Silvio Danailov: “The Future of Chess Lies in the Internet”

Interview of the ECU President, Silvio Danailov

M.BOYARD: This is Chess-News and we have two honor guests today- Mr. Silvio Danailov, the President of ECU and Artur Czyz, the tournament director of the XIV EICC. Welcome and thank you very much for accepting our invitation. So, the first question goes to Mr. Silvio Danailov and it’s about the ECU Board, which took place during the last days. Could you tell us a bit about the new decisions you’ve voted for?

S.DANAILOV: Well, we had several interesting issues to discuss. First of all, regarding the FIDE decision to limit… I mean to push all the federations to have a prize fund of 150 thousand EUR for men and 75 thousand for women in the future and to skip the Sofia rules, as well as all our rules which were adopted at the General Assembly in Porto Carras. I think this was, of course, a bad decision. I am very happy that the decision of our Board was to recommend the General Assembly that ECU will not change its own regulations and it’s also not possible to push the prize fund, because of, you know, the big crisis of Europe. Let’s say we have a prize fund of 200,000 EUR for men in the next year in Erevan, Armenia, so we did our best. But we can’t be pushed, because if we’ll put 150 thousand EUR prize fund as minimum, nobody will bid for our competitions. So this was for one part of the meeting. The Board has decided, absolutely unanimously , to recommend the General Assembly that we should respect our own rules, our own regulations, our own decisions, provide our own championships, and if FIDE decides not to count with our championships, it can organize its own tournaments, whatever they want, this is their decision.

Then we had several presentations about several projects regarding bets in chess, developed with a German company, another one about developing our playing zone, because we need to develop our playing zone which is great, but we have to develop that part – the ECU playing zone (created together with Russian programmers, and we are very happy about that) is also about marketing. We also find that marketing is our weak point. We tried several persons and companies, but so far, that didn’t work out. Yesterday, we had a good presentation by a Spanish marketing company about new ideas on how to improve the presence of ECU in social networks, in general how to improve the website. This is very interesting and I think we will work in this direction in the future. As for the project, we’ve developed with another company  playing zones, we want to organize commercial tournaments in our ECU playing zone every weekend, those will be via internet, which I think is a future of chess, as well as about our project with a German company about developing a betting software in chess, which is also interesting. But at the moment it is a bit frozen, because it is a very complicated project. However I think that by the end of this year or in the beginning of the next year, we will work on that.

M.BOYARD: So, basically you want to create an online platform, where the tournaments can be organized…

S.DANAILOV: The platform is ready. It’s on the ECU website. In 2011 we signed a contract with a Russian company – a very, very strong and important company. The platform is ready now, and we can play on our iphones, Android, ipads and others. This was one of the reasons why the playing zone was launched a little bit late, but now it’s ready and people are already playing there. The problem is that someone should organize the tournaments. The idea is to make this kind of playing zones and platforms the future of chess. In that way, people can reduce costs, because if I will play the tournament over the weekend, I won’t have to travel to Germany or somewhere, I will have everything at home, enjoy and even make some money. And a lot of people enjoy that, but in order to develop such a playing zone we need that company, because ECU can’t do that, that’s very difficult. That’s why we found this Spanish company. I think this is the future of chess: the playing zone in the Internet, where you can stay at home, no costs, small entry fee, you just participate and enjoy.

M.BOYARD: What about the Zero tolerance rule, the problem which arouse among many players, many seemed not to be happy with it since they say they’re not staying in the main hotels, where the tournaments may be taking place. Any changes to this idea?

S.DANAILOV: First of all, people are confusing it, because this is a FIDE decision and we are just obliged to adopt it because… especially, this tournament which is the part of the championship cycle. I can tell you that, although I may criticize a lot of FIDE decisions, I like this one. That’s because you know, it’s your profession, I mean when you are working in some office, you have to be there on time. You can’t be late, because otherwise, you will be fired. You have to respect the organizers, you have to respect the player, the media. For instance, the media is covering the European championship, so they want to see what’s going on, to film the beginning of the round and let’s say no one is there. I think that’s not serious. The players have to understand that this is a serious job, a serious profession and that’s absolutely normal. Whatever sport, let’s say football: did you see anyone complaining? That’s incredible, unbelievable. Did you see that in basketball, volleyball whatever sport? People are there one and a half hour in advance! Usually everybody, so come on, I mean this discussion should be closed. It’s not a big problem if you live in an other hotel. Legnica is a small city, so it’s not a problem to come five minutes before the round… So, let’s stop this and the players have to understand, they should have a conscious that this is a necessary measure, this makes chess a serious sport.

M.BOYARD: You’ve been talking about the FIDE decisions, so what do you think about the recent decision of FIDE to organize the match between Anand and Carlsen in Chennai?

S.DANAILOV: Well, I was there, because I am a member of the Presidential Board which took place in Baku. I was the only one against it. Overall, there were 24 of us there. So, this was 23 against me… But let me stress this: I am not against India, because I think India is great and they are organizing everything very well. No questions about it. I was against the fact that there was no bidding procedure. We actually don’t know what could have happened if the bidding procedure was opened, so probably we would have had some other bids, better bids too. Of course, India deserves it, because Anand has been champion for many years. As for the FIDE regulations – there’s no regulation for FIDE to open a bidding procedure for especially this kind of matches, so I can understand the reason why the FIDE Presidential Board took this decision. They are afraid that, if for some reason, this bid from India would be cancelled, they wouldn’t have any other option and that would be a big problem. So, it’s not so clear… This decision by FIDE was criticized  very much, which is in a way fine, because I think the best way is to have a transparent, democratic bidding procedure… but you can understand them, because there’s a very beautiful India with good money, and I don’t have a doubt that the organization will be fantastic… So why lose this bid and wait… Also, if you don’t have in your regulations anything that stops you, you can do it. I expressed my position, but of course, the Board was absolutely unanimous that this decision should be taken, so it’s fine.

M.BOYARD: In 2010 Anand – Topalov match took place in Bulgaria and at that time Anand didn’t make a big deal about this. So, do you think a situation is a bit different? Should Carlsen refuse playing or what would you do if you were Carlsen?

S.DANAILOV: This was a different situation, because, at that time, they opened the bidding procedure. It was one month prior or a bit more, but they opened it. I don’t know why people think that Bulgaria was so happy to spend four million Euros for this match – not really. If we would have had some great bid from India, we wouldn’t be desperate to organize it but we were the only candidates. That’s why we were chosen, not because Anand was  obliged to accept. There just weren’t any other offers. Now, it’s different, because they didn’t open the bidding procedure. My advice would be –  I am nobody to advise Carlsen – but it would be to forget about all this political fights, to concentrate, to prepare well and play a great match, that’s all.

M.BOYARD: We all know that you have been elected in 2010 till 2014, so the next year the ECU and FIDE elections will take place. Are you going to participate in ECU elections and maybe in the FIDE elections as well?

S.DANAILOV: No, I haven’t decided yet, because I would like to see what’s going on. I think, in general… my feeling is that we did a good job in ECU. Now you can see that we have the best calendar, which is very clear, very transparent, we have the best bidding procedure, we’ve done a great job in the office. We have improved a lot of things, we now have the Chess in schools project presented at the European Parliament, and my feeling is that I have to finish this job. So, probably I will present myself for the elections, because I really think that there are a lot of things we can do better. Let’s say marketing, which is a great problem, because nobody has worked on it so far. We need a product to sell, so that’s why you need marketing and PR. My feeling is that I have to continue in order to finish our job. I am very happy with what we did so far but in general, it’s not enough. ECU is now well-known, I mean it’s very well known everywhere everybody can recognize that we did a good job, even our worse enemies, but I think we have to continue.

M.BOYARD: If you would theoretically be elected as the FIDE president what would be your first three decisions or changes?

S.DANAILOV: Oh, this is a difficult question… I don’t know why but many people think that FIDE is very easy to manage. I can tell them that FIDE is an extremely complicated organization, which has 166 members from a lot of continents, different cultures, religions, with an incredible calendar – we have to find sponsors, you have to do a lot of work. This is a very, very difficult work. So, people are a little bit confusing here when they say: “Oh, FIDE needs a lot of changes, revolutions…”. Well, yes, every organization and every international body needs changes and reforms, that’s true, but it is very complicated to manage FIDE. It is already complicated to manage the national federation, well I am also the president of the national federation in Bulgaria. But you can ask any president of the national federation, it’s very complicated to manage ECU, and FIDE is extremely complicated to manage. So, I am not prepared to answer your question now, but the first three things are the same what  ECU is planning to do: to develop marketing  and try to create a chess product for sell, because so far nobody did it, it is not easy to do. And when you have this chess product to sell, you are independent, you don’t depend of federations, taxes, ratings, so you have your own sponsor, because you can offer something to your sponsor. So, what do you offer to your sponsor? You offer good image, probably, I don’t know… You know chess is a combination of culture, sport, education, but, really, you don’t offer them something to sell, you cannot go to the sponsor and tell them “I’m selling this please take it; because it is beneficial for you.” So, I think this should be the main aim of FIDE: to create a serious marketing and advertizing strategies and, finally, a product for sell.

I can tell you the story of UEFA, which was bankrupt in 1975-76 and then one guy, the previous president Lennart Johansson, proposed to organize the Champion’s League. Everybody was laughing and saying “Oh, come on that won’t work”, but the guy insisted and now you can see how many sponsors they have now. So, they created a product to sell, otherwise that was a disaster. That is not only FIDE’s job, but the ECU’s and every other federation’s too: we have to create a product to sell, that people, the sponsors will buy. This is the only way to be independent and to progress, otherwise it will be difficult. So this is what I want to do. But now, I’m only two years and a half in ECU, and we still didn’t… We are thinking, we are working, but we still aren’t close to this. I hope we will do it with time.

M.BOYARD: One of the major projects that you’ve been up to is chess in schools. It’s a projects that interests many young people as well… Any progresses there?

S.DANAILOV: Well, of course there has been a big progress, but I don’t know why there is this impression that we should do all the job. We did the main job, which was very difficult.

I can tell you that, in order to approve this declaration, it was hard. ECU was working, my Bulgarian friends who are members of Parliament, and Kasparov’s Chess Foundation, we’ve all been working for 4 months- a group of fifty people. It was very expensive and a very big job, and even when working, you could never know whether you will succeed or not, but finally it’s fine. At the last meeting with the Commission in Brussels, together with Kasparov Polgar, they told us “We are open to this project, we want to receive it, please do it!” But I cannot do it myself, I did the strategy job. ECU, Fide, whatever organization, we are there to open the doors… The rest is up to everybody- federations have to work, clubs have to work. The door is open, the possibility is open, and I’m sure that more and more schools will have chess over the next years. And we know that here in Poland.. Yesterday I spoke to the president-deputy from Poland, and he told me that thanks to his declaration 250 schools will have chess next year, and even more in the future. I told to all: you have the declaration, you have the document, go to your government, to the ministry of education, and work, because we cannot do your job. We did the main job, but now it’s your turn.”

M.BOYARD: A question to you Artur- you have also organized a parallel program for children that takes place in the mall close to the playing hall. How did you come up with this idea and has it been successful so far?

A.CZYZ: Yes, I think it’s successful, because this is a special chess event for the citizens, not only for the players. We go to the center, to the central gallery, here we have a chess instructor who teaches little children, while parents are shopping, and both are happy.

M.BOYARD: Another totally different question: you have tweeted birthday wishes for Kirsan Ilyumzhinov’s birthday. What did you wish to Kasparov for his 50th anniversary?

S.DANAILOV: Okay, this is a different relationship, you know. With Kirsan, okay, we’ve known each other for many years. As for Kasparov, I’ve played a game against him in the 80s in Dortmund, during the World Junior Championship. But okay, with Ilyumzhinov, we have a different story. No but Kasparov, I wish him health, luck and success. As I said, chess needs him, he’s very important for chess, he’s a very important figure who can open a lot of doors for chess. And for Kirsan, of course, it was a joke. I like him very much from all the years, you know. It’s a different thing when I criticize him for some FIDE decision, but this has nothing to do with the personal relationship. I wish him health, everything whatever he wants and, of course, a lot of money.

M.BOYARD: The last question comes from a player who actually participates in the event: the European Championship is open for all-level participants. This is not the case in other sports. Why is that so, since usually every federation sends their best players and here everyone is free to participate, just like in any normal open. Do you think this should remain different from other sports?

S.DANAILOV: Maybe he’s right, and the point is that let’s not forget that the European Championship started not so long ago. I mean, the previous management of ECU developed it quite well, but this is the problem in chess in general, you know- we are not a 100 percent professional sport. We are not, let’s say.. ECU and FIDE are not professional companies, they are political organizations. So far, chess does not follow strict rules of professional sports. Of course, he is right. I think the ideas European Championship should be… We have 54 federations, each national champion from each federation is playing, not more. This is the ideal situation, but we have to think that his is the, let’s say, a professional approach, and ours is a political one. Of course, this should be approved, maybe he is right. I mean, things are not black and white. Some people think it’s really easy, you know… They come to a nice hotel, nice playing hall, they play their games and think that the world has to work for them. But it’s not so easy to find sponsors, to organize such a tournament, it’s a big job, you know. And finally, you always find something to criticize, which of course, is okay, I understand. But they have to think that they are not, let’s say, the only part of this game. But, of course, if you are a strictly professional sport with professional rules, the ideal situation should be that way. But don’t forget that our events have as a main target to popularize chess, and if you have more and more participants, it’s better for the popularization. We have more people watching, more parents, journalists, media, games… So yes, it is questionable, of course, but it’s difficult to approve for now, maybe in the future… If chess becomes- and this is my dream- a professional sport, then we’ll have strict rules like in all other professional sports. But so far, this question stays open.

M.BOYARD: This was Silvio Danailov. Thank you very much and good luck!

Source of the interview: Chess-news.ru

The original text of the interview:  http://chess-news.ru/en/node/12038

Watch the video here: http://chess-news.ru/en/node/12037

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