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Geoffrey Borg: “Chess is my passion”
Tuesday, 18 October 2011
181011_borg-11.jpgThe Chief Executive Officer of FIDE and of Global Chess Geoffrey Borg gave an exclusive interview to woman grandmaster Anna Sharevich for the Grand Prix in Nalchik official site. He tells about the program "Chess in schools", women chess and many other important things in the chess World.

Geoffrey, you are the president of the Maltese chess federation for 8 years, you are the Chief Executive Officer of FIDE and of Global Chess. Could you please explain the main peculiarities of your job?
– There are two different aspects of my job: the first part is my job in FIDE and this relates to certain elite events such as the Grand Prix series are organized on a very high level, because this ultimately represents the image of FIDE. We currently have 171 members inside FIDE, I mean Federations, which are countries. Each country has a different level of chess development and one of the key roles which we have identified is to sit down and to talk to the Federations, to understand their needs.
And we know that every of the 171 has completely different requirements – for example if we talk about Russia and Bahamas. So Bahamas is looking at developing chess in schools, trainers. I even organize the trainers schools. And in the case of Russia the situation is completely different. They work on elite events, specialized events. So the pressure is that in our relationship with the Russian federation we work on our chess calendars together as much as possible to avoid clashing because the Russian chess federation is a very busy federation and they are organizing many important events.
For example if we have the Russian team championship at the same time as the Women Grand Prix then we have a problem for the women chess players, because they don’t have as many opportunities as the men do, and we want to avoid the situation when they have to choose.

You love chess very much, don’t you?
– Yes, chess is a very easy language, you can easily get along with many people. It doesn’t matter against whom you play – either Chinese, Arab or any nationality, you immediately find the same language. Chess has always been the best way for making friends.

181011_borg-11.jpg With regards to Nalchik – how many times have you been here?
– This is my 4th visit to Nalchik, because we have had 4 events here so far: The Women world chess championship, Men’s Grand Prix, then last year we had a Women Grand Prix, which was won by Tatiana Kosintseva, and now the third stage of the Women’s Grand Prix.

Do you feel here at home?
– Yes, the organizers are very professional and they do that of the sense of pride. And today jokingly but truly I said to President Kanokov that in the past we could only go with very short notice to Elista and enjoy the very high conditions of organization, because of course FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov always has a whole team of people who will support the event. And today I can say that Nalchik is able to organize any kind of the event on a very high level in a very short time without any problem.

How can you compare the organization of the previous Grand Prix stages to Nalchik?
– You cannot compare all the organizers with each other. I mean for example in Shenzhen we had a very large media group sponsoring the event so they put a lot of resources. Here we work within the requirements of the FIDE Regulations, and the organizers are doing a wonderful job. And the Minister of Sports, Mr. Aslan Afaumov has established a great relationship with all the members of FIDE. Everyone has always been good-welcomed here.

What’s your opinion on the difference between men and women prize funds in Grand Prix and on the other tournaments in general?
– The main point is that traditionally the principal marketing product is the World championship match for men which is very attractive to many people and they compete a lot for it. The women, in so far as the level is lower than the men, don’t attract as much interest to sponsors. In this case, FIDE is working much harder to get the sponsorship, and we are very happy in this case, because we see the great results with women chess.
With the men, the World Championship cycle is very complex, the Women World Championship cycle is now simple and clear. Recently we had a meeting in Moscow where we said that we need to keep this structure for women as long as possible.

Well, actually returning to women chess, why aren’t they so well rewarded as men chess? Because women chess can be better sold than men chess, can’t they?
G.B. Anything can be sold in life (smiles). And from the point of attractiveness, but not concerning the level of the tournament.

But maybe from the market situation the attractiveness of women chess may play the leading role? We can see many pretty girls playing chess and why not to make the market because of it? For example in comparison to tennis…
– We cannot compare to any other sport because each sport has its own unique attraction. People who are sponsoring chess are normally sponsoring chess because they want to be associated with an intellectual activity.
For example one of the sponsors which we are discussing recently maybe will be more interested in women chess. So, if you find the right sponsor you can get the right prizes. And it’s normal that today men tournaments will always attract more money. The percentage of men playing chess is much more than women. On the FIDE rating it’s about 85 percent who are men. So of course we hope that the number of women playing chess will continue to grow and reduce this imbalance.
Chess is very positive sport and has to be promoted to both sexes. In general, chess is a great, character building activity, where you have to show ultimately a strong character, because you take the responsibility on your own and all the mistakes you make are only your own fault, if you play something great – then it’s your own benefit.

181011_borg-2.jpgGeoffrey, what do you think about the cooperation with such companies as Lancome, Dior or Loreal? If women chess players use the production of these firms, they can make some kind of an advertisement to them and why not to make money because of this cooperation?
– To be honest we tried to approach Max Factor. But today the advertising industry is very difficult. What companies are interested ultimately in, is how large is your audience, what sorts of event can be publicized, what are your communication channels. Today we have the product in Women’s chess, a clear world championship cycle, six Grand Prix events, the winner of which will face the winner of the world championship from the previous year’s knockout. And you can go and offer the companies such product.

Anyway the idea is not to compete with Julia Roberts sums level, we can minimalize it.
G.B. You know when you go to a sponsor and you want to sell your market, your concept, you have to think about possible objections from the person who is buying on the other side. And as I said, the first thing that we look at is why would someone sponsor women chess.
First you really have to increase the exposure of chess and attract more woman. There are many books written about women chess, for example Jennifer Shahade has written books on this topic as well as a book by Yvette Nagel Seirawan.
Speaking about the money each Women Grand Prix event bring 50 000 euro in prizes. Five years ago people would just laugh at the possibility of these events taking place. There are 6 stages in the series and the total prize fund is 300 000 euro, which is quite good. The problem is not in the elite events really, because the Grand Prix is actually quite good. The problem is open tournaments, where you have very low prize money for women. The women chess players have to spend about 10 days and get only 200 euro, when the men prize is about 3000 euro.
That’s the first problem. Another problem is participation, too many men playing. For instance, if we look at youth chess championships the percentage of participation is approximately 60 to 40, 60 to boys and 40 to girls. But then many things change – their own individual life style, studies and so on – and the girls lose the interest for the game much faster. That’s one of the reasons why chess is more popular among men.

Speaking about the elite in the current time we see the domination of Chinese players both in men and women chess. Could you comment on it.
– This is a book of Liu Wenzhe “The Chinese school of chess” which explains why China exploded in chess so much. Today you can see some super players like Hou Yifan. The Chinese trainers spend a lot of time with such players, they become very technical. And in general the level of the coaches is very high.
And the other thing is that previously many players on the territory of the Soviet Union felt a national pride to win. Now they are independent nations.
In men’s chess we also see that Russia is not dominating any more as it was in the Soviet Union. I am even trying to remember when Russia has won any major title in team events in recent years. Anyway the men’s arena is much more competitive, more difficult. And there are many good teams now – Armenia, China, Ukraine, United States. Also, the Hungarian team was very close to getting medals in Ningbo this year.
With regards to women, I suppose that Ukraine could be much stronger, if Anna Muzychuk played for it. With such a team where Kateryna Lahno, Natalia Zhukova, Inna Gaponenko play the Ukraine could compete strongly for the medals. I don’t think that the Chinese would have it so easy.
However in China today there are between 4 and 5 million kids learning chess in schools. And this is small, I’m not joking. There are about 800 million people playing the Chinese chess! We visited schools in Shenzhen where they are teaching “international” chess and we were very impressed. There were demonstration boards in the corridors. The kids go out on the break and they can play chess. In the yard you can find giant chess sets. They have chess lessons, they have all the necessary equipment. It was absolutely amazing and impressive.
The same thing Kirsan is trying to push in Russia and in all his visits around the world – with the FIDE program for “Chess in Schools”.

Let’s return back to the Grand Prix series. We see that it’s usually held in Russia or in the Asian countries. What about Europe and the United States?
– When we started the Grand Prix series in 2008 there were a few European cities in the plans. But at the last moment they backed out which created a very big problem and thankfully again Kirsan stepped in and had to use his contacts. We started to organize the events in many places, which people were criticizing, but in reality they were absolutely great. Places where chess and chess players are highly respected. And Nalchik is one of them.
Looking at countries like the USA, it has a huge market, a very big potential. Of course it exploded during the Bobby Fisher time. The biggest ray of hope there is in youth chess. There is a lot of private initiative there for that area of development. Elite events on the other hand are very much private matters.

181011_borg-5.jpgIf we ask Susan Polgar to help in organizing the Women Grand Prix?
– These tournament sometimes could be a little bit expensive. And the prize money is only a part of it. You have a lot of organizational costs. The question is which countries are ready to do it. In Asia chess is growing very fast and chess is very much appreciated. So many of the countries we are visiting – Vietnam, China, India as well – are very motivated in organizing these type of tournaments. In the West we have too much of a fragmented approach. In the USA chess is not even considered as a sport. So the first thing to crack is at least to organize it as a sport.

Anyway it would be great to held New-York City Grand Prix for example…
– Maybe we will do it, who knows (smiles). Of course it’s not only a matter of cost. If you find an organizer or a sponsor, who wishes to do that, because he sees the benefit of such a cycle, then of course it will go to major cities.
On the other hand such cities like Nalchik, Kazan are organizing great chess events as well. And we come to Nalchik and it welcomes us with open heart. We were discussing with the President of Kabardino-Balkarian Republic, H. E. Arsen Kanokov the program “Chess in Schools” in this region. And the president was quite happy to discuss it. And recently H. E. Mikhail Gorbachev has excepted to be the patron for the program “Chess in Schools”, which is absolutely excellent, because with his name you get the stamp of approval in many governments.

Geoffrey, what is chess for you? Job, hobby or something else?
– Chess is not only a favourite job, it’s my passion! Chess gives me a possibility to know many people, to become friends with them and to work together.
 
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