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Kasparov Loses Chess Election To Kremlin-Backed Incumbent

Garry Kasparov (right) answers questions from reporters after he lost the election to head the World Chess Federation in Norway on August 11.
Garry Kasparov (right) answers questions from reporters after he lost the election to head the World Chess Federation in Norway on August 11.

Chess legend and Kremlin opponent Garry Kasparov has lost his bid to unseat the Russian-backed president of the World Chess Federation who has led the game's governing body for nearly two decades.

The incumbent, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, defeated Kasparov by 100 votes to 61 in the August 11 election for the presidency of the federation -- known by its French acronym, FIDE -- in the Norwegian city of Tromso.

Ilyumzhinov, a former head of Russia's tiny republic of Kalmykia who claims he was once abducted by extraterrestrial aliens in a UFO, received active support from the Russian government to fend off the challenge from Kasparov, a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Kasparov and his supporters say Ilyumzhinov's eccentricities and the murky origins of his wealth scare off potential chess sponsors in the West.

Kasparov told the Norwegian website VGTV after the vote that it was very difficult to comment on how "people who have been playing chess and by definition should be intelligent" can buy "phony promises from the man who has been doing it for 19 years."

The 52-year-old Ilyumzhinov has reigned over international chess since his election to the FIDE presidency in 1995.

He has drawn criticism in the past not only for his claims about extraterrestrials, but also for hobnobbing with dictators like the late Saddam Hussein of Iraq and the late Muammar Qaddafi of Libya.

Following the August 11 vote, Ilyumzhinov thanked his challenger.

"I want to thank again Garry Kasparov, world chess champion, that he took part in this presidential campaign because he raises the attention to our presidential campaign. And that’s why I advise to him and to members of his team to work with me," Ilyumzhinov told reporters.

The campaign was awash in accusations of corruption and dirty tricks, with Kasparov accusing Ilyumzhinov of bureaucratic manipulations to marginalize the challenger’s supporters among FIDE’s member federations.

Ilyumzhinov also received the overt backing of the Russian government, whose diplomats actively lobbied for the incumbent with chess federations throughout the world.

Kasparov, a vehement opponent of Putin, has lived in self-imposed exile since 2013 and had vowed to move the venue for the world chess championship match slated to be held in Russia's Black Sea resort town of Sochi in November.

"Relying on money coming from Russia, as Mr. Ilyumzhinov mentioned, I think it's a little bit naive because Russia is under sanctions," Kasparov told VGTV, referring to U.S. and EU sanctions against Moscow in response to the Ukraine crisis.

Earlier this year, Putin appeared in public with Ilyumzhinov, who stepped down as the president of Kalmykia in 2010, in a clear endorsement of the incumbent.

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