World Chess Championship watchers throughout the world were all asking, 'What news from Abu Dhabi?' Last year's post on this blog,
2014 FIDE General Assembly : Whither the World Championship?
(December 2014), covering the FIDE President's travel report and a list of forthcoming events was decidedly unsatisfying. Would this year's post be any better?
Given that I've already started the report with a post on my main blog,
The Resurrection of Agon,
let's continue with FIDE Congress, Abu Dhabi, Executive Board, 7-8 September 2015, MINUTES, where 'President K. Ilyumzhinov delivered his annual report'. The most important bit was somewhere in the middle.
On 31st October I made a report during a private meeting with Mr. Putin to discuss the preparation for the World Championship match in Sochi between M. Carlsen-V. Anand which took place 7-28 November 2014.
The match was taking place in the Main Media Centre of the Sochi Olympics and was organized on a very high level. I would like to especially thank the Russian Chess Federation led by our Vice President Andrei Filatov, and our commercial partner –
“Agon”. Spectators from 217 countries were following this interesting event on the
match official Internet site. In an uncompromising fight, Magnus Carlsen kept the title.
As an unprecedented event, the President of the country-organiser attended the closing ceremony. After the ceremony, the President V. Putin invited the FIDE delegation, the players and their families as well as 10th World Champion A. Karpov and 12th World Champion B. Spassky to have some tea, during which the issue of the Women’s World Championship was successfully solved.
The tournament was organized successfully 16 March – 7 April under wonderful conditions in Krasnaya Poliana, a mountain resort in Sochi. Once again it is my pleasure to thank the Organising Committee led by the Russian Vice-Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, the Russian Chess Federation and its President A. Filatov and the Championship sponsor – Gazprom. The Championship was won by a Woman Grandmaster from Ukraine Maria Muzychuk, who is now the 15th Women’s World Champion. I sent a letter to the President of Ukraine P. Poroshenko and proposed to organize the Muzychuk – Hou Yifan match in a western –Ukrainian city of Lviv.
On the 1st of July 2015 I arrived in Ukraine where I met with Mr. Poroshenko. We discussed the matters of the possible match organization, and a chess festival to take place during the match. Mr. Poroshenko gave a very high evaluation to the chess development level in Ukraine and in the world. Mr. Poroshenko has also signed the Decree on creating the Organising Committee with Head of Ukrainian President’s Administration Boris Levkin in chair, and their first meeting took place on 31st August. The prize fund of the match will be 210, 000 euro and it will be organized 1-18 March 2016. The Ukraine signed the contract and the first tranche of the prize fund in the amount of 100,000 euro reached the FIDE accounts. The next meeting of the Organising Committee will take place at the end of September.
During my visit to Kiev, I have also succeeded to agree with the Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko to host one of the Women’s Grand-Prix series stage in Kiev which became an instance for Mr. Levkin to propose that 2016 be a year of chess in Ukraine. It was also resolved that in each of 500 Kiev schools a chess class will be prepared and equipped to start chess education as a facultative subject as the first stage. In future, the mayor would like to make chess an obligatory subject in the school curriculum.
Later on in the same MINUTES, we find 5.21. Commission on World Championship and Olympiads (WCOC). After a list of forthcoming events and a discussion about a detail from the women's cycle,
A request from Americas – eight places from the Continent for women’s championship and one only for the Continental. They want to have annual events and they request for another slot.
followed by an equally skimpy Annex 37 ('Minutes of the meeting in Abu Dhabi'), we can only conclude that important business of the WCOC is conducted elsewhere. The Executive Board apparently agrees and 'noted Annex 54 – report of Agon', to which I now refer. The major sections of Annex 54, Report to the FIDE Executive Board; by Ilya Merenzon, CEO of Agon Limited; September 7, 2015, were as follows:-
1. World Rapid and Blitz Championship in Berlin
2. The Financial Times and Chess
3. Calendar of the Events for 2015 - 2018
4. Working with Federations to hold major chess events (grand prix, candidates and etc)
5. Sponsorship of chess
6. Media site [worldchess.com]
7. Candidates Tournament 2016
8. Championship Match 2016
9. About Agon
I've already covered sections (2) and (6) in the 'Resurrection' post, but section (5) is equally promising.
5. Sponsorship of chess:
Agon has a team of sponsorship sales working in Russia, Germany, the US and
Switzerland. It’s been not easy as there are several issues that limit access to
- Not enough presence on TV (smaller audience)
- Lack of verified numbers
- Lack of history
But we are addressing the issues and have some initial success with sponsors: for
2016, we have commitments from the following brands: Goldman Sachs Investment Banking, Audi, E.ON (Germany), Isklar Water (Norway);
and have advanced talks with a major IT company and a major watch brand. We’ll
share all information as we develop this segment and hope that FIDE and federations
can provide sponsors with 360-degree approach.
Section (8) contains news that was largely speculative until now.
8. Championship Match 2016:
There is huge interest in the Match from both sponsors and media. FIDE and Agon
have decided to hold the match in the US, as FIDE President has announced at the
closing ceremony of 2014 Championship in Sochi. The US, especially now, with major
players who have a chance to take on Magnus, is home to the largest number of
sponsors who work in industries that are close to chess — IT, Technology and Banking.
Agon has secured a prize fund (EUR 2,000,000) and is working on developing
sponsorship contracts. We’ll inform the Board and, if approved, announce the city and
venue in November of 2015, exactly a year before the championship. We are looking at
New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. We are also working with ESPN and Sky
sports to make sure the Championship is on TV.
Section (9) gives a headcount.
9. About Agon:
It’s managed and [run] by Ilya Merenzon and has 9 full-time employees: 3 sales
managers, 1 digital communications, 1 sports lawyer, 1 events director, 2 project
managers. More people are brought on board during important events.
After that four page introduction, annex 54 continues with nearly 30 pages of presentation. The first informative slide ('What Is Chess?') is copied below.
There are few people who want Agon to succeed more than I do, but that is not a good start. The first bullet ('more than 2000 year history') is simply wrong and the last ('more than 600 million people play chess') is controversial; see
An evening with Ilya Merezon
(Streatham & Brixton blog) for more on the second point.
Those two points might be nitpicking, but a later development isn't:
Chess boss Ilyumzhinov among 10 targets of US sanctions over Syria
If RT ('Russia Today') isn't your idea of an independent news group, how about this:
FIDE chief out in the cold: Why Kirsan won't be knocking at the door of the US Treasury
FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was celebrating the 20th anniversary of his appointment as head of the game’s governing body when news came that the US government had cited him for business dealings with the Syria regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
He is now subject to an assets freeze and, according to a statement by America’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), "US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions" with Ilyumzhinov, and three others similarly cited.
Given that 'U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions', how will those U.S. persons manage to organize a World Championship match with FIDE? I trust we'll have an answer to that question before the next edition of 'Whither the World Championship?'.