4 May 2012
“Chess: a unique and very inexpensive tool for promoting the country”
N-Trans joint owner Andrey Filatov explains why he came up with the idea of holding the championship match at the Tretyakov Gallery and decided to sponsor it
The opening of the main chess event of the season the world championship match between Viswanathan Anand and Boris Gelfand will take place next Thursday at the State Tretyakov Gallery. The driving force behind staging this contest in Moscow and the main sponsor of the match, ANDREY FAILATOV, a shareholder in the N-Trans Group, told Kommersant’s correspondent ALEXEY DOSPEKHOV why he decided to invest money in chess and how he plans to change the economics of chess and link it to Russian art.
I’m primarily interested, of course, in your motivation. Why finance a world championship chess match? Is it to boost your own image, a desire to help the sport you were very seriously involved in when you were young?
A country that fights for all the major international events the APEC summit, the Olympic Games, the FIFA World Cup, the Universiade simply cannot ignore a competition which at one time was one of its main symbols. When Boris Gelfand, who was a student friend of mine, won the candidates’ tournament, he said that the venue for the match had not been decided yet, but there were various rumours going around that it would be either in India or somewhere else. It turned out that there had indeed been no application from Moscow, so I had a think and decided we had to try.
You realised there was a good chance of winning?
On the contrary, I wasn’t sure we would win the right to host the match. But I could see that in any case one way or another there would be a winner. If Moscow’s bid failed, Boris Gelfand would earn a bigger prize fund, because the rival bid would have to beat it with money. And if it won, so much the better: the country would gain a serious competition that had not been staged here in the history of modern Russia. You’ll agree that’s a simple and understandable motive. Then it started to develop in terms of the current situation with chess, a new economics of chess, and the main points on which it could be based.
And what are these points?
The first and main issue is to bring the state back into financing chess.
The match will take place in a landmark museum. Why? You know that Viswanathan Anand is a national symbol of India, an idol, who was welcomed at the airport by 50,000 people when he won the title that’s more than welcomed Yuri Gagarin in 1961. His match against Gelfand will be followed by a vast nation, hundreds of millions of people. By holding tournaments like this we can attract the attention of millions of people, publicise the culture of our city and our country, improve its image, attract tourists and increase interest in our art. Chess is a unique and very inexpensive tool for promoting the country, the culture and ideas, and one would like to believe that the state will see this.
It’s also undoubtedly important that the match will generate interest in chess within Russia. Children will start to play it.
The state can itself move into this area as an investor and hold a tournament in, for example, the Battle of Stalingrad Museum. Then the whole world will learn that this battle took place: sad though it may be, many people do not know and do not remember it.
Good: that’s the first point. What about the others?
I am sure that this is the new and large-scale economy of the tourism and museum business.
Some cities have improved their image so much with the help of international chess tournaments that they have ended up gaining substantial material dividends. The most striking example is Linares, in Spain, with its colossal demand for property. But Linares is only well known because the most famous international chess super-tournament always takes place there. So in Spain there is a huge number of cities that are much like it, but they’re unknown, whereas everyone’s heard of Linares.
Another point is the museum story itself. We’ve put the data together specially: last year the number of people in Russia visiting museums was 81 million. This is an incredible figure when you look into it. For comparison, if you take all the theatres together, they’re visited by about 30 million people. That means people are coming back to the museums, and a new stage in the development of the museum business is beginning. A museum is above all a brand. If our museums can develop their own brands and if that attracts attention, it means there will be interest in our art as a whole and in our culture.
It’s true that you believe Russian and Soviet art is not properly appreciated, don’t you?
Of course! No other country went through greater upheavals in the twentieth century than Russia: the war with Japan, the 1905 and 1917 Revolutions, the First World War, the Civil War, the Great Patriotic War, famine, repressions… Everything we have gone through, these incredible emotions, is in the work of Russian artists. French Impressionism is undoubtedly beautiful, but when Russian artists depict life there is a different intensity of emotions. Think of Petrov-Vodkin’s portraits, or Laktionov’s “Letter from the front” in the Tretyakov. The world needs to know about this. But up to now we’ve been behind the iron curtain. If we can destroy it through culture, we’ll solve a huge number of varied problems, including how to generate investment.
In my view, developing museum brands is something we must do, including from the point of view of attracting money into the country. The Louvre receives a billion per year. We cannot create a new tourist area without creating a major museum and a cultural life there. A tourist can do a bit of sunbathing on a beach for a week, but eventually he’ll need something more. Why do people go to France? Because it has the Côte d’Azur and the Louvre, and contact with world culture. People everywhere understand the importance of developing cultural brands. Art museums are opening in the United Arab Emirates, for example, and in other countries.
The idea of “promoting” them through international competitions seems to me to be very promising. In Liverpool too, as far as I know, there are plans to stage a tournament in a museum…
You’re a pioneer, so is anyone following you?
I’m actually a follower. Do you know that this idea has already been put into practice? And do you know who did it? Stalin. In 1935 there was a tournament at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. The Soviet government showed the world that the Soviet Union had not sold off its Russian cultural heritage.
I repeat, I’m very hopeful that we’ll achieve a breakthrough, and that thanks to this event the whole Russian art market will grow. Perhaps we could attract investors from Asia and pictures from the match would so move the heart of some billionaire from India that he’d say, “I dream of owning a Shishkin”. He’s never seen a forest like the ones in Shishkin’s pictures a Russian forest!
I can’t believe you weren’t thinking about yourself at all in this.
Yes, of course I thought about myself. Who was I before this match? By and large I was an ordinary entrepreneur. But now The Times and Kommersant are interviewing me… This could serve as a kind of example for many entrepreneurs. We have thousands of wealthy people, and if these thousands of people did the same thing we’d be living in a different country. And the attitude towards entrepreneurs in our society would change too.
One of the problems that leading chess figures have always cited when explaining commercial failures is that chess is not “telegenic”. There seems to be a large audience, but it’s on the internet, and it’s interested in the openings and endgames, not in “the picture”.
In terms of television, in my view this match is intriguing. Anand is a symbol of India. Gelfand could become one for Israel if he wins the contest. It’s difficult to imagine that such a high-level and large-scale event will pass unnoticed. Plus there’s the internet.
Did you have any other options apart from the Tretyakov?
We thought about the Pushkin Museum too it’s marking its centenary this year. But we decided on the Tretyakov. This is a museum that preserves the riches that were created in our country in the twentieth century and which the world knows too little about. For example, the artistic symbol for the match is Viktor Popkov’s painting “The team takes a break”, which depicts workers playing chess. The artist Popkov is unfortunately not widely known, yet he is the only one of our painters to have won the Biennale in Paris. He is the only artist whose student works were being bought by our best museums while he was still alive. That is genius.
I wonder how you found out that your bid had won. Did you already understand by the time the competition ended that Chennai, Anand’s home town, would not beat you?
I was told about this by the Russian Chess Federation (RCF). The news was unexpected.
Was it really unexpected?
Well, let me say this: the competition could have been fiercer overall. But since the FIDE president had played chess with Gaddafi before the bombing of Libya, a huge number of potential opponents simply decided not to submit bids.
You were in contact with Ilyumzhinov and discussed the match?
I’ve seen him once in my life in February, at the signing of the contract.
And were you and your company actively involved in preparing it and in the organisational work?
The main burden in this respect was shouldered by the Russian Chess Federation.
And what kind of relationship do you have with the RCF?
A respectful working relationship. The RCF supported the idea of holding the match in Moscow and undertook to organise the match, which, believe me, is very complicated, bearing in mind the scale of the event.
I believe that for you this match is far from being a one-off action?
We’ll see how it turns out. But I will freely admit that there are already other plans. For example, to organise a major RussianFrench tournament, the Alexander Alekhine Memorial.
Judging by the fact that you’ve financed the restoration of the Alekhine monument in Paris, you have a special regard for him?
Yes, I believe he was a unique figure. A great chess player with a complicated, ambiguous fate. He left Russia, fleeing the revolution. Then, in France, he started cooperating with the Nazis, explaining that he had saved his Jewish wife from the concentration camp… In Israel, incidentally, there is an ordinary attitude towards Alekhine. And in any case we are obliged to recognise the achievements of our compatriot, who was an outstanding player and who died undefeated. There is an idea of organising a tournament in his memory, which would take place, for example, in the Louvre and in one of our best museums. Half the tournament there and half here. I’m already having talks about this.
It sounds great.
Overall this system needs to enter into operation and needs to work, so that the mechanism can be replicated, so that various museums can get involved, and so that perhaps even new museums can be set up. For me as a Russian, for example, it’s a great shame that we don’t have a museum of the First World War. We buried four million of our compatriots back then, and then what? We talk about memories and we try to educate our children, but they know nothing about the First World War. There used to be a famous story about Marshal Rodion Malinovsky. As Minister of Defence he went to France with Khrushchev and visited the city of Marseille. There was real excitement there about his arrival: all the newspapers said “Old soldier returns”. Malinovsky had fought in one of the Russian brigades in the “killing fields” at Verdun. He was wounded there. And then, back in the USSR, he became a Marshal… In France there is a Verdun museum, and there are photographs of our soldiers. But here there’s nothing. Perhaps through some kind of chess championship we could explain to our children that such an event happened in our history and that we ought to remember it. Surely that can’t be bad?
Let’s get back to the forthcoming match. It was a surprise for me to hear that the list of sponsors included the NOVATEK company and Gennady Timchenko personally. He hasn’t previously been noted for his love of chess.
This was also a pleasant surprise for me.
Gennady Timchenko undertook as part of this project, for example, to make some films about the Tretyakov Gallery and Russian artists and to support the children’s programme children who play chess will be coming to Moscow from all over the country for the Match.
It turns out that we have so many people in the country who have a passion for chess, and they’re not the least significant people you, Timchenko, other entrepreneurs. The RCF Supervisory Council is headed by Arkady Dvorkovich and Alexander Zhukov. So why then has there been such an obvious stagnation in Russian chess in recent years?
Well, we have questions for lots of areas of sport. Is everything wonderful in all the other types of sport? In figure skating, athletics, the biathlon, skiing? But nevertheless there is some progress. And chess too, as they say, is getting back on its feet.
So what will the budget for the match be? I’ve heard it will be about $5 million. Is that figure accurate?
Unfortunately, but we’ve exceeded it.
People in the world of chess have told me that you might stand as a candidate for the role of head of the RCF Supervisory Council if Arkady Dvorkovich stands down for any reason. Is that true? Is that your ambition?
I don’t have any such ambitions. And another point. It seems to me that the model currently being used in the RCF and in other federations, with boards of trustees, is itself not very correct. Heads of organisations should go through normal elections, as was the case in the past. This whole complicated system needs to be simplified, and the federations need to be made into an intelligible, democratic institution.
You mean the president should be a real leader…
… Who is elected by chess players and representatives of the chess community. That’s all.
But in is generally considered that sports federations are ineffective unless there is strict control by the state.
Let me give you an example from a business that’s close to me. How did the development of the railways start in Russia? With private investment. Private investors convinced the tsar that it was necessary to develop the railway infrastructure. And it happened. The role of the state is undoubtedly important. But without private initiative nothing is possible.
You have admitted that you’re still friends with Boris Gelfand. Are you not worried that because of this friendship of yours Viswanathan Anand will find himself in Moscow in a rather awkward position, as it were?
Our objective is to organise the match properly, not to make sure that one or another of the chess players wins. And to make sure that during the contest no one should gain any advantage in relation to their opponent, and that we have an honest sports competition. During the match I’m not entitled to demonstrate any sympathies or preferences. To be honest, that’s difficult, but I promise that that’s the line I shall adhere to.
original text in russian: http://www.kommersant.ru/doc-y/1928496