM. Campomanes therefore suggested that "in view of the great importance of this issue" there could be a brief recess and then a special extraordinary session could be convened for the afternoon during which this matter could be debated to the fullest extent possible.

That proposal brought proceedings to a halt, because nobody seemed prepared to sacrifice their afternoon, just to ban Quinteros from playing chess for the rest of his life. Later, in the coffee shop, Dr. Ebigwei explained that he and the other African delegates had no choice but to argue for the lifetime ban. Otherwise, he said, the African chess players would themselves be banned from attending these Olympiads by their own national sports federations.

Another interesting point was that the accompanying anti-South African legislation, as drafted, could result in Bibuld himself, one of the main supporters of the proposal, being banned from playing chess. The resolution said that any internationally titled person (which includes Bibuld, who is an international arbiter) who plays or participates in any chess competition in South Africa (including as an arbiter) can be banned from chess for life. Bibuld claims that he is the representative of the "Chess Association of the People of South Africa" which is seeking membership in FIDE. However, he says that he is protected from a possible lifetime ban because he has never actually been to South Africa, much less played a chess game there. Incidentally, the crime of Quinteros was said to be that he again went to South Africa, after having been suspended from FIDE competition for three years by the 1987 FIDE General Assembly in Seville. According to Bibuld, Quinteros received 125,000 Rand for this. Someone who has spoken to Quinteros recently quoted him as saying, "What I received there is more than I get from a whole year of playing chess, so why not?" Robatch of Austria was said to have received similar amounts.

The other major potentially volatile issue was the proposed FIDE "Code of Ethics". David Anderton of England, the author of the code, was clearly stung by the personal criticism and attacks directed at him arising from his authorship of the code, which would establish a procedure to censure or suspend persons from playing chess or from holding office in FIDE for a variety of possible reasons. Anderton clearly had not learned one of the great lessons of history, which is that the great perpetrators of witch trials and inquisitions were themselves eventually burned at the stake. At the Spanish Inquisition in Seville in 1987, Ricardo Calvo was declared persona non grata by the FIDE General Assembly and Quinteros was suspended from playing chess for three years. However well intended these noble deeds might have been (just as witches were burned at the stake with the best of intentions) the fact is that the action against Calvo was clearly illegal because there was no FIDE statute then or now in effect which provided for a private individual to be declared persona non grata. Most lawyers will agree that the three year suspension of Quinteros was illegal as well, because the FIDE statute in question provided for only a suspension of one year, which might be extended "in the case of repeated violations". Quinteros had never been suspended previously.

Anderton, through his Code of Ethics, had apparently hoped to remedy these gaps in the law, by creating a broad quasi-legal proceeding to do exactly this sort of things which were done in the Calvo and Quinteros cases. He was therefore terribly stung and upset when the focus of criticism was directed, not at those unethical persons whom he hoped to root out of chess, and not at a long time FIDE dissident and outsider like Calvo, but at a respectable FIDE insider and member of the old boy school like Anderton himself. Unlike at Seville, this time the opposition had come prepared. In particular, the US delegation to the FIDE Congress, led by Don Schultz and Arnold Denker, had been given specific instructions by the USCF Policy Board, to stop the FIDE Code of Ethics from passing "at all costs". They did this job as instructed, even though Schultz, who has been faced with increasing criticism from within the US Chess Federation, was known to have been one of the early supporters of the Code of Ethics.

At a secret meeting of the Central Committee, from which this journalist was kicked out, it was decided that a decision on Anderton's Code of Ethics would be postponed for one year. Nevertheless, at the General Assembly meeting, Anderton requested permission to speak for five minutes about his code, in the hope of explaining it in view of the great amount of disinformation which had been circulated about it. Campomanes agreed to let Anderton speak, but only for two minutes. Denker then cut him off completely, stating, "I don't think he should be allowed to speak at all, since the matter is going to be postponed." Anderton did not have the courage to protest effectively, so the matter died there, at least until the next year.

This was unfortunate. In all probability, Anderton will never get to make that two minute speech and therefore the world will never know what he really had in mind with his proposed Code of Ethics.

Why was this code considered by so many to be so threatening and dangerous to the chess community? In fairness, Anderton undoubtedly wrote it with the best of intentions. He claimed that he took it directly from the British Criminal Code. However, unlike the British Criminal Justice System, the Code of Ethics provided no legal safeguards for the rights of the accused. For example, by a majority vote and with only 90 days notice, a person could be banned for four years from playing chess.

Eric Schiller, the member of the American delegation who lobbied most effectively against the code, pointed out that the Code provides that for example, "if a person violates the Laws of Chess or the Statutes, Rules or Regulations of FIDE,"...."upon receipt of a complaint the President shall appoint a panel of not less than three persons from the members of the FIDE Ethics Commission"......"which shall make a written report to the General Assembly of its findings with one or more of the following recommendations [which may include] censure the case of a player..... suspension of the right to play in FIDE registered tournaments for a period of up to four years."

In addition, the Code provided for penalties against journalists who write words "which are abusive or insulting" and for those who "offer directly or indirectly any bribe for election to any office in FIDE or who accepts such bribe." These last words were obviously intended to be used to censure or suspend persons like Calvo who, according to Don Schultz of the U.S.A., offered a "bribe" when he said that Kasparov would give a simultaneous exhibition in El Salvador if Lucena were elected, whereas Campomanes only gave, or offered to give, chess clocks and chess computers to the presidents of various national chess federations. The Code was also intended apparently to penalize persons like those who "accepted such bribe" as by voting for Lucena. These were to be "suspended from the right to hold office in FIDE for a period of up to four years." Since most FIDE office holders, including delegates, are in reality representatives of their national federations, this would have the result of preventing the member federations of FIDE from sending whom they want to send. The member federations themselves could also be suspended, under the Code. In short, this was clearly what Yann Joseph had in mind when he spoke about a "kangaroo court".

In any event, this was all postponed until next year, when it will probably be quietly dropped (or perhaps even more quietly enacted) in Puerto Rico. Other sensitive proposals were treated in a similar manner. The matter of Kasparov's complaint against the Mafia was also postponed for one year. Actually this issue was raised in the form of a letter by Campomanes to the Soviet Chess Federation, complaining about the remarks of Kasparov. The Soviet President, Sevastianov, who is a famous astronaut, stated that he had become the President of the Soviet Chess Federation less than two months earlier and the matter was really the fault of his predecessor, who had since moved up in ministerial rank, for failing to reply to the letter of Campomanes. Sevastianov asked for more time to make an inquiry and send a formal reply to the letter of Campomanes. Based upon this, Campomanes agreed to postpone the matter for one year, pending receipt of the letter.

There was lots of other excitement even on minor issues. For example, there was the proposal of France that Quebec be admitted as a member of FIDE. Even though this proposal was obviously ridiculous, Senior Deputy President Tudela expressed the view that any proposal, if properly and legally presented, must be given consideration by the General Assembly, even though the proposal may be utterly without merit. On the basis of this, Jean-Paul Touze of France was allowed to give a lengthy, impassioned and emotional speech, in the French language naturally, in favor of admitting Quebec to FIDE. After that, a vote was taken (one of the few votes actually taken by this General Assembly) and three votes were cast in favor of admitting Quebec, one of which came from French speaking Algeria.

Later, the General Assembly was treated to long speeches in French by Belkadi of Tunisia and in Spanish by De Silva of Angola on such pressing topics as the importance of African culture and the need for CACDEC funds to be used to send chess trainers to Africa. These and other long speeches suited Campomanes well, as the time which was devoted to such topics meant that the serious and important issues had to be dealt with in the final fifteen minutes of the meeting, or else postponed for one year, which was obviously his intention all along.

In spite of the boring and tedious nature of the proceedings, there were many interesting moments. There was, for example, David Levy of Scotland complaining that while, in Dubai, FIDE had agreed not to engage in further currency speculation but rather to keep all of its funds in Swiss Francs, FIDE nevertheless now had on hand 160,000 British Pounds, a notoriously unstable currency. There was also the Soviet proposal that Alisa Galliamova, who is both the World Junior Champion for girls and also the World Under-16 Champion for girls, and who is also one of the world's strongest and most promising female players, be admitted directly into the forthcoming woman's interzonals. It was explained that Galliamova had not been able to play in the Soviet woman's zonal tournament, which has already been completed, because the dates conflicted with the dates of the World Junior Championship for girls, which she won.

Campomanes, however, pointed out that the Woman's Committee had voted against the proposal to let Galliamova play in the interzonal. Sevastianov, through his Soviet interpreter, Pogostin, countered that in such matters, such as allowing strong female juniors to compete against the established top female players, the decision should not be left up to the Committee on Women, because, in that case, the Woman's Committee "will never let them play." Campomanes then proposed the tried and true formula of postponing the issue for one year which, he said, would give Sevastianov the opportunity to discuss the matter with the head of the Woman's Committee, Nana Alexandria, who, for some reason, did not happen to be in the room at the moment that this matter was being discussed. Sevastianov countered that since Alexandria was a member of his own federation, he was sure that she was not going to change her mind about allowing talented juniors to compete against her, so therefore he insisted that a vote be taken now.

Campomanes, who was obviously trying to avoid in every possible way from any actual votes on anything being taken, again said that the matter should be postponed for one year. This time, Sevastianov, who had already spoken several times, did not speak again and consequently Campomanes was not opposed, ignoring the fact that the interzonal in question will be played during the coming year and therefore, as things stand, Galliamova will not be allowed to play.

Finally, there was one proposal which got many delegates excited, and that was the proposal by Singapore to host the 1996 Olympiad (or in the alternative, the 1994 Olympiad). It was rumored that one of the sponsors might be Singapore Airlines, which might offer free air tickets or at least deeply discounted air tickets to the participants at such an Olympiad.

However, FIDE Deputy President George Makropoulos of Greece countered that this was all absolutely out of the question. He said that both the 1994 Olympiad and the 1996 Olympiad must be held in Thessaloniki. He explained that it had been proposed and accepted in 1982 in Lucerne that Thessaloniki would become the "permanent home" of the Olympiad and that the Olympiad would be held in Thessaloniki in 1984 and every four years thereafter. Thus, the Olympiad had been scheduled to be held in the years 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2000 etc. However, because of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America (and Puerto Rico) by Columbus in 1492, the "Government of Greece" had agreed to a swap, so that the 1992 Olympiad would be held in Puerto Rico and both the 1994 and 1996 Olympiads would be held in Thessaloniki.

In view of the intermittent rain storms and cold weather which had been going on in Thessaloniki, plus the fact that the organizers had failed or refused to provide any sort of transportation, by bus or otherwise, from to the hotels to the playing or meeting sites, plus the fact that taxis in Thessaloniki were nearly impossible to obtain, plus the fact that most of the hotels where the delegations were lodged were officially rated "Class B" and were not near the playing and meeting area, this meant that almost everyone present had to walk twenty or thirty minutes through the rain every day just to attend the games. By the end of the tournament, a high percentage of those present had caught a cold or illness of some kind, and the playing of the games was disturbed by the constant sound of people coughing. Under such circumstances, it was not surprising that many of the delegates present never wanted to see Thessaloniki again for the remainder of their natural lives. Therefore, they were shocked to learn from Makropoulos that they were being essentially ordered by the Government of Greece to return to Thessaloniki again in the years 1994, 1996 and 2000, in spite of a vastly superior offer from sunny Singapore.

It was argued on various sides of this question, that, in 1982, when Thessaloniki had first made this offer, FIDE was in trouble. The 1980 Olympiad had almost collapsed and Malta had been secured on a last minute basis. The Lucerne bid for the 1982 Olympiad had been received only with great difficulty. The bid for Thessaloniki had come at a time when there were no other bidders. Under these circumstances, many delegates contended that it would be a "slap in the face" for FIDE now to turn its back on Thessaloniki and decide to hold the Olympiad somewhere else, just because the financial conditions in the world have now gotten better and there many potential bidders for these Olympiads.

Other delegates went even further, stating that now it was "out of the hands of FIDE", since FIDE had entered into a "binding agreement" with Greece in 1982 which could not be changed.

Here are links:
Sam Sloan's Chess Page

My Home Page

Contact address - please send e-mail to the following address: