Ali Nihat Yazici - "This is not journalism, it's mafia tactics!"

Тext: Colin McGourty / Evgeny Atarov. Photo: Evgeny Atarov

Part three of our interview with the main organiser of the Istanbul Olympiad was devoted to professional ethics and the relations between chess organisers and journalists. 

In particular, we discussed the issue that made most noise in istanbul, Yazici's refusal to grant accreditation to the main author and editor of the site, Evgeny Surov. Ali's position on this issue will strike many as extreme. He explains the reasons for their mutual hostility and discusses a way to avoid such problems in the future. 

When it comes to the international chess arena my dream is to make the same regulations apply all around the world – if we want to be a real sport. Maybe Kirsan Ilyumzhinov doesn’t agree with me, maybe Mr. Makropoulos doesn’t agree with me, maybe the FIDE Presidential Board members don’t agree with me, but here’s my opinion: 

Why is the Turkish Chess Federation so successful? Because we’re trying to be a better sport. That’s the reason we apply a dress code when nobody forces us to. We’ve spent a lot of money – 30-40,000 euro – on our teams.  They don’t wear the same T-shirt again and again. 

In 1990-91 the IOC recognised chess as a sport. It was like winning the lottery for us, but the World Chess Federation says we’re a sport but we don’t want zero tolerance, we’re a sport but we don’t want a dress code, we’re a sport but we don’t want to do some kind of physical exercise, we’re a sport but… Why? Because chess is a 4,000 year old culture. 

Guys, if you’re living like a dinosaur 400 years or a thousand years in the past, stay there, but this is the future of chess. It should be the future of chess. 

That’s my fight in the international arena. We have to have accreditation for journalists, accreditation for managers and even accreditation for the people who set up the electronic boards. Everything should follow a clear procedure. What’s the problem? It should be a business. Everything and every place should be clearly certified, including websites and the technologies we use. Everything should be standardised and we’ll get better sponsorship. This eminent game will become more popular and then our future will be bright. Maybe I won’t see it, maybe Kirsan won’t see it, but as a team that’s what we’re fighting for.

- Do you think your approach of making chess into such a professional sport is for the best? Many players consider it an individual sport where everyone is free to act as he or she wants.

It’s very clear to me that chess is an unusual sport, but here at the Olympiad you can see the team spirit. For example, look at how the Armenian team fights for each other, or the Kazakhstan women’s team. They’re absolutely a team. On the one hand it’s individuals, but on the other hand it’s a team sport, a team event. And you can’t say that because it’s individual you can be a totally ugly individual person. Do you see any tennis players coming onto court in pyjamas? There are some rules. First of all, we should start a discussion: “Guys, are we a sport or not?” If we’re a sport then we should have principles, and that’s what we’re trying to do. 

I’m sure there are many federations who support their players, but is there any federation in the world supporting 120 children? Is there any federation supporting 13-year-old players with approximately 1,000 euro a month, plus expenses, accommodation, travel, coaches, clothes, food, a psychologist, everything? The Turkish Federation reached this point with the mentality that if you’re a sport and you make sure everything in the mechanism is working correctly success will later follow. Ok, we’re not a federation like Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, China or India when it comes to success on the board.

. But look at and you can see the results of the past Olympiads. 20-25 years ago India were also-rans – 4:0 for everyone. Now they’re competing. It’s the same with China. Believe me, Turkey will be like that in future. 

We know where we’re going and that we’re improving. We’re doing it consciously and it’s like a project for us. I’m the project manager. Sport is a business and chess should be a business for a federation.

During the Congress were your proposals for organising chess the way it is in the Turkish Federation accepted by the Assembly?

Ok, I can’t say they accepted many things, but at least we’re trying to establish rules one by one. When you try to do it “correctly” – without creating, how can I put this diplomatically, some incidents like the veto on arbiters or not accrediting a person who calls himself a journalist – nobody listens, while now many people are listening. If we want to be an Olympic sport we should understand that there are some requirements that come with that. Look at the London Olympic Games, where you couldn’t put any kind of sponsor’s logo on your kit. It’s totally forbidden and your country can be kicked out of the Olympics. So take, for example, the dress code. I’m not talking about the dress code the European Chess Union pushed in Gaziantep. That was a massacre. To attract sponsors we have to take some measures to attract people and popularise the sport. 

Maybe of the 10-12 things I propose only three are correct. Maybe I’m wrong in general.

I’m not a professor or doctor of chess, but I’m very experienced and people respect me for the management of the federation. If there was a title I’d be an average grandmaster of federation management. So I know what people are saying and of course we need discussions, but we need to take measures. It won’t happen in 2-3 years. If I was more powerful maybe I could implement what I personally believe, but democracy is the way to do it.

You talked about accreditation earlier. What can you say about the question of accreditation for journalists, and the situation involving Evgeny Surov in particular?

First of all, you have to understand there are international standards for this. I believe there are around 4000 nationally accredited journalists in the Turkish Sports Journalism Association. They earn their living from journalism, but only a few of them could be accredited at the London Olympics because the IOC has a standard procedure and it’s not automatic. There’s also an international press card and so on. Before the Olympiad started – I’m of course going to come to this guy Surov, although I feel disgust in the pit of my stomach when I think about his name – we got a lot of requests for accreditation. For example, there was a woman from a very Far Eastern country. She said she was living in Moscow and was a chess journalist, and she wanted to be accredited. Ok, because that country’s not on the list of journalists I took it seriously. I saw she’s in my Facebook and found out she’s a student travelling around enjoying herself. She’s maybe at the FIDE Master level. However, you can’t call a person a journalist just because they have a website or blog, or you’re demeaning a sacred profession.

First of all, there’s a principle: in my view to be a journalist you have to earn your living from the job. If you earn your living from any job you should respect your job, and there are principles in every profession. If you don’t respect your profession why should I respect you? If you lie, if you attack people, if you blackmail people? If you tell them, “Guys, if you don’t do this I’ll write this news”… I call that the mafia, not journalism. Whoever you are – a journalist, a doctor, a lawyer or anybody else – there are principles in every job.

So we submitted a proposal to FIDE, which was approved, to establish a commission of chess journalists, which will be enlarged by the day. And there’ll be FIDE accreditation for journalists. You’re a journalist and earn your living from it, but you should have some principles. For example, if you accuse the Turkish Chess Federation of disastrous organisation you should ask my opinion. 

That’s the first international principle of journalism. You should say to Mr. Yazici, “This is what’s being claimed – what do you think about it?” I reply, you reedit the article to include my comment and then you publish it, impartially.

But with this guy – his name’s everywhere – we’ve got this situation. For example, here’s a fresh lie. I call it a lie because when you say someone’s lying he can sue. I ask him to sue me if he can. 
He published an open letter. At least 20 grandmasters came up to me and said they didn’t sign this open letter.

One of them is Merab Gagunashvili from Georgia. He’s living in Tbilisi, as is this guy. Merab called me and said it was impossible, he couldn’t imagine how his name ended up there and that he didn’t agree with many of the things in the letter.

Another issue – if you’re a chess journalist you post your article and then you get some appreciation and some criticism. You also need to allow the criticism, right? I got many e-mails from grandmasters – I can give you their names. One of them said, “Mr Yazici, I understand your situation because I’m also one of his victims. When I criticised him on his website he erased all my criticism.” Can you imagine a guy who allows compliments but erases criticism? Who are we talking about? Why should we spend time on such a troublemaker? Why should we call this guy a journalist?

I’ll tell you how the story started. He contacted me about one of the Turkish Chess Federation’s events – the Women’s World Team Championship. He asked if he could come to Turkey and stay for the event, and whether I could help him with the ticket and accommodation. Ok, we do this for journalists because it’s promoting the event

I said “You’re welcome”, we send the ticket and everything. Then a second e-mail arrived saying that if we didn’t do that he’d publish the following news story.

Now, if you go into a restaurant and say, “Guys, if you pay me money you’ll be secure, otherwise I’ll shoot you in the leg”… I’m not saying that’s exactly the same thing, but it’s not called journalism. We have other definitions for such things. So because of this man – I have to call him a man, technically – we finally passed this decision. We’ll see what happens in future and if FIDE now gives someone accreditation that person will always be welcome at Turkish Chess Federation events. 

Don’t you think a more noble way out of the situation would have been to give Mr. Surov accreditation in the end, or, as in the situation with the arbiters, did you think it would set a good precedent for how people should be responsible for their actions?

For me it’s very clear. I asked him many times to apologise when he made that first mistake – to apologise clearly and correct himself on his website. Then we could have normal relations. But the guy became more insistent and arrogant in insulting our rights. He said, for example, something like, “Mardin is very close to Syria, so there might be stray missiles…” It was bullshit. I’m ready to compromise for the sake of chess, but giving in here wouldn’t be for the sake of chess. When we talk about cheating in chess we say we hate the cheats and want them out of chess. It’s disgusting. But what about cheating in journalism? You attack the FIDE Deputy President, lie about him, get many hits on your website – with advertising and money from that – and then the guy responds and you put it somewhere nobody will read.

Is that cheating or not? For me it’s cheating. First of all you’re cheating your profession and then everyone else. 

Why don’t the guys signing the letter talk about that? 

Kirsan kept insisting more and more that I should give him accreditation. I said ok, if there’s a FIDE procedure I have to follow it. I can’t say I don’t want Dragan Solak at the Olympiad – giving a Turkish player as an example so as not to be misunderstood – because his federation has selected him. It’s not my personal opinion. But when we come to this point my question is, “Where’s the procedure?” If there was a procedure I’d follow it, but if there isn’t I have to create one. It’s my right to accredit a journalist here or not. Now I don’t have that right anymore, and I’ll respect that, but journalists should also respect that organisers have rights as well. We’re not slaves or beggars on the street. We’re doing something good for chess. Why does nobody respect our rights? I ask this of the ACP, and all grandmasters. I’m working for the sake of chess. I’m doing my best, and maybe I’m making mistakes, but do I have rights or not? I’m an international chess organiser, an international arbiter, the President of a federation and a Vice President of FIDE. Do I have rights or not? What about my profession? Even if I’m not paid. Somebody’s blackmailing me, sabotaging the image of chess and insulting me. Do I have rights or not? That’s the question. 



Difficult. He seems genuinely, in both the Atalik and the Surov case, see no value in the concept of free speech. Very confrontational guy. Use him as a bulldozer to get things done, but don't give him power over other people. He treasures the disgust in his stomach.

He is right on both people

If the proceedings are like he told in this interview then he is nearly perfectly right on those two people.

Nearly, because from my point of view the rule that players need permission to play abroad is not acceptable.
But that's of course no excuse for that player to go on and insults many people "in turn".

And the permission-rule is definitly not some 'third world' issue: I can remember here in Germany a few years ago some swimming association had the rule, that athletes who swim for a foreign club (in club competitions!) are then not allowed anymore to start for the association in the international competitions between countries (for that the athletes are selected and nomintes by the national swimming association).

I think they changed the rule some years ago here. And so should do the TCF with the permission-rule, shouldn't it?
About the journalist guy: What I read here is all I know about this case. And if it really happened like that, then Yazici is 100% right.