Centre’s deadline to AICF warring factions nearing fast (Lead)

The Indian chess team recently won the gold medal in the FIDE Online Olympiad and the players were greeted by The President, Vice President, Prime Minister, several ministers and other political leaders.

Former world chess champion Vishwanathan Anand had also said India winning the gold in the FIDE Online Olympiad will have a positive impact on the way the central government looks at the game and the players.

Now, eyes of all the players and others connected with chess are on the central government for its action as the deadline it gave to the warring factions of the All India Chess Federation (AICF) to resolve their issues by September 30 is nearing fast.

As a matter of fact, the factional fight was seen in the selection of the Indian team for the Online Olympiad with each faction putting out a different team composition.

“We are not aware of the complexities of the court cases which the factions of AICF are fighting right now, hence we do not have a clue if the government deadline of September 30 can be met with,” Secretary V. Saravanan, who is also an International Master (IM), told IANS.

The AICF is divided into two factions — one led by President P.R.Venketrama Raja and the other by its Secretary Bharat Singh Chauhan.

The leaders of the two factions with their respective supporters had removed each other from their posts. However, the central government recognises Raja and Chauhan as AICF’s President and Secretary.

The central government, in a letter addressed to AICF Raja and Chauhan on May 20, while referring to the disputes in the management of the chess body, had said: “AICF may resolve the issues concerning management of All India Chess Federation by September 30, 2020.”

“The matter is in the court. We cannot comment further,” Vijay Deshpande, part of Raja’s faction, told IANS.

Recently, the Madras High Court has granted an ad-interim injunction against the special/extraordinary general body meeting of AICF held on April 22 held by supporters of Chauhan.

As the government was silent on the next course of action, Saravanan hopes the ruling dispensation does not disaffiliate AICF as a sports body, which could be a big blow for the chess community.

“The government should call the warring factions and find a way out,” a senior chess Grandmaster told IANS on the condition of anonymity.

“We (players) don’t expect AICF factions to pay heed to government directive; the courts will be the deciding factor whenever it happens. Then the government should enforce the National Sports Code,” a senior International Master (IM) told IANS preferring anonymity.

According to Saravanan, as a players’ body, the forum wishes that the current turmoil of the AICF ends as a stable and active federation is the need of the hour.

He said the forum is particular that the newly formed AICF would strictly adhere to the National Sports Code, which denotes players’ participation in administration.

“We shall actively press the government and AICF on that,” he added.

While that is for the future, Saravanan expressed his concern that the majority of the players, coaches, arbiters and other constituents of the chess fraternity are going through tough times during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It is important that AICF regains its role of leadership and livelihood support for the game,” he remarked.

IANS had earlier reported about Indian Bank’s decision to partially freeze AICF’s bank account, allowing only deposits and not withdrawals, owing to the internal fight within the chess body.

The salary for the AICF staff was also not paid from AICF accounts, but by the Chauhan faction initially.

“For the past couple of months, the AICF staff salaries have been paid by Raja. The AICF bank account is still under freeze,” Deshpande said.

According to Saravanan, there is nothing much that the global chess body FIDE can do in the whole matter.

“The financial cost of the infighting between the factions is simply disgusting. The chess fraternity as a whole – not just the CPF – has simply lost the respect for AICF as the legal expenses are huge for both the sides,” another IM not wanting to be named told IANS.

“This has given the question in the mind of all chess players how much of the players’ money is being squandered by the AICF in such a way. We should all be demanding that the AICF should be making its financial statements public in future,” the IM said.

While AICF’s bank account is under partial freeze, the winning faction should not recover their huge legal expenses from the Federation’s funds later as it rightly belongs to the players and other stakeholders, the chess master added.