On 4 January, Sanjay Kapoor, a Kanpur-based businessperson, was elected as the President of All India Chess Federation (AICF). Kapoor edged over PR Venkatarama Raja, the incumbent President of AICF, with a narrow 33-31 margin. Meanwhile, Bharat Singh Chauhan was reelected as the secretary of AICF, winning over Ravindra Dongre by 35-29 votes.
The election ends the year-long power tussle at India’s top chess body, one that had devolved into a bitter legal fight and forced the Madras High Court to freeze the AICF’s bank accounts. AICF had had two factions: one led by its secretary Chauhan and another by its President Raja. Kapoor, believed to be from Raja’s faction, had reportedly switched over to Chauhan’s faction last minute before throwing his hat in the ring. His victory, Kapoor told Mint, marked the end of the “monopoly” of administrators from Tamil Nadu at the top of the AICF.
Kapoor is a man of varied interests. He is the director Malik Cycle Parts Industries Private Limited, and has investments schools, real estate, petrol pumps and marketing agencies. At the moment, he is President of both – Uttar Pradesh Chess Association and Kanpur Cricket Association. But it won’t come in the way of his work at the AICF, he says. He intended to work from the “grassroots”, Kapoor added. “No president has travelled around the clock, in all states. I will do it... I will change the face of chess in three years.”
Excerpts from the phone interview:
How did you decide to enter the AICF?
Chess hasn’t been out of Chennai since it was born in India. I thought, why there is a monopoly of the thing? Why shouldn’t I give it a go and change the equation?
How do you mean it is a 'monopoly'?
In these 57-58 years... 99% of AICF presidents have been from Chennai or Tamil Nadu. When a Kuldip Yadav (cricketer) can come from Kanpur, why can’t a Viswanathan Anand come from Uttar Pradesh? Every state is important. Chennai is important, Tamil Nadu is important, Jammu & Kashmir is also important.
Do you think there was a preferential treatment given to Tamil Nadu?
I won’t comment on it. What they’ve done is in the past. I won’t comment or criticize anybody. I was talking to someone yesterday. There was a tournament there and he was saying the [chess] grand master (GM) was living in a lodge. He was also saying the kit the chess players were wearing was ill-sized, ill-fitted. I have to change it from the grassroots. There needs to be a professional outlook, like the BCCI (Board for Control of Cricket in India).
How do you intend to do it?
I can tell you only after we plan. I told you my intent. I will always do things as they come. I’ll only say once I’ve planned and prepared.
AICF officials have often said they find it difficult to find sponsors for chess. How do you intend to work on it?
I have friends who believe in me and chess. There is a lot of money. Keeping FDs (fixed deposits) in banks and not giving (the money) to the players makes a mockery of players.
Is that what was happening?
You know everything. You know it better than me. It’s my first interview, it shouldn’t sound negative.
There’s been a lot of talk on launching an Indian chess league, on lines of the IPL (Indian Premier League).
Let me plan first, then only I’ll speak. I’ll change the face of chess in three years, I promise you this. No president has travelled round the clock, round all states. I will do it.
There’s been a surge of interest in online chess. How do you plan to capitalise on that?
I’m going to plan long-term and short-term goals. Everything will be pre-planned... online and offline. I have a serious professional outlook to change the face of AICF.
Looking at those elected as part of the AICF, there isn’t a lot of female representation. There is also sexism in the game.
Have you seen female representation in any big [sports] association? I cannot change the demographics. I can just push people... When you have a female delegation around, you will have a different perspective. I will try to see how we can inculcate them in the present set-up.
It was reported that you were part of the Raja faction earlier before switching over to Bharat Singh Chauhan’s [for the elections].
I was on Bharat Singh’s side always... Did Mr Raja speak to anyone over the last 6 years? You should think about it. A president who is not accessible to any member of the state, why is that? Bharat Singh came up to me to change the person who hasn’t been accessible to anyone in India. I will be the president who is accessible 24x7, all 365 days to my chess family. Everyone has my number. Call me. I’ll get back in three hours, whether I’m busy or not.