Silvio Danailov: “We don’t like being treated as fools!”

Exclusive interview of ECU President Silvio Danailov for WhyChess

It is always interesting to chat to ECU and Bulgarian Chess Federation (BCF) President Silvio Danailov. It is not that he says anything unusual, rather that he focuses on things that others pass by, or pretend are inevitable and cannot be questioned…

He is especially principled in relation to FIDE decisions. Especially those which affect the interests of organisations or players which he represents. That has often been the case with the interests of Veselin Topalov, and with the national federation. And what is most surprising is that almost all the cases Danailov has brought have ended successfully!

On the one hand, this shows the clear legal vulnerability of FIDE, which time and time again takes decisions governed only by its own internal interest, and which are overturned by the courts. On the other hand, it shows Danailov’s exceptional feeling for his own interests. Silvio will not stand for the cronyist tone of FIDE decisions, considering instead that the chess family things should be run democratically, by on a totalitarian basis. “Everything should be written down precisely, everyone should have his say and know his rights!”, he never ceases to repeat.

Thus, now the BCF (read: Danailov) is suing FIDE in the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne  demanding:

1) the annulment of the contract between FIDE and AGON and, 2) the cancellation of points 13.5 and 13.6 in the FIDE statutes, passed at the General Assembly in Istanbul…

Getting away from the legal language, the Bulgarian is demanding the cancellation of the decision to transfer to AGON all commercial rights in the world championship cycle for the next 11 years, and, as a result, the cancellation of the Candidates tournament announced for next March in London. If the strict letter of the law is followed, then FIDE is obliged to go back six months, and look again at the bids by Azerbaijan and Bulgaria to host this tournament. As far as points 13.5 and13.6 are concerned, the Bulgarian Federation considers these absurd, and clearly tending to reduce the national rights on individual federations within FIDE. Not one national federation can afford the necessary sum (up to 200,000 Euros) and so cannot challenge the decisions of the international body, which in turn can result in dictatorship and the imposition of FIDE’s way of thinking.

* * *

At the start of the year, I spoke with Danailov about Poulson’s company and the BCF’s rights (especially regarding the Candidate’s tournament). This was at the moment when the Presidential Council meeting in Al-Aim announced that all commercial rights for the cycle had been given to AGON. Silvio was unhappy with this decision, to say the least, and made clear that the Bulgarians were prepared to challenge the legality of the decision in court, and would continue to fight for the Candidates tournament.

However, the lawsuit was filed only on 30 September, almost eight months later!

Why so late? And what does the BCF really hope to achieve? Do they want the court to confirm they are right, and to order FIDE to cancel the London Candidates?

My phone call found Danailov out walking with his children. He readily agreed to revisit the subject, as usual posing the counter-questions “Why do you think?”, awaiting his interlocutor’s response…. I have known Silvio, I am shocked to say, 18 years already, and he was always the same. He has never considered himself to be right all the time, but he is always prepared to defend his views.

First, the date. Why 30 September? It is all very simple: Danailov considers himself a good administrator, he reads the rules, and considers things right only if they do not break the regulations. In this case, in order to file a case with the CAS, the BCF must first be refused by all the relevant internal bodies within FIDE: the Congress, the General Assembly and the Presidential Council as the highest organs of the federation. The Bulgarian demands were rejected by all three bodies. “As soon as the Olympiad was over, we assembled the necessary documents and made a formal application to the CAS in Lausanne”, Silvio explains briefly.

Wasn’t it too late? If one follows the original dates, the Candidates was supposed to start literally any day. “We could not start the case earlier, we had first to complete all procedures, otherwise we could have been accused of precisely what we are accusing FIDE of!”.  And when will the matter be considered? This is also not entirely clear. Maybe in December, maybe earlier. “The date is not important”, adds Danailov.

Hmmm. This is interesting and, in fact, is the key point of the lawsuit! The BCF is not fighting with FIDE or with AGON, it does not want to strike some abstract blow for the whole chess world, and it is not fighting concrete players, who are busy preparing for the highly important tournament. It wants to establish order and procedures. FIDE established a bidding process between cities, set out rules, and rights and obligations for the candidate cities,  including an obligatory deposit of €100,000 and a guarantee of the prize fund (Danailov estimates the organisational costs of the bid to be some в €1 млн.), – Well, if you don’t mind, please follow your own rules!

“We have spent our time, we found a venue, we made agreements with sponsors, we got the agreement of the minister of sport, and the Prime Minister himself. We did an enormous amount of work….Then we come to the ‘beauty parade’ for the cities, and FIDE says to us: ‘Thanks, we don’t need you!”. They can’t behave like that. We don’t like being treated as fools”, Danailov says, unable to hide his feelings. “I would have had no complaint if FIDE had run a proper procedure, and had announced that they had looked at the bids from Bulgaria and Azerbaijan, and had decided to give the event to Baku on certain grounds or other. But there was no procedure, no contest between the cities! Neither of us won…”

The same is true of the decision on the venue for the 2016 Olympiad. Vice-President Makropoulos just announced that Baku had offered so much, that there was no need to look at the bids from Bulgaria and Estonia. “We protested about this at the Istanbul Congress! “, adds Danailov. “Conditions are conditions, but the rules on such things have not been changed. There is an official procedure, but in both cases, it was totally ignored…”

In the case of the choice of Candidates venue, there was no procedure at all! It was declared that the rights had been given to AGON, after which Poulson calmly announced the event would be in London. Shortly afterwards, it became known that it would be funded by Azeri money and that the ‘organisers’ nominee’ would be Radjabov.

“We have nothing against Baku or the Azeri organisers”, Danailov emphasises. “We can only rejoice that in the chess world, we have such a strong and rich federation, but what has London got to do with it all?!”. Silvio is not convinced by the argument that the Azeris simply went along with Poulson’s idea, to solve the “Aronian problem”: “It is not a question of whether someone agrees with something or not, but the fact that FIDE has broken its own rules and procedures! London was not one of the cities that was in the bidding procedure – only us and Baku were, and the Candidates cannot be held in any other city in the world, except one of us”. End of story.


Will the Bulgarians try to get the London tournament cancelled? “We are trying to get FIDE to respect national federations, and not to cause trouble!”. “But what does that mean? Danailov summarises his position thus: “We are not insisting on the cancellation of the tournament, nor on some sort of compensation, but we are demanding that the commercial rights to run the world championship cycle be taken away from AGON, because the transfer of those to it by FIDE was against all the rules. And London? That is complicated…Cancelling the tournament would not be so much a blow to FIDE and to Agon, but more of a blow to the players. We will have to await the CAS decision”. But, the fact of the matter is that Danailov is convinced the court will find in favour of the BCF!

“If that does not happen, which of course, is also possible, we will not sure FIDE. In the current situation it would just cost too much money…” Cancelling points 13.5 and 13.6 of the FIDE statutes, which restrict federations’ right to sue FIDE, is not merely a formal issue. In drafting (or, to be more accurate, re-drafting) these, Kasparov’s lawyers also took part, and the BCF can only rely solely on the interpretation of the Swiss. [Translator's note: It is not clear to me what this last sentence is trying to say – perhaps, that Swiss lawyers helped draft the points, and therefore a Swiss court is bound to uphold them?]

Danailov had no tactical refutation of this latest FIDE “combination”. He only points out that there is not one national federation which has the resources to guarantee up to €200,000 in suing FIDE, and to cover its legal costs, in the event of defeat in court. (“And these FIDE legal costs are very high, they spend hundreds of thousands on lawyers – not that that stops them taking stupid decisions”, Danailov adds, not without a touch of sarcasm). And Danailov knows exactly what this will lead to:

“When you accept no responsibility for decisions you take, and moreover, you make sure you cannot be challenged or criticised, this can only lead to the usurpation of power and the crushing of democratic norms”, he insists. To all intents and purposes, FIDE can take whatever decisions it likes. Nobody will be able to stop them, and if anyone so much as raises his head, he can expect a public flogging!”.

* * *

Oh, and some more about Agon and its right to run tournaments. As soon as we had finished the main topics, Danailov told me about his visit to London at the start of the first Grand Prix stage, which was won by his player, Veselin Topalov.

“I thought I had seen everything in the chess world, but…I have never seen such a way of running a tournament as that in London! I got the impression that nobody wanted this tournament at all. A bad playing hall, into which there was no entry, would you believe, constant noise from neighbouring areas (the restaurant was being refurbished), no demo boards or spectators in the playing room, and even in the press room there was nothing except a tiny monitor, and Poulson, with a bottle of red wine. The same can be said of the hotel in the rooms of which there was not even a normal table…”

Silvio spoke of his initial impressions of Poulson. A bright, outgoing chap, with whom, if London is anything to go by, we should all be very careful in the future. “He asks about what and how things should be done, of people who have spent decades organising chess events, but then he wants to do everything his own way!”, the Bulgarian laughs. “We will see where this leads. – In Tashkent, it is fine, he will just turn up and everything will be done. But in Lisbon and other European countries, where there are no experienced organisers, where he has to arrange everything himself? One fears for the Candidates tournament – again London, again Agon. It is bound to end in tears”, he concludes, sadly.

Danailov knows what he is talking about. He was the main organiser of the M-Tel Masters, he was the instigator of the Grand Slam, he ran the world championship match between Anand and Topalov, and before that, a Candidates’ match against Kamsky. He loves to organise things, and knows how to do it. But he also knows how to wait and watch when he is proved right…

We will see how things end with the BCF lawsuit at the CAS. This will tell us a lot about the current strength of FIDE and about the ambitions of Danailov himself.  We will keep you posted…The countdown has already begun.

Evgeny Atarov

The original text you can read here:WhyChess

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