Greetings, campers! This is a post that I never expected to write. For as long as he dominated the professional chess world Garry Kasparov has been an outspoken and often controversial figure. He has a longstanding hatred of Vladimir Putin and tends to see himself as more of a political activist than a chess ambassador. Unfortunately the way that Russian politics tends to deal with its rivals is to ridicule (or outright kill) them. Kasparov gained notoriety in this sense with the hilarious flying penis incident that has probably appeared on every funniest video countdown show since then.
Kasparov launched a massive campaign in 2014 to oust longtime president of FIDE Kirsan Ilyumzhinov but was literally destroyed in the lopsided election. Kasparov accused Ilyumzhinov (a close personal friend of Vladimir Putin) of winning the election through dirty politics that included bribery, extortion, and even the unusual step of removing a chess federation entirely from the list of FIDE organization and replacing it with a pro-Ilyumzhinov federation. Suffice to say that 2014 was a very exciting year for chess fans because politics and Kasparov both draw a crowd so interest was high on whether the former World Champion would be able to remove Ilyumzhinov. Kasparov remained relatively low key after the loss and made an appearance at the 2015 Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis but now he returns to the headlines by receiving a 2-year ban from FIDE for bribery! Here is the exact determination from the FIDE Ethics Commission:
ETHICS COMMISSION JUDGEMENT
Upon due consideration by the Ethics Commission of the factors relevant to the sanction, including the gravity of the offence and the presence of aggravating and mitigating circumstances, the Ethics Commission imposes the following sanction:
Mr Kasparov and Mr Leong are both banned for a period of two (2) years from holding any office or position within FIDE, including its member federations, continental associations or any other affiliated international organisations, as well as participating in any FIDE meeting as delegate, proxy-holder or other representative of a FIDE member. This ban will be effective from the period 21 October 2015 until 20 October 2017.
So, what did they do? In 2014 when Kasparov was running for the FIDE Presidency he made a deal with Ignatius Leong so that he would switch his federation’s vote from Ilyumzhinov to Kasparov in exchange for monetary contributions. Having worked in government service I have come to learn that appearance is everything and intentions are seldom taken into account. Kasparov’s camp argued that the $500,000 contribution for Leong providing 10 votes for the presidential campaign was to create an offshoot of the Kasparov Chess Foundation in Asia. Unfortunately the truth in the situation does not matter. Kasparov made a political blunder in that he did not see how his opponents would be able to manipulate the selling of votes. In some ways its almost as though he walked into a fool’s mate because his entire campaign was run on the premise of removing Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and ridding FIDE of its corrupt government once and for all. Yet it was a sneaky move that cost him 2 years of membership in FIDE or participation in its activities. Kasparov had this to say in response to the commission’s original findings:
“Back in Russia I got used to being falsely accused by puppet courts and this one has as little value and credibility as those. Being accused of corruption by Ilyumzhinov is like being accused of foreign aggression by Putin!
“My mission has always been to promote chess and to build the future of the game. I once hoped that could happen with FIDE, but it is clearer than ever this work will continue despite FIDE, which continues to take resources out of the sport and to drive away those who love it.”
This is the kind of stuff that makes it difficult to take Kasparov and his activities seriously. He never wishes to admit that he made a mistake or something that went wrong might actually be his fault. Surely at some point in his life he had to have stepped away from the chessboard and realized that he was making errors in his games. How else could he have learned and become one of the greatest players in history? Failure is an opportunity to try again but Kasparov never seems willing to admit that he can fail of his own doing. Unfortunately that seems to be something ingrained into Russian politics and Kasparov has proven himself to be the true son of his motherland: a devious Russian politician.