Interview with FIDE Administrative Manager Polina Tsedenova Print
Saturday, 01 July 2017 07:07


Interview with the FIDE Administrative Manager Polina Tsedenova

By Anastasiya Karlovich

The 1st of July 2017 marks 20th year with FIDE for the FIDE Administrative Manager Polina Tsedenova. Her colleagues would like to congratulate her on the anniversary and send her warm wishes.

Polina, you have been working in FIDE for 20 years. Happy anniversary! How did you start your job there and how many Congresses have you organized so far?

I started officially working for FIDE in 1997 and my first Congress was in Chisinau (Moldova) in September 1997. Of course I very clearly remember that one because we did it with a previous administration jointly. Their experience was very helpful but I`m sure we improved a lot. Since 1997 we had annual Congresses which mean there have been 20 Congresses already.

It is really hard to believe this but indeed. 20 years of work, 20 various venues, various countries, 20 sets of Organisers and volunteers, 20 hotels. All are well-remembered.

20 years passed as one day. But first of all I would like to thank Kirsan Nikolayevich Ilyumzhinov, President of FIDE and the then President of Kalmykia for trusting me with this appointment and thank the FIDE family for acceptance. Kirsan Nikolayevich has managed to keep all the world’s interest towards him for around quarter of a century. His passion and love for chess and his contribution cannot be rivalled, to date at least and deserve great admiration.

How is your daily work in FIDE office look like? How did it look like when you just started working?

First it seemed like a mission impossible, but very soon I got integrated fully into the work and the organization. It is never boring in our organization, always some challenges – and this is the best part of work. Of course, the daily routine has changed. E.g. in Lausanne the tasks were more time-consuming: faxes to be sent, imagine that I had to fax the player’s undertaking for the World Championship 128 times, and also mail the document to each player. Before Internet fax was our main tool, but it is already very hard to remember how it was. Of course in Switzerland the postal system works as a Swiss clock, and we had many things facilitated (they would come to pick up parcels, we just needed to separate Europe-non Europe). At that period, 1997-2003 I was directly involved in the organization of the World Championships and was present at the venues in the Secretariat which has given me a chance to meet the majority of the top players. During chess tournaments my responsibilities, besides interpreting and translating (players also, not only officials), were to help and liaise with the Organisers in any matters. I remember these days very warmly. Of course first experiences are the ones which stay with you: the Presidential Board meeting in Las Palmas and the press-conference with a fellow interpreter English-Spanish who was lost and I had to interpret and at the same time, write for her in English so that she could pick it up, the World Championship in Groningen and Lausanne, meeting many great players, World Champions and Women’s World Champions. I am very privileged to meet all of them.

So many years you are connected with the chess world. Do you play chess yourself? Do you follow chess news?

Following chess news is a part of my job and I grew to love this as well. Everybody knows that Polina does not play chess and it is an advantage as I always say, that I deal with people, not thinking about their ratings, their place in the top 100 or anything else. Following chess news is something I do early in the morning (I usually come to the office around 8 am and cherish these moments, browsing through chess sites in many languages, reading the news and other social media, newspapers, translating them and preparing them for my colleagues).

I do have my favorite players and I enjoy very good relations with them. I have always tried to help and listen and be fair when dealing with Federations and players. Some might say, Polina is not the easiest person to deal with, especially during Congresses or events. But everyone seems to understand that this is only because I like to have things done perfectly, and to make sure Congress or an event is run smoothly. Nigel Freeman once called me the dragon of FIDE, and I kind of like this.

Your husband Takis Nikolopoulos is a Chairman of the FIDE Arbiters Commission. How often chess is a topic at your home?

It would be the understatement of the year if I say that we speak about chess every day. Of course, if you both have something to do with a certain area, this becomes a household item and naturally, we have chess friends, in many countries and in Greece of course. Takis is an excellent Arbiter and one of the best persons I have ever met in my life, sincerely. I admire him and what he does as he does it with passion, absolutely selflessly and professionally. Many people don’t know that he is an engineer working at the Greek Ministry of Defence, where he is also highly respected. He is a very modest, kind and a caring husband and father to his two sons and my daughter as well.

Chess is part of our life, but not all our life and this is another thing which Takis taught me and I am very grateful to him – that all the matters related to work, should be left aside when you enter your home. We share the same passion for travel, reading, mixing with friends, going out, exploring new places. Our house is always open to our family and friends, and the kids of our friends come and play chess with Takis.

How did your work in FIDE influence your life? What do you find interesting about chess world?

My life can be divided of course, pre-FIDE and now. Pre-FIDE life has been very good also, with lots of fantastic experiences, but with FIDE my life has changed drastically. Twice I had to change my country of residence, and the changes were very unexpected and twice I have had to adjust myself to the mentality and way of life in these countries – both of which I now love – Switzerland and Greece. The ability itself to play chess itself fascinates and impresses me still, in all levels, as well as many other things. I am also a person easily to fascinate and I am very open in expressing my admiration and positive reaction, generally. Chess world is unique, it is indeed a combination of science, sport and art, and it is very multi-faceted and very dynamic. This is what I love about chess world and about my job, being a Gemini. My personal motto is Always look on the bright side of life and this is how I try to see the chess world, FIDE and all people I meet in my life, trying to find always positivity.

How difficult is it to organize such an event as FIDE Congress?

Actually we have clear guidelines which we share with the organizers. We try to do it well in advance. First of all the organizers get pointed with the guidelines, second, they find a proper Congress manager, third, they find the adequate number of volunteers and fine facilities. I usually travel before any Congress for an inspection to see what they propose to us and they cooperate and collaborate in 95% of the guesses let’s say.

Neither chess players nor organizers really understand what kind of event is the Congress and many people mix FIDE Congress and let’s say a General Assembly or an Executive Board. Congress is the general term for the whole globe of the meetings which are under this umbrella. FIDE Congress today consists of several parts: General Assembly, Executive Board, commissions’ meetings, continental meetings and other meetings.

We have 188 national federations’ members of FIDE, who can delegate one person to represent their federation and vote on behalf of a federation and the meeting of these delegates we call a General Assembly. This meeting is organized every two years and it occupies the last three days of the FIDE Congress.

The Congress starts with the meetings of FIDE commissions. FIDE has more than 20 commissions and we separate the meetings during the duration of 4 days from morning till evening. When I started working we used to have a Central Committee of FIDE which was about 50-60 people and it was very bulky and it was not very convenient to have both the central committee meeting and the General Assembly. In 1999 it was decided to abolish it. My first ever job in FIDE was during the Central Committee meeting in Elista 1996 as an interpreter. I was not in FIDE at that time but had to translate the whole meeting because of Kirsan Nikolayevich.

What are the common problems which appear in the process of the preparation and organization of FIDE Congresses?

My concern is that we try to put strict deadlines according to the FIDE Statutes but many federations don’t follow the terms. In several federations the administrative problems exist. People don’t read FIDE Statutes, people don`t follow the information we sent them. We send them all the information on the deadlines on the specific dates when they have to provide something. I don`t know why it`s happening, maybe because some federations are relaxed or have lack of the personnel or staff but then we have to deal with it. And then sometimes we have very negative reaction – people scream at you, abuse you verbally but usually it happens during election years or pre-election years. We are trained and in all these years I think I developed very-very thick skin for all these situations but before it was very difficult.

Usually there are some accusations before the elections, but we always do our job in the same way as we do for every Congress. We have the same participants, we have the Statutes, we follow the procedures we help the organizers. It’s not our fault what people our fantasizing or imagining. The employers are employers and we don’t have to suffer sometimes. I remember after elections in Khanty-Mansiysk, after the results were announced, several of the delegates who voted against Ilyumzhinov came to me personally and said: “We want to congratulate you personally because we are happy that you don’t lose your job”. This is what I actually appreciate as well as good remarks made in interviews afterwards. Nowadays the atmosphere at the FIDE Congresses is much more relaxed, even during the election years. Before it was very strained, nervous and not very pleasant.

Another problem is the issue of delegates. Sometimes the federations forget they have to change the delegate. The Statutes are very strict now and it says that the delegates have to be published and if they are not published by certain date before the General Assembly they are not considered to be delegates. This creates some extra work sometimes.

When we just started to work and we had a meeting in China, I met one manager of Marriott from a province in China and he said I’m so used to this mentality, so if anybody tells me to organize an event yesterday, I will do it. And this is us, this is a Secretariat. We are very helpful and flexible. Sometimes people complain that I’m very strict and bossy but I think so far we made a very good cooperation with Federations and Commissions and I’m very grateful to all Chairmen and people who work for Commissions. With most of the federations we find an understanding during the Congress, they see that we are there to help and we are there to facilitate their work and they are there to facilitate ours. There are of course some very negative exceptions which actually confirm that the work is being done well. Usually we have very warm recollection after that and very nice examples of cooperation with people.

How can you describe a FIDE Congress in a few words?

This is the chaos which we are trying to control.

I’ve heard of your great memory which some players are just dreaming of. Is it truth that you remember most of the people who participate in the Congress including members of federations and Commissions?

I would say that now my memory became very bad. When I started working we didn’t have that much social networks and I used to remember all the telephones of the Presidential Board members by heart. I didn’t even keep them on my phone, but of course this is very unnecessary thing. I know all people who work in Commissions, who are active in Commissions. The delegates change but if I see a person I try to remember the person and who he represents. The Secretariat is the heart of the Congress and everyone feels good when he/she is greeted by first name or at least by last name and when you know which country they represent. It can be surprising for the new federations or for people, who don’t come for the last 20 years in a row, let’s say.

Which other qualities are helping you in your work?

First of all you have to be very organized yourself. Second you have to be very flexible. Third you have to be open for any challenges, to be ready for any instant solutions or some actions, you should be able to work under stress, under time pressure and you have to be a very good team player.

How does it look like the daily job of the Secretariat during the Congress and do you have time to sleep?

During these days we usually follow the program of the Congress but it doesn’t actually limit our work. Everybody knows where to find the Secretariat, so whatever help or information you request they will try to provide and try to find a solution. This is usually a very crowded place, very busting with information exchanged, with communication, with people from all kind of backgrounds going back and forth.

At the same time you always try to come to terms with the reality. If the organizers give you three volunteers you work with three volunteers. If you don`t get an office you go and sit at the lobby of the hotel for one week. If they don`t give you a printer you go and rent it by yourself. If there are no volunteers you ask the waitresses and hotel staff to help you. We have been through many difficulties. The thing is never to lose your cool and the decisions will come. I always tell to everyone that we have to be very transparent, very clear and whoever comes to the secretariat we try to show him – this is what we do, this is how we do it. In general terms if somebody wants to come and work in the Secretariat we allow this because we have nothing to hide.

We also need very good simultaneous interpreters and I also try to keep an eye on it because it not an easy job to translate the General Assembly and it was a disaster on several General Assemblies.

How could you summarize those 20 years of work in FIDE?

If in these 20 years I have managed to help a few people, and maybe change some points of view about chess and FIDE, this thought will be enough for me to continue.

I would also like to use this chance to thank FIDE Deputy President Georgios Makropoulos and all my colleagues, in Lausanne – Stephanie and Eva and Elena, the Executive Directors I have worked with – Emmanuel Omuku, David Jarrett and Nigel Freeman, my colleagues in Elista, all teams starting from 1999 to date (many of them are my former students or volunteers) (Elista is our base, our guarantee that work is done 100% and done well), Moscow – Berik and Danara, and Athens – Elli, George, Maria, Eva, Nikos and Nastja, for our good spirit and relationship in all these years. All those who I have met in this tenure, starting Elista 1996 – in FIDE Central Committee, Presidential Board, delegates, Commission people, Organisers of the events, volunteers, among whom I also have very dear friends for many years. I am grateful to all of you and I am always glad to see you.

Part 03

Part 04

Part 05

Part 07

Part 06

Part 08

Part 09

Part 01

Part 02

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