SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
IS THIS MAN A KGB SPY?
Former Olympics chief Juan Antonio Samaranch linked to KGB, book claims
Juan Antonio Samaranch, the former head of the International Olympic Committee, worked in close association with the KGB, a new Russian book has claimed. By Henry Samuel 23 Nov 2009
The authors of The KGB Plays Chess even go as far as alleging Mr Samaranch may owe his election to the top Olympic job to the spy network, due to its influence on former Soviet bloc IOC representatives.
Politically, Mr Samaranch, 89 and still the IOC’s Honorary President, is best know for his far-Right past. He was a staunch supporter of Spain’s late fascist dictator General Franco and his former secretary for sport.
But the book’s authors – Yuri Felshtinsky, a Russian-American historian, Vladimir Popov, a former KGB lieutenant colonel, and two chess masters, Viktor Korchnoi and Boris Gulko – claim Mr Samaranch came under the influence of Soviet agents in the late 1970s. His introduction, according to them, arose from a penchant for Russian antiques.
Victor Korchnoi is thought to have been targetted by the KGB
Mr Samaranch was sent to Moscow in 1977 as ambassador to the Soviet Union and Mongolia, a post he held until 1980. At the time, he was also IOC vice-president and head of Olympic protocol.
The USSR prohibited taking objects of cultural and historic value out of the country, and the KGB closely monitored all movement of antiques. The book alleges Mr Samaranch was approached after discreetly sending antiques, jewelry and paintings that he owned back to Spain.
Rather than take official action, the book alleges, the KGB set about cultivating Mr Samaranch as a contact.
His KGB contact, they go on, was a Lt Col Popov, the book’s co-author, who claims to have been responsible for several hundred secret sports agents. Popov, who now lives in Canada, alleges that the KGB helped Mr Samaranch to gain power at the head of the IOC in return for him working as “Soviet Sport General” – his codename.
Samaranch is well known for his ultra-right wing past
There is no suggestion Mr Samaranch knew of Popov’s involvement of thr KGB or did anything improper.
Popov claims that the KGB ensured IOC members from the Soviet-controlled Eastern Bloc voted for Mr Samaranch in 1980, on the eve of the Moscow Olympic Games. Mr Samaranch succeeded Lord Killanin of Ireland, polling 44 votes to beat Switzerland’s Marc Holder, who got 21. He kept the post until 2001, when he was succeeded by Jacques Rogge of Belgium.
The book labels other high ranking Olympic officials as KGB agents. The writers also allege that Mr Samaranch played an influential, though unrecognised role in helping the Russian resort Sochi win the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
Mr Samaranch, who suffered a heart attack in Monaco earlier this month, was not available for comment.
Mark Adams, a spokesman for the IOC, denied the claims, describing the contents of the book as “pure speculation”.
Kandahar chess tournament restores old Afghan pastime
By Helena Merriman
Residents of Kandahar have been taking part in a chess tournament in an attempt to revive one of the city’s former cultural pastimes.
Under the Taliban, chess was forbidden, but the city’s older residents hope this tournament will reintroduce the game to a younger generation. The event was held at the Kandahar Coffee Shop which also hosts other cultural activities.
Kandahar is a key battleground for the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. But Rahim Akrami, a local journalist in the city who watched the tournament, says it is important for younger people to rediscover this once forbidden activity.
“The tournament re-introduced the game to Kandahar since it has been forgotten for the last eight or so years,” he told the BBC’s World Today programme.
Aman Ullah, a member of the Kandahar Students Organisation, was one of those playing in the tournament.
Although he was knocked out in the second round, he is happy that the tournament is taking place. “It is very important for us to have something recreational to do that enlightens the mind and is fun as well,” he told the BBC World Service.
“There are people who do not know that chess exists in this world which is amazing to me. Now there are people who are asking questions about the game and who want to learn, so I see it as a very positive change for Kandahar, and for the game as well.”
Of the 30 players entered, 10 were eliminated after the first round, and then six players became members of a new Kandahar chess team.
‘Battle with minds’
The Kandahar Coffee Shop is a place where young people meet to drink coffee and use the internet.
A poster saying: ‘It’s better to battle with minds than fists and bullets’ lines the wall.
Mohammed Naseem, the owner of the Kandahar coffee shop, says he wants to provide a place for young people in the city.
“I am trying to create an atmosphere where the youth can hang out and learn something,” he says.
“The Kandahar Coffee Shop is the only one in the south west region of its kind…it has various activities including a snooker club, chess club, youth club and a culture club. We have a separate area for women in the coffee shop where they can come and enjoy a burger and go on the internet.
We are trying to show the world that this kind of thing can be done.”
More information on chess in Afghanistan can be found at:
HAVE YOU GOT 123,600 DOLLARS TO SPARE?
World’s first lacquered chess sets put on sale in N.Y.
NEW YORK, Nov. 23 (AP) – (Kyodo)—The world’s first lacquered chess sets, all crafted by hand in Japan, were put on sale at a New York design house Monday, with their prices as high as $123,600.
On display at the Fellissimo Design House in midtown Manhattan are two of the world’s three Japanese-lacquered chess sets, produced by Japanese artisans based on a concept by Alexander Gelman, a contemporary New York designer.
Gelman, 42, partnered with artisans in Yamanaka, a small Ishikawa Prefecture town known for its traditional craftsmanship.
“I wanted to bring them a little bit closer to my world,” Gelman told Kyodo News of introducing the concept of lacquered chess sets to local Japanese artisans “to get them to work with an object that is a little more familiar to me and completely unfamiliar to them…it was true collaboration.”
Each chess set on display consists of a black lacquered table with silver squares and a full set of chess pieces representing a combination of styles.
Among the chess pieces, four different kinds of Japanese craftsmanship are showcased: fuki-urushi, or wood lacquering; makie, or gold lacquering; platinum lacquering through haku or leaves; and kutani, which is hand-decorated ceramic pieces with intricate textures and patterns.
Depending on the combination of chess pieces and chessboard/table, one set runs from $80,000 to $123,600.
Gelman, who worked on the project for over a year, anticipates that the intricacy of Japanese craftsmanship will be well-met by chess and lacquer-ware enthusiasts alike.
“I want them to get as excited as I am,” said Gelman of his fellow New Yorkers.
“New York is probably the fastest city, where time is really precious,” Gelman said. “But just seeing these (pieces), and thinking about somebody taking the time to make them 100 percent and not trying to find a ‘faster’ way…it’s a good thing for New Yorkers to think about, an alternative way to look at life.”
Before New York, the chess sets previewed at a solo exhibition in Tokyo in January. The exhibit at Fellissimo, which will run until Dec. 24, marks the pieces’ North American debut.
After New York, Gelman will take his chess sets, including the remaining one of the three sets, to Milan for the next exhibit.
From Japan Brand, a limited edition series of chess sets crafted by traditional Japanese artisans and made of lacquer, silver plating and gold leaf by media artist Alexander Gelman. Each set took up to 10 months to create. As part of Gelman’s foray into lacquerware, Gelman also created a one-of-kind, custom, lacquer bicycle which will also be on display at Felissimo in NYC.
SPRAGGETT ON CHESS