The birth of CPAI

CHESS players are known to work in silence. Whether they are preparing or playing, they do it in peace. But when they decide to make a noise, it gets the attention it deserves.

CHESS players are known to work in silence. Whether they are preparing or playing, they do it in peace. But when they decide to make a noise, it gets the attention it deserves.

Over the years, Indian chess players have made their moves without sparing much thought to what goes around them. They are a breed that knowingly, or unknowingly, are driven by forces that govern. At the highest level of the sport, the formation of Association of Chess Professionals (ACP) has worked as a pressure group against FIDE, the world body.

The voice of the players, both individually and collectively, can be heard through the ACP. In India, the Chess Players' Association of India (CPAI) can well achieve the same objective. At present, only Grandmasters and International Masters are members. Soon, the invitation to join CPAI will be extended to all players.

But first, the factors that led to the birth of CPAI. With Viswanathan Anand "in principle" lending all support to the players, they got the fillip needed at the very start.

It all started with the AICF's decision to impose a 10 per cent `cut' from the players prize money earned with effect from June 1, 2004. The idea was to rake in more revenue for the federation since it does not enjoy "corporate support" like say, cricket or hockey. The extra revenue was to be used to meet the enhanced rating fee levied by FIDE.

It must be mentioned here that the AICF's revenue touches nearly Rs. 2 crores per year. This is mainly because, unlike any other federation, the AICF charges a compulsory annual fee of Rs. 500 from its registered players. In addition, the entry fee ranges from Rs. 1000 to 25,000 for an event. Even the affiliated Associations and Academies are made to pay substantial amounts to gain allotment of national and international events under different heads. Without doubt, no federation burdens its affiliates and players as much as the AICF does.

The AICF's major expenditure goes in what it pays for its secretary. The "honorary secretary" gets "honorarium" under three heads since the same man also doubles up as the AICF magazine editor and the AICF website editor.

He costs the federation nearly Rs. seven lakh per annum. In addition, he is entitled to unlimited air-travel and five-star accommodation. Apart from Anand, no Indian player gets as much.

With such being the background, the players had reasons to feel "robbed" when the 10 percent `cut' came into force at an event in Kolhapur. Since then, protests have been commonplace at every event.

The players wore black badges during the Pune International chess festival and forced the AICF to review the decision in its next AGM. Eventually, the AICF bowed and withdrew the `cut' with effect from January 1, 2005. Still the players are keen to get back the amount deducted so far.

In December, the players formally announced the formation of the CPAI in Kolkata and raised the issue of Woman Grandmaster Nisha Mohota's non-inclusion in the team to the Asian women's championship in Beirut.

In fact, she could have easily been included in the team if the laid-down practice was followed. The CPAI was quick to point out that she was "victimised" since she backed the players' movement. The statements to this effect by Nisha and CPAI President Dibyendu Barua attracted show-cause notices from the AICF.

At present, the players are planning to throw more light on AICF's wasteful expenditure while the federation is contemplating disciplinary action against the players.

Irrespective of whether the players succeed in their aim of "disciplining" the AICF, the body has found the approval of the players and parents alike. Even some of the AICF officer-bearers agree in private that it was unethical to cut from players' share but lack the conviction to question the AICF secretary.

Players' body in disciplines like cricket and hockey have not succeeded in making their presence felt, though there have been periodic attempts to revive such bodies and take on the national federations to give a better deal to the players at all levels.

As long as several contentious issues persist, the CPAI will be in the news. Since these players neither have the ambition to take over AICF nor the administrative acumen to run it, the AICF has no reasons to feel threatened. At the same time, the AICF office-bearers cannot afford to be further embarrassed since this happens to be an election year.