During the official visit to Turkey, the FIDE Vice President and the CEO of Global Chess BV Mr. Geoffrey Borg gave an interview to the Press Officer of the Turkish Chess Federation Mr. Ozgur Akman. Mr. Borg speaks about chess, FIDE and Global Chess VB and how he sees the future developments of chess in the sphere of marketing and promotional activities. Read full interview and see photos.
During the official visit to Turkey, the FIDE Vice President and the CEO of Global Chess BV Mr. Geoffrey Borg gave an interview to the Press Officer of the Turkish Chess Federation Mr. Ozgur Akman. Mr. Borg speaks about chess, FIDE and Global Chess VB and how he sees the future developments of chess in the sphere of marketing and promotional activities.
Interview by Geoffrey Borg
Ozgur Akman: How many times have you visited Turkey
Geoffrey Borg: This is my seventh visit since my first time in the Istanbul 2000 Olympiads. I revisited in European Championship in 2003. Since then it’s been five more visits.
Akman: What is the reason for your visit?
Borg: The previous visits were always related to some event in some way or another. In last January, I visited Turkey for the FIDE Presidential Board Meeting in Antalya. Since then, we have officially launched a company called Global Chess, which has the primary objective of commercialization of chess as a sport and improving the overall marketing image of chess, a sport that is internationally represented by FIDE. So, our objective is to start working with delivering a package to sponsors, advertisers, and patrons For them chess has to become something positive to associate with. We will start with upgrading everything about the organization of the game, in terms of our communication platform, our internet portal, in terms of what happens during the tournaments, basically in terms of everything we can do.
Everything that would give a benefit to the development of chess. Sponsors should be happy with what they are ultimately paying, to associate with. The visit to Turkey also coincides with learning from a federation that has been delivering this very successfully for the last five years. The growth in Turkey is very impressive, just to say the least. Additionally, they have learned everything, I would say, that needs to be done for the sponsors, by doing it in the right way. They managed to develop chess on a mass platform also in schools and by training trainers. They started building a structure of support inside the federation which probably is difficult to match by many federation in chess and other sports..
Today, from the basic membership statistics, the Turkish Federation is the largest. Probably, closely followed by the German Federation in terms of numbers of individual members. But in terms of activity, obviously it is the most active federation comprehensively.
Akman: How is the work with Global Chess is going now?
Borg: On July 1st 2007, Global Chess started working with FIDE in terms of an exclusive license for representation of FIDE’s tournaments, to develop also marketing programs and promotional activities which would enhance the FIDE image, etc. We are now finalizing certain discussions on the FIDE web site to develop it as a world-class portal which the chess world needs in order to get the professional image we want across the world. In the meantime, we are developing, following the Presidential Board in Tallinn at the end of June, a number of new world class tournaments such as the Grand Prix, which will fit into the world championship cycle. We have all started working on other projects with a number of people relating to hosting these tournaments, finding sponsorship etc.
Obviously this is a long-term task. This is not a task that will just happen overnight. If we make the right break it will be very good for chess. Global Chess is ultimately going to be the marketing and commercial arm of FIDE. The development of chess should be a common objective for everyone in the chess world. We will work with all national federations since there will be something in these form of partnerships.
In many cases, we may work on other areas than our primary objectives of marketing and sponsorship, such as simply helping the development of chess in a particular country. What we have to understand is that if chess develops properly in each country, if we get chess as a mass sport, then ultimately more sponsors will be more interested. Global Chess is not only interested in making money and this is only a secondary, long-term consideration.
Akman: You were the only member of Right Move campaign in FIDE Presidential Board and you also worked with PR during the campaign. Can we say that you carried the spirit of right move in FIDE Presidential Board?
Borg: In principle, the ideas and strategies we had in The Right Move are the ones which many in the chess world, including the people in the other group, Chess Fidelity, accepted as being interesting. I will just give an anecdote.
During the election period and Olympiad in Torino, Yasser Seirawan, who was part of our team but actually a journalist, at the time, for ChessBase, interviewed FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Being a journalist of high calibre, he obviously gave fair opportunity to all parties to be interviewed on ChessBase. He asked Kirsan what he thought about the Right Move program. Kirsan basically said that he liked the program. Then he was asked what he would adopt from the Right Move program if he got elected, and Kirsan promptly replied “Everything”.
What we came with during the Right Move was just a number of concepts that came from our grass roots in the chess world. These were common sentiments of people in the chess world, people who wanted to see things change in the chess world, developing and improving the organizational and administrative aspects of the game. In a political scene, that is, in the real global scene of politics, many parties today have very similar philosophies during their governance. I think there was a lot of common ground in the two campaigns. The difference, similar to politics, is in terms of the management style of how things should be done.
Obviously the elections are past. I think that now, we just have to work together as one team for the good of all Federations and stakeholders. The chess world is too small to afford polarization of ideas or personal agendas. At the end of the day, the ideas is to reinforce what we all want to achieve in the chess world. The world is moving forward. It is not about Chess Fidelity or Right Move, those were just historic positions. We need to move on.
We need to work comprehensively with all federations, which have an interest in promoting chess. There is a lot of work to be done. A lot can be achieved by hard work. I think if we work really as a one big team, chess has a lot going for it, and we have nothing negative in our principles. We have people who like to associate with chess; there is much non-chess media advertising, people who utilize chess on day-to-day media to sell their products. Yesterday, whilst on a flight, I was reading the Financial Times, which had a cartoon putting Gordon Brown playing chess against Putin with spies as pieces. So, people like to use chess in many different connotations. Sometimes as a political motive, as a strategic game, sometimes as smart investment or smart decision in their product… We have a lot of positive affiliations with our sport that we can exploit internationally and globally.
Akman: Do you think that chess can have permanent sponsors?
Borg: For permanent sponsors, you need to firstly have a base that would interest them. So, the base number of players must interest sponsors. Additionally, the second stage is to determine at what level you are looking for sponsors. A title sponsor, a patron or a secondary sponsor. A sponsor could be small national or multinational sponsor or it could be a global player. Considering the global one it would be mainly interested in the global image you have. Companies like Microsoft, Intel Oracle, HSBC are global players. For local sponsors, we would focus on different benefits.
Akman: …I meant in a global sense…
Borg: …If we wish to develop our long term position properly, to sustain a sponsor, you have to invest a lot back into the sponsorship agreement and you have to look after your sponsor properly by making sure that each and every world class event you hold, is truly “world-class” and that you do not have any negative images in any one of these tournaments. This starts from selecting your organizers and host cities, which should be a common platform together with the sponsor, FIDE, host federation and Global Chess. It is the key method to success. Communication and hard work between all parties. Working well together you have very good chances of keeping the sponsors happy.
In any activity, you will lose sponsors sometimes because of lack of communication. Of course we will have to learn from mistakes, we will make mistakes like anybody else, but we will learn from our mistakes and look after our sponsors. In general, it is in the interest for everybody if we have a world-class sponsor to look after. This whole effort is not just for Global Chess on its own. It is in the interest of FIDE and of the federations to ensure that we are successful. If we do have a global sponsor or patron then it is going to be very good for chess in general.
Akman: You have been traveling around the world to promote chess, look for possible resources for the future projects. How are your impressions up to now?
Borg: It is fantastic that after visiting the particular federation or country you understand the country you visited much better. You change or reinforce ideas you had about a country reading about it. So I think, the benefit of visiting is that you understand the reality much closer and see why a federation is succeeding or not succeeding accordingly.
Hence, this will help a person designing any strategic concepts to be more emphatic about what needs to be done in the country. Rather than making generalizations, by understanding the specific circumstances of a country, the specific organization and culture of that country, you can have a better idea. That’s basically what these visits are for. I would say we have already changed some perceptions. I visited some countries where the organization is fantastic, probably second to none, very impressive. Again, one could say “yes we can achieve this”, “yes we can change”, if one country can do these fine but if many countries can do it, why can’t we expand and devolve this idea around the world? The concept is ultimately to have a business model which can ultimately serve the federations across the world.
Akman: Global Chess is particularly responsible from promoting world championships at different levels. I will ask about some particular tournaments. First one is the world championship in Mexico, and the second one is the World Youth Championships that Turkey is going to host this November since both events have high promotion potential?
Borg: One of the principles for Global Chess is that to be successful we must have a credible, reliable and stable world championship cycle. The main difference that was introduced in Tallinn is a six year plan, a very good principle, where we are looking forward to have a balance between the World Cup, which is the knockout tournament and an introduction of a tournament series which will give top players, selected on certain criteria, an opportunity to play in a Grand Prix system. We can also involve several continents and try to ensure that tournaments are held not just in one continent.
At the same time offering more high-level tournaments to top players will help them continue to be professional chess players as they were used to do in the past. If we manage to commercialize the world championship cycles as two-year cycles for the next three cycles, that is for the next 6 years, and if we retain this, then this would obviously please sponsors, players, organizers and the chess world.
And then we will focus resources on building other things rather than reinventing new formats or whatsoever. Since the end of June, we have been working on the specific regulations of the Grand Prix system, which would start sometime next year. 2008 is the year when the new world championship cycle, including the Grand Prix is going to be introduced. 2008 is the an important year also because it should finally clean out a number of issues, which were left post Kramnik-Topalov match in Elista last year. Once these are cleaned out, then we are going to have something which is transparent, reliable and stable. Of course, the chess world is always very challenging and creating new issues. But as I said before, if we face these challenges and issues as a team then we should be successful.
Coming to World Youth Championship, this is probably now the second largest key event after the Olympiad. Given the long tradition of Olympiads, which started way back in the 1920s, it has a certain prestige. We are now at a stage where the world youth championship has reached, if not surpassed, participation levels in the Olympiad. The World Youth Championship represents the biggest opportunity for investment in chess resources. Because you have kids from eight up to eighteen, this is a huge opportunity for sponsorship, and sponsors appreciate seeing what countries are doing with their youth.
We still have grounds to grow this event because depending on the geographical location of the world youth championship, a certain level of participation can be reached. The problem of the world youth championship is the high level of logistical cost for some countries depending on where it is being organised. Not everyone can afford the participation. In the future, we are planning to reduce certain logistical costs by asking organisers to organize charter flights so that there would be wider opportunities for participation.
I was happy to see in January, the Turkish Youth Championships in Antalya, which had about 1,300 players in them, and which were very well organized. Ali Nihat Yazycy, The Turkish Federation President, made sure we had a very good organization there. It also coincided with the FIDE Presidential Board meeting so that we could see what was going on at that particular time. In November 2007, in the very same location, we are going to have the World Youth Championship so I wish good luck to the organizers since they will have a record-breaking tournament. This is very good for Turkish chess.
This is now a prestigious event and it will bring a lot of media from across the world. There will be lots of exposure to the type of organization and successes associated with that event. I think it will be very interesting to see what happens in November in terms of participation. Again in November, we are also going to have a FIDE Executive Board in Antalya. So, Turkey has become probably one of the main areas of chess activity in the world.
Akman: Even after about a year has passed after Kramnik-Topalov match, it is still a hot topic in the world chess agenda. Furthermore, there have been numerous initiatives debating the problem of cheating in chess. What plans does FIDE have about cheating? Also, in relation this, do you have any further plans on ethics in chess?
Borg: Cheating in chess is a problem. The question is similar to the question how you can cure or prevent the cancer rather than looking for medicines for the problems that come afterwards. The ethics issue also comes into discussion.
We have to be careful also not to exaggerate the nature of the problem. To a certain extent computers are already very strong and that means that if somebody gets outside assistance and gets help, it will create problems and artificially inflate the player’s strength. There are certain tournaments where it is very easy to control what happens in terms of outside interference during the tournament. So, a world championship match or a world championship tournament, are obviously easier to control than a large tournament such as an Olympiad or large open tournament, due to the limited number of participants.
You can put in effect some controls such as metal detectors, checking if people have any wireless, Bluetooth or mobile transmitters, or checking people to see if they are carrying any type of equipment on them which would enable them to communicate with an outside source.
You can also make sure that players understand that they should be abiding by the regulations and putting penalties into effect that are quite harsh and get harsher according to the nature of the infringement.
I remember that some years ago when FIDE introduced the rule that no mobile phone should ring during the game. During the first months after the rule was introduced, phones were still ringing. But at the moment Ruslan Ponamariov lost the game in an important event, people understood that even a world champion can be penalized for the phone ringing, then automatically the rule became acceptable.
The level of discussion on internet has also advocated removing watches for a game. No watches, no form of electronic stuff, no PDAs, no mobile phones that could ultimately help in some form of transmission. So, there have been lots of discussion on it. However, the question is to what extent this is really a threat? What you do not want FIDE to become is a massive organization trying to prevent something that may not be that big a problem.
The issue in Elista was very clear. If there was any direct, concrete proof, it should have been brought to the table. No player should be able to allowed to make accusations, which cannot be proven, simply on suspicions alone. This is principally wrong, either you have proof or not. Arbiters should also be more vigilant.
Then, obviously, you have issues that go beyond the actual issue of cheating. In the future, any player who plays a strong move may be accused of cheating. We cannot allow that to happen and have accusations just to thrown about. It is imperative that everyone understands that any measures that can be taken to prevent cheating will ultimately be for the benefit of their own integrity.
Akman: You already gave clues about your opinions but what do you think of the progress that Turkish chess has made and what do you think of its future prospects?
Borg: I think Turkish chess is a good model and one that I would like to utilize over the world as a model of success. There is a number of factors to account for its success. One is the strong vision and the dynamic energy of a Federation President who wanted to make big changes in his country’s chess organization. The political scenario and educational background scenarios in Turkey was also important and fundamental in this change.
Because sometimes, an individual may have the energy and dynamism to change, but the actual political and economic background may not be allowing you to do it. On the other hand, here we have all the factors, which have come in place very successfully. There is also an ongoing mission to review the strategy constantly on a long-term basis, which is what we need everywhere.
There is a critical understanding of all different elements in chess, the role of professional players, the role of trainers, the role of arbiters, the role of children and this is why it is a successful model. Everyone is working hand-in-hand because they understand that they are moving forward. And once the positive results are coming in, everybody starts joining and contributing. Today, Turkey is moving forward very fast.
The Federation is also very foresighted and not working only for their own national agenda but they are also contributing a lot to the development of global chess. In any scenario that I have met, Turkish Federation, and it is not just specific to Ali Nihat Yazici, but across the whole federation, wherever I have met them in international scenes, they are always willing to help and assist other federations, with new ideas and support. This is tremendous.
When you have somebody who is willing to help on such a large level, then it is obviously going to be very good for international chess. So, I see Turkey as a very important player, organizer and I believe it has a great future.
Akman: Thanks for the interview.
Borg: My pleasure.