Interview of Turkish Chess Federation president Ali Yazici Print
Thursday, 01 February 2007 00:00
The numbers are staggering: USD 4 million budget in 2006, 1.8 million children studying chess in schools, 200,000 members in the Turkish Chess Federation, 25,000 certified chess teachers, 5,000 electronic clocks and 100,000 chess sets bought each year. During the Turkish Youth Championship in Antalya with 1,386 participants, not counting accompanying parents and guardians, we interviewed the man behind this success story. . By Casto Abundo

We last interviewed Turkish Chess Federation (TCF) president Ali Nihat Yazici in Tripoli during the World Championship. We took the opportunity at the Presidential Board meeting in Antalya to follow up on developments since then.

Casto Abundo: Congratulations on a successful Turkish Youth Championship. You have 1,386 players here at the tournament in Antalya. How much work does it entail?

Ali Yazici: I am only in the Honorary Committee and credit my team for their good work. You must delegate. I have good people and we have high standards. For example here in the Turkish Youth Championship, we do not allow mistakes in the results which we post immediately on our web site. We have daily printed bulletins of all games.

We have 90 workers here including 12 bulletin staff, 8 for the live broadcast, 6 for the website, 2 TV newscast team, 10 transport/airport, ten equipment staff, 40 arbiters plus Appeals Committee and Training Committee headed by GM Andrei Mikhailchisin and 5 masters.

We call this training committee the Infrastructure Development Group. They are responsible for our pool of top players. We have 114 in the pool from age groups under-8, 10, 12, 14, 16 and 18. They undergo continuous training. We give them scholarships, assign trainers and cover all their expenses for the finals scheduled in June during school holidays.

The winners of each age group have the choice to go to either the European or World Youth championships. Usually their first choice is the European Youth championship because it comes first. The runner-up represents Turkey in the second event.

We pay all their expenses and give pocket money. If they win gold, the government gives a bonus of around €5,000 depending on the age group.

The Turkish Chess Federation made it our obligation to send all title holders under-18 to either the European or World Youth championships.

CA: How to you fund all these expenses?

AY: Our annual budget in 2006 was 4 million USD. For 2007 we project a budget of 6 million USD. By 2010 we target 20 million for the federation.

Our strategy in the federation is to diversify our revenue sources. We raise funds from sponsorships, sales, tourism, certificates, entry fees and government subsidies.

We have 200,000 members and charge €3 per year. Our sponsor, the Turkiye Bankasi, gives them bank savings cards as their Turkish Chess Federation membership card. Although the bank card has no funds, it encourages members to bank there which is what the sponsor is interested in but I should underline that the Bank is looking at chess as a social responsibility project and a learning tool for the kids.

We authorize clubs to collect entry fees for tournaments if they wish. We give them receipt booklets and they must turn over all collections to the federation. We return 90% back to the clubs in the form of credits for chess paraphernalia.

We raise funds from sales of chess books and equipment. We sell mainly chess textbooks at €3 each. The printing of these textbooks was advanced by our sponsoring bank.

We raise sponsorships valued at €400,000 per year. If the percentage of sponsorship reaches 40%, this raises alarms for us because we do not want to be dependent on one revenue category alone. For example if the economy is bad, our government subsidy may decrease.

We have a government subsidy which in 2006 was 300,000 Euro. This year we are negotiating to double this to 600,000 Euro.

From tourism we raise commissions. We have an agency which finds us the least expensive hotels and from these hotels we negotiate commissions. We have a good agency, the same one in these last four years.

Our biggest source of income is from Trainers` Certificates.

CA: What about the expense side?

AY: We have 60 permanent employees in the federation, 40 staff and 20 players. They receive salaries and social security. The 20 players are part of our national pool and their job is to play and study chess.

Once players are out of the pool, we invite them to be a coach, thereby guaranteeing lifetime employment in the federation. A coach earns double what players do and shares in the bonuses for wins by their players.

Our staff costs come to €100,000 per month including social taxes.

We spend €40,000 to €50,000 for development outsourced to companies.

We work together with coaches like Grivas, Nikolic, Mikhailchisin, Sokolov, Portisch, either part or full time. We have ten national coaches paid full time by the federation.

CA: How did you succeed to make chess grow this fast in Turkey?

AY: The first step towards our success was to popularize chess, to create a chess climate which did not exist before I became president.

Turkey has a population of 80 million. We told our government when we started our Chess in Schools program that our aim was not to create chess players but to help students develop their intelligence.

All schools are obliged to have a chess program. It is an elective course for children like music and the arts. We do not compete with other sports in schools. Grades 1 to 3 have one hour per week and are not graded with exams. For the next five years they have two hours per week with exams and grades.

We contracted with the government that the TCF book will be used in the Chess in Schools program.

Ten chess sets, 20 books and one demonstration board are given to each class in schools. Every year we should open 1,000 new classes and the government decides in which school. The government pays chess teachers an additional €70 per month.

Only teachers certified by the TCF can give chess courses. Even GMs need a certificate from the TCF. The certificate costs €70 for the first level assistant teacher, more for higher levels. This means One million USD every year. There is a one week course and exam. We have 25,000 certified chess teachers. Every week we add a thousand new teachers. There are further exams to go to a higher level as teacher.

A big percentage of our expenses goes to training teachers.

The Chess in Schools program created a mass base. We have 1.8 million children mainly in the 1st to 3rd grades, 35 percent of whom are girls. Out of a total student population of 16 million, this means we reached ten percent in the first year. The program is now two years old since we began in 2nd June 2005.

Although we convinced the government that chess was only a tool and our aim was not to create chess players in schools, after school they continue playing and that is the next stage in our program – Chess in Clubs.

Five percent of 1.8 million means 90,000 children. Clubs are franchised by the federation with a curriculum for teachers. We charge €30 to €100 for eight hours per month, depending on the level of the teacher.

We finance our clubs, for example €10,000 each in the first division (17 clubs). There are now 1,000 registered chess clubs in Turkey. The biggest club has 2,000 members with continuous courses. It looks like a University with many students all the time.

In the second division we finance clubs with €2,000 each and we have 60 clubs in this division.

CA: Two years ago you spoke about your goals. Do you have new goals?

AY: We want to win the gold medal in the 2012 or 2014 Women`s Olympiad. We are being realistic since the men`s will be more difficult. The average age of our national A women`s team is 16 years and all are title holders.

We have a formula to select our Olympiad teams, with various criteria such as title, rating change, performance in any tournament of 7 to 9 rounds and result in the Turkish championship and preliminaries.

We also want to have ten to twelve GM’s by the year 2010.

Every year we finish our budget, even overspend. We buy 5,000 electronic clocks and 100,000 chess sets every year.

The TCF owns two condominiums, one in Istanbul with 150 sq. meters and in Ankara with 1,000 sq. meters. We have two vans and two autos. Next I want to buy a plane.

CA: A plane, are you serious?

AY: That is the same reaction of my board. But one of them told the others `Okay it is a wild idea, but his ideas have worked so far, so let us listen to him.`

CA: And so should all developing federations listen to this energetic young man of 43 with big accomplishments and ever bigger dreams.
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