Global chess body picks ex-Russian deputy premier as president

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Batumi (Georgia) (AFP) - The global chess federation elected former Russian deputy prime minister Arkady Dvorkovich as its new president Wednesday, replacing a colourful but controversial chief amid allegations that Moscow was putting pressure on national federations.

Dvorkovich defeated the World Chess Federation's (FIDE) deputy president, Georgios Makropoulos, who is Greek, after a third candidate, British grandmaster Nigel Short, withdrew at the last moment and endorsed the Russian.

"I'm very pleased at the result of these elections," Dvorkovich said in his acceptance speech before vowing to be "accountable" and "transparent."

The vote, which lasted several hours in the Georgian resort city of Batumi saw Dvorkovich defeat Makropoulos by 103 votes to 78.

Dvorkovich served as a deputy prime minister for six years under President Vladimir Putin before losing his post in May.

He was in charge of Russia's organising committee for the 2018 World Cup and has promised to create tie-ups with sports bodies such as FIFA and the International Olympic Committee and attract corporate sponsorship. His candidacy was publicly endorsed by FIFA president Gianni Infantino.

"We need to make first steps immediately," Dvorkovich said Wednesday. "We made promises we have to deliver."

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told TASS state news agency that "we are glad of this selection," saying he believed Dvorkovich would "worthily continue the task of developing chess throughout the world."

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev also congratulated Dvorkovich on Twitter, wishing him success.

The president of the European Chess Union who is also a member of the FIDE presidential board, Zurab Azmaiparashvili, told AFP after the vote that "I believe personally FIDE will benefit," calling Dvorkovich "very intelligent" and "capable of solving the problems" of chess.

He said that Dvorkovich not being a top chess player was not a problem, since "to be president of FIDE you need to have good management skills and political skills, which he has, definitely."

Dvorkovich's bid for the FIDE presidency prompted accusations of Moscow's attempting to influence the vote, while he and Short accused the previous leadership of lack of transparency and cronyism.

The election brought to an end the more than 20-year reign of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov as president of the body that unites the world's 188 national chess federations.

The eccentric former head of a Russian region claimed to have encountered aliens during a colourful career at the federation's helm that began in 1995.

- Alleged pressure -

The race was marred by allegations that Russia put pressure on countries to back Dvorkovich.

ChessBase website reported that Putin asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to press his country's federation to back Dvorkovich in return for hosting a championship, citing an e-mail apparently sent by an Israeli foreign ministry official.

Makropoulos referred Dvorkovich and his team to the FIDE ethics commission over alleged attempts to influence Serbia's vote with "gifts" and "fraudulent sponsorships."

FIDE found Dvorkovich and his team not guilty owing to insufficient evidence but excluded Serbia's delegate from the vote.

During a speech on Wednesday, Makropoulos was heckled with boos from the audience and shouts of "shame" after he claimed that "Russian ambassadors or politicians" had asked national federations to support Dvorkovich.

Short positioned himself as an anti-corruption candidate and harshly criticised Makropoulos, whom he said knowingly supported Ilyumzhinov as he brought FIDE "to the brink of oblivion" with a regime of "rampant cronyism."

- Russian domination -

Chess was crucial to the Soviet Union's prestige during the Cold War heyday of Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov.

FIDE, which has modest projected income of 3.33 million euros ($3.84 million) for 2018, is one of the few sports federations where Russia has retained its traditionally strong role.

The organisation that runs FIDE tournaments is based in Moscow and many of the top sponsors are Russian.

Ilyumzhinov was included on a 2015 US sanctions list for alleged financial dealings with the Syrian government.

He once headed the Buddhist region of Kalmykia, and told AFP in 2016 that he was living his "69th life." In 1997 he claimed to have been abducted by aliens in yellow spacesuits.

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