The Secretary General of the European Chess Union Mr. Theodoros Tsorbatzoglou gave an extensive interview for Chessdom. Among other topics he discussed the current situation regarding chess in Europe, the digitalization of chess, and the Carlsen – Nepomniachtchi 2021 match. Mr. Tsorbatzoglou hailed the European chess heritage and presented the video released by ECU.
We are here with the General Secretary of the highest governing body of chess on the old continent. Mr. Tsorbatzoglou. The ECU has just launched a very nice heritage video. It is one of the many ECU initiatives that we see lately. Can you tell us more about it?
The positive thing about this pandemic era of about 2 years is that it gives us the need and the time to further develop our digital and creative services. We have developed in various areas such as online competitions, training, courses, meetings, e-commerce accounts. We have also increased our creative team, coordinated by our PR and marketing manager Ms Tea Kipshidze.
This video is a part of their work, and you will see more in the near future. In the last 2 years we have been working more on repositioning and upgrading ECU in the European Sport Market. The main project in this direction is the Golden Pawn Award Ceremony. A very ambitious event was organized in November 2019 for the first time in Monte Carlo and gave the new image and status of European Chess Union. The event is planned to resume after the pandemic break in 2022. The European Parliamentary Tournament, which ended a few days ago, was also a success for the first event and we are entering a series of European Parliaments. The cooperation in supporting youth chess activities with the European Investment Bank- Institute the funding from Erasmus program are other remarkable examples, on what we want to build on and connect ECU, European high profile institutions, European values and sporting heritage.
In the video the success and high standings of European players in the world rankings is mentioned. Just recently Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia) qualified through the Candidates for a all-European World Chess Championship 2021 final against Magnus Carlsen (Norway).
The strength of European Chess is an obvious fact. It was a great result of Ian Nepomniachtchi (RUS), but also in second place was Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (FRA) and in third Anish Giri (NED). They all showed that they are ready to challenge the reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen (NOR) for the world title. In this context, I just want to say that I hope the European federations will not lose any of their great players in the future. Player transfer rules should be harmonized with international standards in major sports federations. The transfer of players between countries should not be treated as a club transfer, but as a process compatible with the representation of a country.
The World Championship is going to be played in Dubai as part of the Dubai Expo. Is this a chance to present the European chess to a wider audience and more international partners?
The last two World Championships in New York and London were a great advertisement for #chess. The Dubai match is also a very promising venue, linked to the World Expo. I don’t think World Championship matches are a place to promote European Chess particularly. FIDE does a very good job in organizing these matches, which are the most valuable chess events in the world, so it’s better to follow and support FIDE in this, as the result is beneficial for the whole chess community.
Of course I will gladly visit the venue and be part of the historical moment.
You are from Greece and your country has just entered the “green” zone regarding the pandemic situation. Other countries on the continent are resolving the situation step by step too. Is it time for chess to return on the board?
Yes, it is time to resume activities over the board. Step by step, because not all events are the same cases. National events yes, international opens yes with all the rules existing in each country. As for the official European Championships, we are ready with three (3) major championships in August and at least 3-4 more are planned from September to December. Youth/school events, these are among the most difficult cases, since there are no vaccines yet for Juniors U18, they are mass events that require large venues and gatherings. There are also more restrictions and special permissions for federations to send youth squads abroad. But as ECU we will make every effort after the updates for each month to organize as many as possible over the board events in 2021.
Do you believe the events through this difficult year brought permanent changes as to where chess is played? Are they positive changes for the sport – do they bring it to larger audience and make it more accessible?
Yes, aside from the many problems the pandemic has caused for players, events, and chess clubs, associations, there is an upside. Chess continues to be played online and is gaining more audience, even attracting new sponsors who are more interested in digital and distant activities. Online chess platforms have been improved and much better organized to receive millions of players. Twitch and YouTube have opened up a new revenue stream for chess players. Coaches are becoming more adept at remote training and many referees became more diligent than before. By resuming over the board activities and keeping some online events, we are expanding our services and accessibility. There are some events such as corporate and parliamentary competitions that are more convenient for participants when they are organized online or in hybrid mode. That is, through hybrid events that are better regulated now, we can have better communication and competitions between continents.
Women chess has been gaining popularity on the continent. The movie by Netflix “Queen’s gambit” certainly helps. What are the initiatives that ECU plans?
Both ECU and FIDE are very focused in women’s chess and through development programs. In the last two years many related activities have been organized. In May we have the European Girls’ and Women’s Week in collaboration with German Youth Chess Federation and the support of FIDE Women’s and FIDE PDC Commission.
It is true that the Netflix series “Queen’s Gambit” has created a chess trend and more followers for our game. But when we talk about women’s chess, we can be proud of the Women chess top players who are very successful and in the mainstream politics. Recently Antoaneta Stefanova was elected in Bulgarian Parliament and she received an honorary mandate to form a government. Our Vice-President Dana Rezience-Ozola was elected the best Minister of Finance in the EU two (2) years in a row and Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen is the Speaker of the Lithuanian Parliament! It will be a better world if more women and additionally chess players get more involved in the politics of the states.