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Interview with Zurab Azmaiparashvili

Zurab Azmaiparashvili

Zurab Azmaiparashvili

After the conclusion of the FIDE Women Grand Prix in Lopota, Alina l’Ami interviewed Georgia’s Deputy Sports Minister, ECU presidential candidate, GM and a family man: Zurab Azmaiparashvili.

Alina l’Ami: Now that the 5th stage of the FIDE Women Grand Prix 2013-2014 series came to an end, how would you asses the overall organization?

Zurab Azmaiparashvili: I believe it was great, to say the least: good location, beautiful games, a hard working team behind the event; besides, you mentioned yourself the generosity and warmth of the Georgian soul. With all these ingredients together, it can hardly go wrong.

If I have to mention a downside: here you have everything except for night life. And I understand that probably for the super-professionals, this aspect doesn’t have a strong impact, but for some, for those who need to take some time off after their games, perhaps it was less exciting. But in general, the conditions were outstanding.

Personally, when I was also playing chess, I preferred to be in a location where I was given more options, here the choices the players had at their disposal were not so varied. Yet, as I said before, the place is wonderful. For trainings especially, this could be heaven on earth. Or, as our chief arbiter proposed, KK Chan, we could organize here team events, like the World Team Championship, just to give an example.

When you are with your teammates, the evenings can be quite nice: you can play other sports or many games, chess included, and I think one could enjoy the atmosphere more.

Alina l’Ami: Shall we understand that, for the next GP or another similar individual event, you are planning to move it elsewhere?

Zurab Azmaiparashvili: We haven’t made a clear decision on this but it is a possibility; perhaps Batumi would be a good alternative. I like this city a lot, it is easier to organize everything and the conditions are excellent.

Tbilisi is also a nice place, but then again, there could be a drawback here, too. Our capital is not a gargantuan metropolis, it has only 1.5 million people, but for Georgian standards this is a really big city, meaning that the tournament would get a lot of exposure and the tension could reach high proportions.

Because of this, it might get a bit too chaotic, whereas Batumi could be described as ‘in between Lopota and Tbilisi’, more balanced and with everything at hand.

Alina l’Ami: Any concrete plans for future events?

Zurab Azmaiparashvili: We are planning to organize a lot of tournaments but this is not such a simple task, for everything we need financial support. Our main assignment for the moment is to organize this year the European Youth Championship in October, then next year, in 2015, we are going to organize the U16 Olympiad.

After that, we have on our 2016 agenda something special for Nona Gaprindashvili’s anniversary, when we will organize a chess tournament, which we hope to come close to the caliber of her personality.

Maybe this is also a good opportunity to listen the kind suggestion of Geoffrey Borg, to offer in the aforementioned package, another Women Grand Prix.

We are bidding for the 2018 Olympiad as well and if we will have the honor of organizing such a reputable event, I believe that we will witness a lot of chess activities in Georgia in the upcoming years. Somehow they will all be, directly or indirectly, connected with the Olympiad and the organizers will try to do their best not only to promote their own festivals but also to bring into the limelight such a prestigious event like the chess Olympiad.

If we will not win the bid for the 2018 Olympiad, it will be more challenging to convince the sponsors and our government to support our future activities, but we will certainly do our best in either case. Yet, I have to mention that our bid is better, there is no doubt about it: we can allocate a 14.5 million Euros budget, compared to 12.65 million USD, as this year’s Olympiad received from the Norwegian state.

It is important for everyone to understand why our bid makes a big difference and how the money will be spent. Perhaps, some think that we, in Georgia, like to shuffle this money out of sight, while giving it a ‘better’ purpose into our own pockets. These stereotypes make me truly want to explain how we will make use of the money.

First of all, we are offering all chess players, doesn’t matter from which federation, either small or big, strong or weak, accommodation in 5 stars resorts. All, approx.180 nations, will be hosted only in luxurious hotels.

Secondly, we are offering two extra free rooms for each delegation, which could be used by the head of delegations and/or for separate delegates.

We are also offering 1.6 million USD (or 1.2 million Euros) to subsidize travel expenses, which is double in comparison to Tromso, for example. If they are offering 600 000 Euros for this purpose, we will be offering much more. This ‘mere’ detail will be important for many countries and I believe that around 70 or 80 nations can benefit from it.

And you should have a look at our budget for accommodation as well: we will spend more than 5 million Euros, only for the hotels! We are talking about branding names: Kempinski, Sheraton, Radisson, Hilton and we have two more hotels, also 5 stars and of course excellent conditions, but they don’t have an international brand. In short, our budget will be, approximately, between 200-250 Euro per person/night.

When people are asking me if I think that the next Olympiad, to be held in 2016 in Baku, will be better, I reply: I am sure that Baku will have one of the best Olympiads so far and it will be very difficult to compete with them; their budget is a bit higher than ours and Baku is also a nice city. And yet, we will surely meet the expectations, since our logistics will simply be better. It is impossible in big cities to organize the logistics part in a smooth manner, to make it work clockwise.

What we will have in Batumi is just perfect: if someone wants to go from one 5 star hotel to another, even if at the opposite side of the town, it will be a distance of only 1.5 km, so the players can easily walk and meet and see each other. Besides, there are a lot of bars, a lot of things to do, it is a lively place, wonderful for chess.

I want to convince the federations to vote for the Georgian bid, since I believe in this project and I am sure they will get one of their best conditions ever during a Chess Olympiad. Such prestigious events are very important to our federation, to me and of course, to our country.

Alina l’Ami: What about the elections for ECU? Do you expect to win?

Zurab Azmaiparashvili: Yes, otherwise why would I run from the first place? Just recently I was giving an interview on our national sports portal, where they asked me how come I decided to be a candidate. Making a parallel, you see it also in politics, even for presidential chairs, that some people are running and you wonder: what are they doing there, what are they trying to achieve? Maybe they will get one vote, two votes, maybe their family will vote for them too, but quite often they are in the race only because of their own ambition, which, sometimes, doesn’t have any foundation at all.

To be ambitious is not a bad thing of course, but it has to be combined with a solid background, desire alone is not enough. Without those two, the candidate can safely retreat to a political asylum. The vice versa applies as well: if you do have the background but lack the get-up-and-go… not a dream came true.

I believe I have a bit of both: a balanced background and ambition as well. But I don’t push the boundaries to such an extent that I will advise the current president – “resign, I am much better than you”.

I do believe though that things will change to the good and that I am better than Silvio Danailov on several points. I am not saying that my approach and views in life are superior to his. Maybe some people will believe me, maybe others will think the opposite, but there are a couple of agenda items which I believe I would do better.

In addition: I have the background, I have people, not only chess players but also politicians. In the beginning, I was estimating our chances, Silvio’s and mine, as being more or less equally shared, 50-50, so I decided to run. Even if I would have had chances like 45-55 in my detriment, I still had a chance, so I should run as well.

Today, I trust that my chances increased and I would assess them to be around 55-60 in my favour. To answer your question: yes, I believe I have more chances to win the elections than Silvio Danailov.

The percentages grew thanks to my campaign, which I consider it to be better than Silvio’s, especially because he connected it with Garry Kasparov’s campaign for the FIDE Presidency.

Somehow it looks as if Kasparov is campaigning for Silvio, which, in my opinion, is not the right approach. In my view, it only shows that you don’t have a strong personality to do it alone. Compared to this, almost my entire campaign I carried it on my shoulders.

Silvio has and should show his own personality, he will run the organization not Garry, he will be the one responsible, not Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, for example, if I would win the elections. I will be the one responsible to establish also the relations with FIDE.

Because I believe that FIDE has a high interest in having good relations with every continent, while moving further together. When I say “move together” I don’t imply that both sides should have the same ideas; by “moving together” I mean “walking together”, make decisions together, sometimes have fights too for the commonly taken decisions – it is all normal. It is family. I am not talking about politics, when some people are publicly fighting, pointing fingers at each other, claiming that the other side is wrong and so forth. No, in our case, if someone is wrong we have to tell it to each other, to sit and discuss.

We shouldn’t wash our clothes in the media, in public, this is not the right way to progress. It is not normal what Silvio is doing and I am criticizing him for that. In fact, he is doing it only for the public, he never really fought inside the board meetings. He is wearing his fights outside, which makes me think that he wants to build his image of a fighter against FIDE, against Kirsan, against Makropoulos. All of this doesn’t show that he can run alone, while also committing himself with Garry.

I don’t want to be misunderstood either, I am not against Garry, I never said anything like that, that I would be against Kasparov. I want us to be friends, the same time I want to be friends with Kirsan. I respect what Kirsan Ilyumzhinov did for FIDE. Even if I didn’t agree with something he had decided in the past, I told him and, in any case, how could I not respect all his efforts for the chess world?!

The same thing with Makropoulos: many people think that we are friends; well, of course we are but it doesn’t mean we don’t have fights, that sometimes we don’t have different opinions and positions. But we are friends because I respect what he is doing and I believe he feels the same for me, otherwise it would be a bit difficult to become friends from the first place.

Fighting for your own principles and ideas, disagreeing, taking positions, it all shows that we have our own personal opinions. But these fights will never go out! Have you heard of a quarrel between me and Makropoulos that went out in the air? No. Have you heard about a fight between me and Ilyumzhinov that became public? No. But don’t worry, we do fight! Do you see that I am fighting with my wife? Of course not. But it doesn’t mean we don’t disagree at times, it is normal.

And another issue which is important for me: in 2010, when I actually supported Silvio back then for the elections, I asked him after he won, if he will transfer the salary as the President to the general budget of ECU. He was surprised by my suggestion; I cannot say that he was a very rich man, but he had some businesses going, which made me believe he didn’t need this additional 3000 Euro/month. He disagreed with my position, which was transparent: resignation from the salary. He didn’t do it.

I don’t know if I was right or not but I already made a proposal to our Georgian federation, to cut the salary of the future president of ECU; and we will bring this forward, before the elections, and if it won’t be voted 100 % pro, since normally for such things the votes should be in full percentage, the majority will probably be in favour of this idea.

I don’t want to send the wrong message here, either: that Zurab is rich and he doesn’t need this money, that he doesn’t care about 3000 euro. It is not like this. And I will tell you why:
First: we have an organization which is not rich.
Secondly: we are not so successful; one cannot show me why ECU is prospering at the moment.

True, the tournaments are running and we have some budget too, but the figures are not that big, approx. 200 000 Euro; getting a salary of 3000 Euros from 200 000 Euros seems not like a priority, especially when you cannot subsidize the projects for marketing for example, the projects like chess in schools on another hand, or to build a commission which would show the work that we want to do…

Everybody is saying that chess in schools is very important and they emphasize a lot on this topic, but these are just words. We have to do something, we have to work, we have to bring the product.

Every single one of us agrees: Kirsan understands, Garry too, me as well, that chess in schools is very important. In other words, what I am saying is not that I don’t need a salary, but first we need a project to stand still, we need to be successful. I prefer this money to be invested in the projects, which would bring chess and us more success, too. After everything is in place, we can discuss further about the next things from the list, like money and salaries.

Alina l’Ami: So chess in schools is playing an important role for your future program?

Zurab Azmaiparashvili: It is a big part of my plans, yes. Actually I have already an agreement with a private sponsor, who is ready to help the ECU organizing symposiums, between chess people and those working in the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs.

I am talking about big meetings, with over 100 people, to share the ideas of different countries and different mentalities. This is very important, since what works in Sweden, doesn’t mean that automatically will work in Bulgaria as well. This is the main mistake of the overall very much needed and appreciated chess in schools project.

When we are trying to push and implement it further, we face this impediment: every country has its own educational system and, in general terms, a different approach in life. We should build more, several systems, which would be applied in every country accordingly.

For example in Romania, your native land, there is a very interesting project where they implemented the following: children who are learning football will also learn chess, the point being that chess will help the future footballers with their strategical thinking. This is interesting, why not? I heard of this idea elsewhere, but it was applied to adults and not to children, which is preferable. Their minds are malleable, ready to absorb the information in the best possible and efficient way.

Let’s say that tomorrow, these children or this football team who studied chess, will become better footballers – then this will be one of the biggest successes that chess brought to the general life, also historically speaking.

Chess is great and the top players will survive in any case. But we are also talking about chess in general terms, as sport and art, which can bring to the other people the most important thing: a life.

Many will not think about becoming chess professionals or making a living out of it, but they will realize that chess does open many doors, like the football one from the above example. So, if the footballers will think “yes, learning chess is important, it will help me on the sports field”, this will bring financial opportunities to chess and chess players as well.

Chess is not an exclusive sport, reserved only for Hou Yifan, chess is for every single one of us. If I am not as successful as Carlsen, I might think I should better shift to something which will bring more bread on the table…but at the same time I love chess, I like playing, and this should be more than welcome. Our game brings with it so many opportunities in life, whether a good player or not.

I had many pupils in Singapore (I was working there for 5 years), and around the age of 12 they were transferring from chess to something else, because they knew that from chess, they cannot make a living. But everybody should understand that, victorious or not, chess opens many doors for those who practice it.

Another important thing: we don’t have money or we don’t spend enough for PR, which today is a valuable part in life. Without PR is difficult to move upwards, vertically.

We have to do something which is important for chess itself but, in parallel, for the people who are involved within the chess scenes, too: writers, commentators, photographers, journalists and so forth. We should make special days for all these people and acknowledge their work, their efforts, people should be praised for their contributions, also financially speaking.

Back in the 90’s, in New York (note: Zurab Azmaiparashvili was part of Kasparov’s team) where the match Kasparov-Karpov was held, I have been told that the billionaire who made the match happen was holding in his house, or ok…in one of his multiple houses, a chess diploma. It states that he won in an amateur chess tournament 600 USD! He is obviously happy about it and people can see this little detail proudly hanging on the walls. Why not doing this for people on a larger scale. We are happy to show our children or grandchildren a reward, a title, a diploma, a medal, to show that we can be good in chess, too.

We have a lot of ideas for the PR, one of the best ones being: organizing conferences. In fact I should make a parenthesis, to show that I don’t always criticize Silvio and his actions. He did a very good job with the European Union and UNESCO projects.

On the other hand, this is bringing only PR, not real value. Real value is involving the Ministries of Education, not only one Ministry! We are talking about departments, about the hard working people from all the levels and not only at the heights.

These people are the ones who are working on the projects, they are preparing everything. And the main question we should ask ourselves: what is the interest of these people to work for chess and, eventually, for us?

I am looking at the subject at hand in the following terms: as Deputy Sports Minister in Georgia, I see how happy people are if they go away from their desk jobs for even only three days.

They don’t have so many opportunities, like us, chess players, to travel around. We are spoiled. They are working 11 months, in the same place, they have one month holiday, when they go to the mountains or a seaside resort to have a rest, and then they come back, continuing their hard work. If they are given the opportunity to get out, let’s say tomorrow they are off to Sweden, they are so happy!

When I am told: Zurab, tomorrow you have to go to USA, to say the truth, I don’t really feel like, I am a spoiled guy, I travel all the time and I want to stay at home! But for them, on the contrary, it is a dream to experience new things, to see new places and meet interesting people like…chess players.

I think this is valid not only for Georgia or for Romania, the same is everywhere. These people are working unimaginably hard and, the same people have to prepare things for us. So what I am saying is to involve them in our business, in our projects. We call them, we pay their ticket, we pay their accommodation, they come, sit with us, discuss, we will explain how good chess is, and they will have the hope that next year, they will travel again, maybe to another city.

I want to build a win-win situation. They have to be happy with us, instead of feeling that, besides their daily duties, another thing piled up on their desk. In the end, much more fruitful projects and results we will get with satisfied and willing to help people.

So yes, these are the general plans, I have many ideas and suggestions but for the moment, I want to talk only about real things, about palpable matters, for which I already got the necessary papers and signatures in hand.

It is not a secret that the Bank of Georgia is one of the main sponsors and I am quite confident that, with Judit Polgar’s involvement in the chess in schools project, we will be successful together: us, European Union, Bank of Georgia, Judit herself.

Alina l’Ami: Chess in schools is a wonderful project, indeed, but where will you find so many people to teach children chess, with both chess skills and pedagogical experience?

Zurab Azmaiparashvili: Yes, your point is right. The teachers from schools will learn chess (if they don’t know the game already) and they will be able to pass it onto children.

We don’t want to build a group of chess players who will be teaching chess. Who wants to continue chess on a higher level or even professionally, has the option of going further, in the advanced chess sections.

We are just bringing the chess values to children, to help them in their thinking process, with the decision making and all the other abilities that chess can bring, while helping the new generations grow harmoniously.

Normally speaking, more or less every teacher knows the chess basics. So this is our approach: not to teach chess players how to present chess to children but to teach the teachers how to play chess.

If some chess players have both the expertise on the chess board and pedagogic background as well, this would be fantastic. But we don’t need super GMs to teach kids, they are reserved for the top players.

Full interview here

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