SPORT

FIDE determined to go ahead with unification plan

KOZHIKODE JAN. 28. The World chess governing body, FIDE, is determined to go ahead with its unification plan, whether the official World champion Ruslan Ponomariov is a part of it or not.

FIDE vice president P.T. Ummer Koya told The Hindu here on Monday that though FIDE very much wanted Ponomariov to take part in the unified World championship, it was not prepared to meet his `unreasonable demands' or to wait for him indefinitely.

"A decision will be taken at the next presidential board meeting of FIDE to be held in February in Lausanne or Budapest,'' Mr. Koya added.

FIDE's grand (and controversial) plan to end the practice of having more than one World champion in chess at a time had taken shape in Prague last year. According to it, matches were scheduled between the current FIDE World champion Ruslan Ponomariov and the World's highest rated player Garry Kasparov and between the Braingames World champion Vladimir Kramnik and Peter Leko, the winner of the Einstein tournament.

The two winners were to compete in another match for the unified World title. (The plan generated controversy because FIDE failed to accommodate in the plan some of the world's top players including India's Viswanathan Anand, the World No. 3 and the 2000 World champion).

But Ponomariov hasn't confirmed his participation in the match yet, though in his letter to the FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov he confirms "his dedication to the Prague agreements and his readiness to meet in the match with the FIDE official challenger Mr. Garry Kasparov.''

But FIDE says, through a statement from its executive director Emmanuel Omuku, Ponomariov has four demands: 1. The postponement of the match from May till after the 15th of June, 2003; 2. Splitting of the prize fund on a 50-50 basis; 3. That the match with Kasparov should be played with the new FIDE time control; 4. That he should be allowed to retain the title in the event of a draw.

While FIDE has agreed to postpone the match as desired by Ponomariov, it has refused to meet the other demands. But FIDE is willing to compromise on the prize money issue, and has suggested to reduce the original 60-40 ratio, in favour of the winner, to 55-45.

FIDE says that though it supported the new time control, it decided to adopt the old classical time control because "it was one of the main points of discussion in the Prague Agreement.''

FIDE has rejected outright the proposal allowing the World champion to retain his title in the case of a tie, as it wants to ensure that the champion enjoys no special sporting privilege. History of chess is replete with tales of the World champions misusing their privileges.

Anand was the last victim of the flawed system, when in 1998 he was made to play Anatoly Karpov under most unfair conditions. While the Indian came through after a gruelling knock-out tournament, the less gifted Karpov was seeded directly to the final.

FIDE says as it could no longer continue to wait indefinitely for Ponomariov's formal input to the proposed regulations for the match, a letter was written to both the players on December 29, 2002, informing them that the prize fund ($1,000,000) would be distributed on a 50-50 basis in the event of a tie irrespective of the outcome of the tie-breakers (55-45 if there was no tie) and that the time control would be 40 moves in two hours followed by 20 moves in one hour and 15 minutes plus additional 30 seconds per move till the end of the game.

Both the players were required to sign the declaration that they would play the match before December 31, 2002. Kasparov signed, and Ponomariov hasn't yet, though his deadline was extended, says FIDE, to January 4. Then he has been given "the last opportunity by FIDE's letter of January 7,'' says FIDE.

It's been a bitter battle of words between FIDE and its own World champion. Ponomariov claims he hasn't received the official minutes of the decisions of the FIDE General Assembly held in Bled in November regarding the unification match, but FIDE counters that the relevant extract of the minutes were faxed to the Ukrainian Chess Federation and e-mailed to Ponomariov and his manager on January 7.

Ponomariov also says that he was not consulted in his capacity as the World champion during the discussions and signing of the Prageu Agreement, while FIDE alleges the World champion on various occasions has failed or refused to meet the FIDE officials to hold discussions.

Mr. Koya said FIDE was still willing to give Ponomariov more time. "The FIDE presidential board meeting has actually been postponed because Ponomariov is currently playing at Wijk aan Zee,'' he said. "The meeting was originally scheduled to be held in New York from January 24 to 26. We hope he will agree to play the match before the February meeting. And if he doesn't, FIDE will be forced to look at other options.''

He said Vassily Ivanchuk, who challenged Ponomariov in the World championship final in Moscow last year, could replace the champion. "FIDE is very keen to make unification process a success, at any cost,'' he said.

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