In an extraordinary meeting of the Board of the English Chess Federation eleven days ago Andrew Paulson, the ECF President, lost a vote of confidence. The situation reached an impasse as Mr Paulson decided not to step down. New developments can be expected at the next meeting of the ECF Council.
The Board of the English Chess Federation came together for an Extraordinary Meeting on Saturday, February 8th, in London. The following was put on the agenda:
- A discussion about the issues raised in the recent print and web articles, various claims involving the recent activities of Andrew Paulson and Nigel Short concerning the imminent ECU and FIDE elections, and various threats to refer ECF members to the FIDE Ethics Committee.
- Motion: A vote of confidence in Andrew Paulson as President of the English Chess Federation
- Motion: A vote of confidence in Nigel Short as the FIDE Delegate of the English Chess Federation
In other words, a dog fight between Mr Paulson and Mr Short was ongoing, and it needed to be resolved urgently. What was this about?
When Zurab Azmaiparashvili announced in November that he would run for the post of President of the European Chess Union, soon after it became clear that Mr Paulson would be on his ticket as Deputy President. Hearing about this, Mr Short wrote an email to the Board of the English Chess Federation on January 5th in which he called Mr Azmaiparashvili “a notorious, brazen cheat” and “a shameless individual” who would “seriously tarnish the reputation of the ECF.”
The ECF Board decided to postpone its decision on whether to nominate Mr Paulson to run on Mr. Azmaiparashvili's ECU ticket “until such time as ECF President provides a satisfactory explanation, in writing, as to why he should wish to serve on such a ticket given the personal background of Mr Azmaiparashvili and why this would not be damaging to the ECF.”
Mr Paulson responded by writing a six-page document (seven with Mr Short's email included) in defense of Mr Azmaiparashvili. The document (in PDF here), which includes photos, describes in detail the incidents Mr Short referred to (and counters them): Mr Azmaiparashvili taking back a move against Vladimir Malakhov in 2003, using violence at the closing ceremony of the Calvia 2004 Olympaid and rigging the entire Strumica 1995 tournament.
More oil was added to the fire when a Memorandum between Mr Paulson and FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was leaked to the Sunday Times — according to Mr Paulson it was leaked by Mr Short. Chess.com also obtained this document, which suggested that Agon, Mr Paulson's company that holds the rights to organize chess events in the World Championship cycle, is secretly run by Mr Ilyumzhinov himself. According to the contract, which was signed by both the FIDE President and Mr Paulson, it is Mr Ilyumzhinov who owns 51% of the shares.
In our report we quoted Malcolm Pein, tournament director of the London Chess Classic and Chief Executive of Chess in Schools and Communities: “Andrew told me on at least on two occasions that Kirsan is the majority shareholder.” The last time was “shortly before the ECF elections”, said Mr Pein. This was in October 2013.
Meanwhile, Mr Short has publicly stated the same:
“Andrew Paulson told me by Skype, in August 2013, that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was the majority shareholder of Agon - long before I came across a copy of the secret, signed Memorandum (something he alleges was "stolen" by a disgruntled former employee - although, of course, it has never once left his possession).”
Besides denying that the signed contract is in effect, Mr Paulson denies a potential conflict of interest. He sent an email on Thursday, January 13th analysing (in PDF here) the financial scheme under the official Agon/FIDE contract, concluding:
“Having conclusively established that I own 100% of AGON, I hope that this analysis now shows that even were there a side agreement (impossible to disprove), it would reap so little benefit compared to the enormous benefit to FIDE and the chess world that it is immaterial.”
For many years the public position of the English Chess Federation has been against Mr Ilyumzhinov and in favor of any opposing candidate. The federation's Council voted in October 2012 to support Mr Short as FIDE Delegate and to support Garry Kasparov for FIDE president.
Mr Paulson, who was elected ECF President in October last year, has taken a different position: currently he is not supporting Mr Kasparov (nor Mr Ilyumzhinov, for that matter). When the FIDE President erroneously stated in a Russian interview (in January of this year) that the ECF would support him, Mr Paulson wrote him a letter (in PDF here) in which he asked:
“Could you please issue a clarification that although you have been invited by the ECF Board to visit them in London and you hope the win their support, no decision has yet been taken on the ECF’s vote in the FIDE election. Convincing the ECF to back you against Kasparov or a potential third candidate will be an uphill battle.”
Votes of confidence
Back to the Extraordinary Board meeting of the English Chess Federation on 8 February, which was intended to resolve the issue and avoid further reputational damage for the federation. Two votes of confidence were moved: one for Mr Paulson and one for Mr Short.
Mr Paulson's vote seemed largely based on the leaked Memorandum, and on his choice to side with Mr Azmaiparashvili (without the existence of an official ECF position towards the two ECU Presidential Candidates). Mr Azmaiparashvili is closely tied to FIDE while his opponent, the current ECU President Silvio Danailov, cooperates with Mr Kasparov.
According to the draft minutes of the Extraordinary Meeting (in PDF here), one Board member said he was “unhappy about [Mr Paulson's] treatment of [Mr Short] in various emails and correspondence, particularly about the threat to take [Mr Short] to FIDE’s Ethics Committee and the deliberate attack on [Mr Short] in [Mr Paulson's] paper on Zurab Azmaiparashvili.”
Mr Short's vote of confidence seemed largely based on him allegedly leaking the aforementioned Memorandum to the press, and his public statements about the matter. In his opening summary the Chief Executive of the English Chess Federation, Phil Ehr, said about about this:
“Nigel Short’s behaviour releasing the AGON Memorandum to The Sunday Times resembles that of a whistle-blower, a role we must respect. I am disappointed, however, by the vituperative language he used in the press and in social media, persistently asserting that the AGON memo is proof of a criminal conflict of interest. The lack of circumspection is unbecoming the role of our FIDE Delegate and a Grandmaster.”
Mr Paulson disagreed that Mr Short is a “whistleblower”:
“Let us not mangle the English language. A whistle-blower is an employee who at great risk to himself exposes a crime for the public good. In this case, for purely political reasons, Nigel Short leaked a stolen document to The Sunday Times that had been bought by Garry Kasparov. This is called ‘dirty tricks.’ Nigel Short has once again put his personal ambitions above the interests of English chess, or any chess for that matter.”
Board to Paulson: please resign
Mr Ehr, who would abstain for both votes of confidence, stressed the importance of the existence of the signed Memorandum between Mr Ilyumzhinov and Mr Paulson, and asked Mr Paulson to step down:
“The leaked AGON Memorandum’s description of a point in the negotiations where proposed arrangements would almost certainly have been illegal had they come into operation (which appears not to be the case) does create the appearance of impropriety; but this Board does not intend to nor is it competent to pass judgement on this.
For the good of English chess, particularly the untenable Board climate, I asked [Mr Paulson] today to resign.”
After the two statements there was no time left for discussion and the meeting moved on to voting. Mr Paulson lost the vote of confidence 2-5 with one abstention (with Mr Paulson voting for himself). Mr Short, who was not present at the meeting, won his vote of confidence 2-0 with six abstentions.
“Failed coup d'état”
Previously Mr Paulson had written to the ECF Board that he would step down if he lost their confidence, but he changed his mind. Five days after the Extraordinary Meeting of the ECF Board, Mr Paulson supported his decision not to step down with a text posted on the English Chess Form (and sent to Chess.com by email). He wrote:
“The Agenda of this Emergency Board Meeting for some confused pedantic reason chose to call a vote of Confidence rather than to call for a vote of No Confidence against me. The Minutes of the meeting reveal that in fact it was a vote of Whinging (Brit. variant of to bitch, whine, complain): (a) he was doing too much, too fast, (b) he wanted to stand for the Board of the European Chess Union and we weren't sure, (c) he had a strong personality, and (d) two years ago he did something that appeared inappropriate, though in fact it wasn't. (...) Members of the Board attempted a coup d'état last Saturday, but failed. The Board has not (could not have) removed me.”
And so the English Chess Federation has reached an impasse. The majority of the Board has lost faith in Mr Paulson, but cannot remove him because it has no legal way to do so. According to the federation's regulations (and by law), Directors are appointed or removed at a General Meeting of the Council.
The next Council meeting is scheduled for April 12th. In the same text mentioned above, Mr Paulson announced:
“I will propose a new harmonious Board (replacing several of its current members) to Council at its regularly scheduled meeting in April, as the current one has been rendered dysfunctional. This will allow us to proceed constructively in the renewal of the ECF and its communications and marketing development that we promised at our election.”
As Malcolm Pein wrote in his Daily Telegraph column: “The matter seems likely to end in a spectacular showdown at the ECF council meeting on April 12.”