27 July 2018

Arkady Dvorkovich: Chess Requires Resources

A big interview on Chess.com

Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com
Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com

Last week, Chess.com sat down with FIDE presidential candidate Arkady Dvorkovich, to find out his plans for the future of chess. The recent allegations of bribery was an important topic.

Dvorkovich runs for FIDE president along with Bachar Kouatly (France) as Deputy President, Sewa Enyonam Fumey (Togo) as General Secretary, Mahir Mammedov (Azerbaijan) as Vice President, Julio Granda Zuniga (Peru) as Vice President and Zhu Chen (Qatar) as Treasurer.

As a former Deputy Prime Minister and a former Assistant to the President in the Russian government, Dvorkovich has plenty of experience as a politician. He is also a chess lover and held an official position in the Russian Chess Federation between 2007 and 2014. His father was a well-known international chess arbiter.

Somewhere mid-June you announced that you will run for FIDE President. Garry Kasparov tweeted: “I don't think you can say that Arkady Dvorkovich 'decided' to run for FIDE President. He was probably was told to do so. That's how things work in authoritarian regimes.” You yourself said: “I decided to nominate myself for the post of FIDE president after consulting with the country's leadership, the Russian Chess Federation and the international chess community.” To what extent was this a personal decision?

I started thinking about nominating myself as FIDE President back in November or December. I was discussing this with my friends, colleagues and also with my direct bosses. The reason is very simple: I had a clear commitment to work until May 7, when the presidential term would end, and a newly elected president was coming to power. That was a clear obligation from my side, and I am not breaking my commitments, ever. So I had to work until May 7. Then I was thinking about the FIDE presidency in March, and about campaigning, but the government service told me to finish my job first. So I was already intending to run even before, but I couldn’t do this openly. As soon as I finished my term in the government, I started making statements that I am thinking about going to FIDE. But because I was spending 99 percent of my days for the World Cup, I could not start campaigning. 

Regarding ‘being told’, I decided myself but I consulted with people who appointed me before to the positions in the presidential administration and the government. I truly believe that chess, all around the world, can develop only in a strong partnership between FIDE, public administrations, governments, corporations and the community. It would be a long-term and stable partnership. It is important to have a positive attitude from major countries, governments across the world towards FIDE, towards chess in general. That’s why I consulted with the prime minster and the president that it was my intention to become FIDE President, and they were positive about it. They were surprised that I was not going to a big company or something else, and they were not telling me: you have to do that.

But would it be possible that the government would be against it? And if so, that would prevent you from taking this role?

I would still do it but for FIDE it would be negative.

So you are saying it’s not the Russian government that decides whether you can run for FIDE President?

Yes. The Russian government made a clear proposal for me to work for the Skolkovo Foundation, a flagship innovation center in Russia, in Moscow. I got the proposal to chair this foundation as the government’s proposal for my future. Not chess. But I came with this idea because I believe in chess; I can continue the position of my father, help my friends in chess. Actually there is some synergy between working at Skolkovo—I mean not at the same level of involvement—and chess in mixing education, innovation and chess.

What do you think are the biggest problems the chess world is facing today, and that you want to change?

I see three main things that are clear for everyone, all around the world, but that haven’t been corrected for a long period of time. The first is management. FIDE is the driver of global chess but is not up to its role, and is not in the position to fulfill its role.

Second, FIDE is not transparent. There’s no transparency in management, in financing, in nominations, appointments, closing venues, world championship cycles, et cetera. The whole system requires major reshape, major change. It should be brought closer to the well-established standards of corporate governments.

I know how it works in big companies, in big, public bodies including sport organisations like FIFA. There is no perfection in the world, no single example that can be taken and can be transferred to FIDE. But we should take all the best practices from the experience that was accumulated during the last couple of decades in corporate governments. All recent events within the FIDE management show that people who now run FIDE do not have any intentions to change anything. That’s very clear to me, and I will explain this further.

Why is this important? Chess requires resources. It will not develop in schools around the world and at a professional level without resources, with zero money. FIDE now has income from two sources. One is getting money from national federations; not actually earning money but taking money from chess. And second is shares of prize funds from big FIDE tournaments. But those resources are getting smaller and smaller.

Why? Very simple. Companies don’t want to work with an organisation that is not transparent and doesn’t provide for a long-term vision and doesn’t provide any services to its partners and sponsors. People don’t want to work with such an organisation. That has to be changed. We should change the organisation and by doing this, attract long-term partners who provide resources for chess. Stop taking money from federations, stop taking money from chess players, especially from kids, as FIDE is doing now. Most of the money is coming from kids tournaments to FIDE, not the other way around. This has to be changed immediately, not in the distant future.

The third thing is making chess modern, using the technologies that appeared in the world. One of the major examples now is the Chess.com platform. Everybody knows it. It’s way much better than the FIDE Arena platform, everybody knows. The reason is that you should do all those things professionally, and FIDE is not a professional organisation now. When you start doing things professionally, you can do huge things. That way we can get real access to chess in all places all around the world, we can change the chess in schools program, not just to learn chess, but also to improve the education system around the world through chess. That’s one of the things that will be in my priority list for FIDE.

Smaller things that require action immediately include the anti-cheating program and re-establishing big women’s tournaments including a normal world championship cycle, support veterans… 


You’re fairly critical to the current FIDE leadership that has been in office for more than two decades. Mr Ilyumzhinov has been the leader, the face of FIDE. He has been largely responsible for the current situation, the policies, keeping certain people in place. And at the same time, you are now working together with him. You just came back from Tashkent, Uzbekistan where Ilyumzhinov was also. So, isn’t this illogical? How can you cooperate with a person who has been responsible for years for a policy you criticise? 

First of all, I think Kirsan was wrong in particular in choosing his team members. But he also did some right things, including initiating the chess in schools program. As far as Tashkent is concerned, we were invited both by the chess federation of Uzbekistan to visit the chess academy in Tashkent. This chess academy was created with the support and the direct influence from Kirsan, so he deserved to be there. I think people should be appreciated for their what they deserve and they should be criticised for what they did wrong. That’s my approach.

I consult with Kirsan on those things where I think he made positive steps and criticise things where I believe he was wrong. And I’m telling this to him directly. I don’t think we should throw away any person who did lots of things. Also from the current team, there are some good people. I don’t think all people are bad and everything is bad. There are some good things, and we should take all good things into the future.

Also, an important point is that we should not deny what national federations are doing with FIDE. Many of them have long-standing relationships with both Mr Makropoulos and Kirsan and other people in the chess management, and I would like to listen to what they are saying about all people, and respect those opinions. That’s why I am talking to people all around the world, whether they support me or not.

For example, the Uzbekistan chess federation invited a dozen people and not all of them support me. But I was talking to them and taking their points, explaining my position; a really important part of the campaign. We discuss such things behind closed doors, but this will transform into the program, a program that can unite people. So the important thing is that I don’t want to just talk to the people who are already applauding for me; I want to talk to all people.


Recently, the Makropoulos team accused you of bribery. They said you have invited delegates of chess federations to Russia, and suggested that you paid for their flights and arranged tickets to the FIFA World Cup.

First I’d like to give some background. As I mentioned, Mr Makropoulos has been campaigning for a few months already. For that, he was using FIDE resources, unfortunately.

Do you have proof of that?

Yes, I have proof of that. Seminars, subsidies, mostly to those who support him and not the other candidates. Nominating people for different positions depending on the level of support they give him. Traveling. Of course he is invited to some tournaments, but he is using this opportunity to campaign. When he goes somewhere, he is using the opportunities to campaign.

When I saw this was going on, I decided to discuss this with them, directly. I came to Bucharest at the time of the FIDE Presidential Board, to have direct contact with Mr Makropoulos and some of his colleagues. We met in Bucharest at 3 o’clock in the night, and we talked for three hours.

One of the important proposals I made to him was to sign an agreement on fair play principles for the campaign. These principles included not using FIDE resources on his part or state resources on my part for campaigning. I mentioned some of the examples. He asked me: does it mean that I should almost stop travelling to work on specific things, and I said: maybe not completely but these activities should be reduced substantially since it’s a clear way to campaign using FIDE resources. He told me: I am not going to do that. I will continue doing what I’m doing because it’s normal FIDE work, it’s not campaigning.

But federations have told me that he’s campaigning. He, Mr [Geoffrey] Borg, and other people who are traveling to different countries, to official FIDE events, they have increased the number of FIDE seminars, the number has tripled over the last few months. This way they can go to different countries visiting “official FIDE events” especially in Africa and Asia. It’s a very nice way of doing stuff of course: you can save your own money and use FIDE resources to travel. I am using my own money, that’s the difference. I follow what I said: I don’t use any embassies or state money. He is not doing that.

I also asked him: don’t allocate new funds to the national federations during the campaign; funds that have not been decided upon before. Of course FIDE should continue with funds that have been approved, but don’t make new decisions since it’s not transparent, we don’t know the criteria used for allocating funds across federations and all this can be interpreted as corruption. But they did it. They took the decision in the Board to allocate U.S. $200.000 more to the support of federations for development purposes, on top of the 1.2 million travel subsidies. The criteria should be transparent.  We already know from some federations that when they get money probably they will support him. 

On top of that, they issued those anti-corruption policies and created a committee without a description of terms of references and criteria for choosing the members, or anything. They just created an instrument without rules. And I responded with my tweet, with a response and allegations. I didn’t want to do it, but based on what I heard and what the decisions were in  Bucharest, I decided to do it.

I heard that already in Bucharest, when I left the room, they started talking about me using the FIFA World Cup to get people to Russia and this way to corrupt them. As a chairman of the organising committee I had the right to invite partners, colleagues, anyone, from all around the world, to the World Cup. And I invited many people: football players, ice hockey players, tennis players, business men, from different countries all around the world, coming to the World Cup by my personal invitation.

I was also asked by some of the chess federations, not only from Africa; also from Europe, Asia and Latin America. I said: yes you can come; the thing I can provide for you is the invitation to the stadium. I could not give everyone tickets to the final, so some of them went to other matches, for example in Samara.

But I never asked them for their support at any moment of time. I just made their dreams come true; it was not linked to the elections.


What are the next months going to look like?

I will be travelling to Europe, Africa and Latin America and then I’m coming back to Europe again. After that, I will take the decisions for the campaign plans for the rest of the time. 


In an interview published a few days after Chess.com spoke to Dvorkovich, ECU President and Olympiad organiser Zurab Azmaiparashvili said: "I can confirm that Dvorkovich offered Makropoulos to join his team and be the second in rank, if Georgios [Makropoulos] gave up taking part in the elections." However, that didn’t mean Dvorkovich offered him to be his Deputy President, as he explained in an email shortly before we finalised this interview:

"I never offered him to be a part of my ticket. There was a discussion about the possible creation of the FIDE board and him being a part of that board. He was not interested. No formal proposals have been made to that regard either."

Full text on Chess.com