Federation Success Stories - India Print
Monday, 12 July 2004 00:00
India is now ranked 14th in the world by average rating of top ten players. The All India Chess Federation (AICF) has organized very many FIDE world and continental championships. Chess is now the second most popular sport in India after cricket. Read the interview of AICF Secretary General P.T. Ummer Koya by Casto Abundo. Interview of P.T. Ummer Koya, All India Chess Federation Secretary and FIDE Vice President by Casto Abundo

India boasts almost 2,000 FIDE-rated players, around one hundred FIDE-rated tournaments per year, 10 Grandmasters, 32 International Masters and 7 Woman Grandmasters, counting only active players.

India is now ranked 14th in the world by average rating of top ten players. The All India Chess Federation (AICF) has organized very many FIDE world and continental championships, notably the World Championship, World Cup and World Juniors. Annually there are many big international events and chess is now the second most popular sport in India after cricket.

But just over a decade and a half ago, India had no grandmasters, did not organize any FIDE events, had only a few rated players, only one international open had been organized and chess was rarely in the sports pages of newspapers.

Then in 1989, one man came along to change the course of chess in India. The AICF elected a new Secretary, P.T. Ummer Koya. Here is the story of the success of the All India Chess Federation.

Q: Can you give us a background of your chess career.

I was elected General Secretary in 1989. Before that I was Joint Secretary in 1985-89. There were three Joint Secretaries from different associations. It is now my fourth term as General Secretary. The AICF elections are scheduled every four years.

One of my first acts as the General Secretary was to bid for the Anand-Dreev Candidates Match to be held in India. At the 1990 FIDE Congress in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia, FIDE President Campomanes asked me if India could organize the match. I was confident and said I could, and I did. India successfully organized the Anand-Dreev Candidates match in Madras in 1991.

The next year at the FIDE Congress in Manila, Campo asked me to organize the World Juniors. I had nothing arranged in India, but I confidently submitted the bid and we organized it spectacularly in my hometown, Calicut.

Now I cannot count anymore how many FIDE events we have organized in India. Just four days ago we concluded the World Youth Olympiad in Calicut and we are continuing to organize more FIDE events.

Q What did you to do change the system in India?

When I took over, I formed a community of chess organizers. Prior to that there was no structure, no system and it was an organization of one or two people. I wanted to create a team and I involved many people. Without team work, great success will not come to any organization. And I got the support of dedicated organizers from all quarters who had felt isolated.

That is giving rich dividends now and everywhere we have no problem of organizing in any city. There are good organizers in Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, Madras, Calicut, Hyderabad – in all major cities we have good teams now. So, almost all FIDE events can be organized in India. I had wanted to organize the Olympiad but unfortunately we could not bid earlier that is why we are going to bid in 2010.

Q: Can you describe the structure of the AICF? What is the role of the Secretary General vis-a-vis the President?

The President supports the Secretary General in his work, chairs the official meetings but the day to day work and all the liberty has been given to the Secretary General who decides the sending of teams, assigning officials, scheduling of events. The President and other officials give their support to the Secretary who has the authority.

We have four quarterly Central Council meetings a year and annually convene the General Body to consider and pass the budget and rules, and amendments to the constitution. This Central Council consists of members from all the State Associations.

We have now 32 States Associations following the political structure of the government of India. All States are represented except one or two who are inactive because they are excluded, but they can come back.

Q: The population of India is over a billion people. How do you manage the work?

I have a very good Secretariat in my home town, Calicut. We have about a dozen people in the office and half a dozen in the field doing outside work. We also have a website and publish a monthly magazine free to members.

We have about 5,000 direct members aside from State Association members. All over India there are almost ten million players. Our country is very big and so I travel often, leaving the office without ever finishing my huge work. Actually we need more people, more funding to attend to all matters.

We have really developed chess in India and many parents want their children to be chess players.

Q: Recently you set up a Chess Academy in Calicut. How does it work?

The Chess Academy is mainly for training of sub-junior players and school children. Players are there under-7, 9, 11, 13, 15 and 17. And our official teams are going there for training before going to the world and continental championships.

Last year we trained 300 players in the Chess Academy and we plan a thousand players every year. Payment is covered partly by the government of India and the federation from its revenues.

Now we have five foreigners including Vladimirov, Sharbakov, Sorokin and Lyssenko. They work almost full time, go home every three months and come back. We plan to bring more trainers now, highly rated, because we find that outstanding results can be had with good training.

Parents spend for their board and lodging. They also have outside training at the State level. So many people are involved and I speak only about the official training.

Q: Is this a private project?

Yes because I did not want to delay. If we had to wait for financial support from the government it may take more time, so the children of today would not get adequate training at the proper time, grow fast. I could have gotten government support in two or three years but I have no time to wait for that. So with our limited resources we started it and now have a building. The All India Chess Federation supports all good programs in the best interest of the game.

With the help of my friends I managed to get a bank loan and constructed a building which now houses the Chess Academy, AICF office, Secretary`s office, Commonwealth Chess Association office and FIDE Vice President`s office, everything is there in one place. We wanted to have an institution and if the staff, coaches and players are in different places we could not coordinate the work. So after setting up the office I am finding happiness.

Q: But you still travel over the entire Indian sub-continent.

I take around 350 flights a year, because of many connections. To go from one city to another and return takes four flights, for example Calicut-Bombay-Delhi.

Q: Do you have chess in schools?

We conduct annually tournaments among schools and are now planning to have it as part of the children`s education We have to show the government some studies and statistics.

So many players come to children`s tournaments. Once we had a problem with over a thousand players plus double that number with parents. There are four categories and we had to split it up to different places.

We start our championships from the age of 7 with about 200 to 300 players. When we send our team abroad for under-10, they should be prepared. So by that time they know how to behave, how to write scoresheets. So we are bagging more medals now.

We have also had a World Junior, World Girls champions and World Champion. We need role models and there is a symbiotic relationship. We need the top players and they need the federation to develop a chess culture

Chess is moving in the right direction now. The good news is that top players are employed, sponsored by oil companies, banks and insurance companies so their life is secured with private sponsors. They do not have to go to the office daily to work.

In five years we want to be the number one sport in India. We set a target for India to have a hundred grandmasters by the year 2012. I declared this two years ago. I had declared in 1999 in Calcutta that India would have six grandmasters within five years. They said it was impossible but we did it in two years.

Q: You do not have your own rating system but rely on the FIDE ratings.

Yes, that is better. I never tried for a national rating because it will not be logical, I think. We wanted a comparable system to the rest of the world. FIDE is doing a good job because they have the network. We are behind in numbers to Germany, Yugoslavia, but we have set our target to have 25,000 FIDE-rated players.

That is enough before I say goodbye. This is my 30th year in chess.

Q: Tell us more about yourself.

I came in 1974 when I won the University tournament. I played also in State level tournaments and in the Asian Cities in Malaysia. Then I became an organizer and gave full time to chess from 1981 onwards. I was happy organizing tournaments. I formed a chess club in our Univeristy in Calicut and became Secretary. In 1979 I formed the District regional association. I was elected to the Kerala State Association for two terms from 1981 to 1987.

I am self-studied. I was orphaned at the very early age of nine so my education was broken. My education was whatever I read or studied. I was studying and working in the engineering department and later completed my education. There I met a wonderful professor of English, Prof. C. a. Sheppard, who encouraged me to be a chess devotee.

I worked for the government, the University and trade union in the University of Calicut engineering for 15 years. While working I was also organizing chess tournaments.

Q: How do you find public and private sponsors?

Revenue generating is a different art. We do not go to the government for everything. We generate revenues on our own, such as entry fees and so on. Every year a player pays ten dollars and we give a monthly magazine free of charge for one year. It is not to make money but to popularize chess. So many children are interested now.

Koya credits team work for the success of the All India Chess Federation. But a team needs a leader and India and FIDE are fortunate to have found such a person in P.T. Ummer Koya.
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