Chess legend Garry Kasparov failed in his attempt to dethrone the eccentric head of the World Chess Federation, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and self-professed “alien abductee”, in a chaotic and highly politicised vote on Monday.
Seen as one of the sport’s greatest-ever players, former world champion Kasparov could only secure the votes of 61 of 175 delegates when the federation met on the sidelines of the Chess Olympiad in Tromsoe, Norway.
Once again, the presidency was retained by Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, a 52-year-old Russian with an extremely colourful background who has held the post since 1995. He took 110 votes.
A former president of Russia’s only Buddhist region, the Republic of Kalmykia, Ilyumzhinov claims he was once abducted by aliens who communicated telepathically and took him to another planet in a giant spaceship.
He has also been criticised for cultivating close ties to some of the world’s most brutal dictators including Saddam Hussein and Moamer Kadhafi, at precisely the moments when they were facing the strongest international opposition.
At the height of NATO bombardments of Tripoli in June 2011 he travelled to the Libyan capital to play a highly publicised chess game with Kadhafi, granting him the title of “International Grandmaster”.
“I will work for chess and I want to devote my entire life to the federation,” he said after his re-election.
The campaign proved acrimonious, marked by allegations of corruption and political pressure on both sides.
Kasparov, a highly vocal critic of Putin who fled his native Russia last year to live in exile in New York, sought to depict Ilyumzhinov as a puppet of the Kremlin.
“When I hear Ilyumzhinov speak about democracy, it reminds me of Vladimir Putin talking about peace,” he told Norway’s TV2 on Monday.
Ilyumzhinov does not shy away from his support for the Kremlin.
“I am a patriot of Russia,” he recently told the New York Times. “I love my country. Kasparov, who grew up in this country, received an education here, became a champion here, who was receiving money here, from my own hands — he is praised for struggling against Russia and its people. Isnt it crazy?”