Andrew Paulson, the 55-year-old entrepreneur whose company Agon has the rights to organize FIDE events for many years to come, was elected President of the English Chess Federation at the federation's Annual General Meeting last Saturday. Nigel Short, who remains FIDE delegate, reacted modestly postive to the news but also asked a fundamental question.
As the website of the English Chess Federation informs, the following candidates were elected at the Annual General Meeting taking place at the Euston Square Hotel last Saturday afternoon:
President: Andrew Paulson
Chief Executive: Phil Ehr
Director of Finance: David Eustace
Director of Home Chess: Alex Holowczak
Director of International Chess: David Openshaw
Director of Junior Chess & Education: Lawrence Cooper
Director of Membership: David Thomas
Non-Executive Directors: Julian Clissold and Sean Hewitt
FIDE delegate: Nigel Short
Finance Committee: Mike Truran (Chairman), Ray Clark and Ian Reynolds
Governance Committee: Chris Majer (Chairman), Mike Gunn, Richard Haddrell and Andrew Leadbetter
Paulson's new job is a remarkable development in chess, taking into account his activities thus far. He founded Agon, which earned the rights to organize all FIDE events that are part of the World Championship cycle, and started with a bang. The opening ceremony of the London Grand Prix in September 2012 can be described as spectacular, as very few chess events have fashion models visiting and playing blitz with top GMs!
However, Agon was not involved in the next GP in Tashkent; their first real, big event was the Candidates Tournament in London in March 2013. Although it was clear that some aspects needed further improvement, generally this tournament was a success.
However, since then Agon has not been involved in organizing chess events at all. FIDE took over again, and arranged the necessary sponsors for the subsequent Grand Prixs and World Cup. Meanwhile, Andrew Paulson said that in the past few months he has been busy trying to find sponsors in California as well as India. To our knowledge, FIDE has still not received Agon's deposit, but hasn't cancelled the contract either.
About four weeks before the election, Paulson joined the English Chess Forum where he started explaining his position and plans. For instance, looking back at the Candidates Tournament, he wrote:
As is usually the case, there were things that I was happy with (even proud of) and things that could have been much better (that I was indeed embarrassed by). And, as usually is the case, I can probably provide an even more damning criticism of the event's shortcomings (from an insider’s point of view) than outsiders could. Of course, complementarily, there are other elements of the event that can better be criticised by those who have been living and breathing top level chess events all their lives.
Interestingly, Justin Horton asked Paulson about our in interview back in March:
In an interview with ChessVibes about the Candidates Tournament, you were asked about the disappointing attendances for the tournament and you said:
"I didn't want to have a situation where it was too crowded, where we couldn't control the public."
a. are you aware that this doesn't sound entirely convincing?
b. did you at any point before the interview say that you were hoping that attendances wouldn't be too high?
1) (a) Yes, I was in Istanbul when it happened. Shameful. (b) Sheffield, no.
2) As you will note, this was a rather aggressive, not to say hostile, interview by Peter Doggers (for whom I have great respect and affection). He was, in fact, in parallel, working for me at the Candidates as an employee at that time. This was early on in the event and we had not yet hit our stride. (I don't think we had fewer than 150 people per day, to be checked.) I was trying to paint the event as a success; as you know success breeds success. But you are right, it was absolutely fatuous as an answer. My only defence is that if I were to give you a list of my goals for the Candidates, high attendance would not have been in the top five. And yet, as I mentioned earlier, we broke all records in the end.
The evening before the elections, Paulson posted the following about his position towards the two candidates for the FIDE presidential elections next year.
FIDE vs. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov
I have said that it is important to separate our position vis-a-vis the current President of FIDE and FIDE the institution/organization itself. I would recommend that as a member of FIDE the ECF engage and attempt to influence FIDE on issues that the ECF feels are important either ‘interestedly’ as they relate to English chess or ‘disinterestedly’ as they relate to matters of principle and reputation on a larger worldwide stage. Of course, the ECF could decide against this path as on any other issue.
Paulson (possible President of ECF) vs. Paulson (Owner of AGON) vs. Paulson (Private Individual)
As to the current President of FIDE, my position vis-a-vis him may be divided into three angles of view: my position were I to be elected as President of the ECF, my position as the owner of a business with FIDE as the principal counter-party, and my position as a private individual. As the President of the organization with only a symbolic voice I would reflect the views of that organization, whatever they might be, in a frank and unambiguous manner. Similarly, the FIDE Delegate with a material vote would always vote to represent his best understanding of the views of the ECF.
As a businessman via AGON, my relationship is with FIDE the permanent institution and not with its transient leader. (This is why my fear of Kasparov reviewing the contract were he to be elected President is a red herring and also why to date I have tried to be agnostic vis-a-vis FIDE politics.) The AGON contract was negotiated with FIDE with no intervention from the President. The FIDE side of the ‘interface’ which is designed to make day-to-day decisions regarding the relationship is made up of Nigel Freeman and Georgios Makropoulos.
As a private individual, I have repeatedly stated my views on the matter. I feel that it is time for Kirsan to go for many reasons. The most clear and unequivocal is that he and his apparat have been around too long and it is always good to introduce new blood into an organization. The stories of the assassination of a journalist, meetings with murderous tyrants, meetings with chess-playing aliens, have all cast disrepute onto chess and FIDE and made him easy to demonise. Fortunately, Kirsan can also lay claim to many ambassadorial achievements in spreading competitive chess and chess in schools around the world and organizational achievements in creating within FIDE an efficient bureaucratic system for dealing with complex issues affecting chess the game and chess the sport. But, I state unambiguously, its time for a change.
The only step I cannot make is a whole-hearted endorsement of Garry Kasparov at this time. There are several reasons: (a) I don’t believe he is a leader of men but rather oppositional, confrontational and ultimately a bully; (b) although his political wrath against the current FIDE administration is genuine and heartfelt, I suspect that he may be his own first priority; (c) he will stand for election using many of the same unsavory tactics as his opponent even though even by his own account, he’ll likely lose (Wouldn’t it be better to run a clean campaign with a clean ticket and lose? That’s a ticket I’d join shoulder by shoulder with Garry!); (d) by spending many millions in an attempt to win the election he will be taking money away from the pool of benevolent funding available for chess and spending it on a quixotic adventure (much as he forced $millions which otherwise would have gone to chess to be spent in the two failed lawsuits against FIDE).
Therefore, I have repeatedly stated that although my natural position would be to support abstention on principle, I will recuse myself from all discussions and voting in the Board, if I am elected, on the subject of voting in the FIDE election. (Nigel Short, the Candidate for FIDE Delegate, has made the point that in an election you vote for the best, not necessarily the good. It is a valid point, though not unarguable.) Further, I will recuse myself on any other subject that the NEDs feel presents a conflict of interest between the duties of an ECF President and an individual engaged in business around chess.
Nigel Short, who was and remains FIDE Delegate for the English Chess Federation, was asked to comment, by Maria Manakova. In the video below, Short points out that it's not fully clear who owns Agon (besides Mr Paulson?) and implies that there might be ties with FIDE board members.