The elephant in the room

Alex McFarlane’s resignation from involvement in ECF events has triggered a further exchange of comments between himself and the Egregious Federation. In the course of this, Alex has referred to the still unfinalised accounts for the 2011 British Championship, and to “rumours circulating that it was actually Keene who arranged the sponsorship of the event”. He also writes the potentially explosive sentence:

“There have been a number of statements made by Mr De Mooi regarding his financial contibution to the event. I am unable to confirm these figures but if true some of our Grandmasters must have done very well out of this year’s British.”

Ever since Sheffield, this has been the elephant in the room. It has been repeatedly claimed that CJ put £15k (£16k) of his own money into the event, whilst various termites, headed by the Bedlam Brigade from Streatham & Brixton, have tied themselves in knots over the question of why Ray Keene was invited to open the Championship, and by whom. It is time the truth was revealed.

For those who look at the full length of this blog entry and cannot be bothered to to read to the end, let me summarise the key points now. My contentions are twofold:

1. Ray Keene played a significant role in facilitating the £15k sponsorship of the 2011 British Championship by Darwin Strategic; and,

2. CJ de Mooi did NOT put £15k of his own money into the event.

Photo: norcalblogs.com

The full story is as follows. In late 2009, Jan Mol, who had so generously sponsored the Staunton Memorial tournaments over the previous four years, indicated that he was stepping back from chess and would not be sponsoring any further events. Ray Keene therefore began searching for a new sponsor. Soon after, C J had the idea of holding a gala dinner at Simpsons-in-the-Strand, which would bring together a large number of high net worth individuals, with an interest in chess. The main purpose would be to raise money for Karpov’s FIDE Presidential Election campaign, but it was also hoped to identify other potential chess sponsors.

In spring 2010, Ray made contact with Ali Mortazavi of Darwin Strategic, and it was agreed that the latter would sponsor the dinner at Simpsons. This would be named the Staunton Dinner, to replace the tournaments of the previous years. CJ, who I believe already knew Ali before this, then took over organising the event, with help from Ray.

In August 2010, in his speech at the closing ceremony of the British Championship at Canterbury, CJ announced that Sheffield the following year would see the strongest-ever British, with all the top four GMs playing, plus at least 10 others, etc. He also confirmed that he was personally underwriting the costs of this, if no sponsor could be found. Clearly, he was confident that a sponsor would be forthcoming. A month later, the Staunton Dinner identified several promising possibilities. Among other things, Darwin Strategic agreed in principle to sponsor a Staunton Memorial tournament the following year.

“If you take 2 million, divide it by the 125 doubled, and take off the cube root of the number you first thought of, it comes to exactly £15k”. 

In January 2011, CJ visited Hastings, and I took the chance to ask him about progress on the British. He told me that no definite sponsor had yet been found, but that talks were ongoing with a couple of possibles, and he remained hopeful. However, he confirmed that a sponsor had been found for the Staunton. Unfortunately, by March, his hopes of finding a sponsor for the British had not borne fruit, and he was left facing the possibility of a substantial personal liability, if he were to honour the public commitment he had made at Canterbury. With Ray Keene’s agreement, he therefore suggested to Darwin that they switch their sponsorship to the British, which they agreed to do. Although naturally disappointed that there would be no Staunton Memorial in 2011, Ray took the view that, firstly, CJ should not have to fork out so much of his own money, and, secondly, that the British was ultimately a more important event than the Staunton, and should have priority on the available sponsorship. As a result, the 2011 British Championship had £15k of sponsorship from Darwin.

In the light of these facts, CJ’s personal decision to invite Ray Keene to open the Championship is perfectly understandable – it was partly gratitude, and also partly in recognition of the fact that it was 40 years exactly, since Ray had won the British at Blackpool in 1971. The Darwin sponsorship of the British may have happened even without Ray Keene’s involvement, but that is far from certain, and there is no doubt that without his involvement, things would not have happened as effectively as they did. In a normal world, British chess as a whole would be grateful to Ray for his efforts, but naturally, the British chess world is anything but normal.

So that is the truth about who sourced the sponsorship. But the bigger question is that of the mystery £15k/£16k that CJ is alleged to have contributed to the Sheffield event. The simple truth is, it did not happen. He did NOT pay all that money out of his own pocket, for the simple reason that the Darwin sponsorship absolved him of the need to do so. He was prepared to do so, had he needed to, and for that, we should be grateful. I have no reason to doubt that, had the sponsorshop not materialised, he would have honoured his commitment at Canterbury the previous year, and would himself have put the money up. But as it happened, HE DID NOT NEED TO. All the termitic claims about him having done so are simply wrong.

Having said that, let me point out that, so far as I am aware, CJ has never publicly claimed to have put the money in out of his own pocket. The claim has been made, ad infinitum and ad nauseam, by his various apologists, and he has not (again, so far as I am aware) denied it. I understand that only yesterday, the ECF’s Director of Home Chess, “Odious” Adam Raoof, described CJ on Facebook as the “sponsor” of the event. But CJ has never actually claimed this himself, and for a very good reason – it is not true.

“Now you see it…” (photo: bobmagic.com)

That, then, is my understanding of the facts. If CJ de Mooi did in fact put £15k of his own money into the 2011 British Championship, then let him publish the documentation to prove it, and to show how it was disbursed, whereupon I will happily apologise. As I say, he undertook to pay the money himself if necessary, and I have no doubt he would have honoured that undertaking, had he needed to. I just don’t think he actually ended up having to do so.

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