Indian chess plunged into controversy on Tuesday with the Players' Association venting its ire in public over what it sees as "unethical" conduct by the sport's governing body in the country and the All India Chess Federation chief terming the allegations as "unfounded".
The Chess Players' Association of India aired its grievances at a press conference in Delhi after the AICF deducted 10 per cent of the players' prize-money and omitted WGM Nisha Mohota from the recently held Asian women's championships.
"Overwhelming majority of the players felt that in an environment of poor employment and sponsorship opportunities, prize-money forms an important source of income and in principle it is highly unethical to deduct any such hard-earned money from players to meet the Federation's expenses," said Dibyendu Barua, CPAI president.
He also termed Mohota's omission as a "clear case of victimisation". He said she was not selected despite her meeting the qualification norms because she was a member of the CPAI.
The immediate reason for the players seeking public and media support was AICF secretary P T Umer Koya's walk-out at the prize-money distribution ceremony at an international open event in Delhi on Monday.
That both the issues raised by the players had crossed the point of no return put the issue in perspective.
While the AICF had passed a resolution in its last Annual General Meeting in November last year to the effect that no deduction would be made from players' prize-money from January
2005, the CPAI wanted the refund of the money deducted in tournaments held immediately after the AGM.
In Nisha's case, it was a simple matter of setting the facts right.
At the heart of the matter, however, is the way the AICF finances are managed.
The players said that Koya's clarification that the 10 per cent deduction in their prize-money was to meet the Federation's expenses was not acceptable.
"The money deducted was mainly to meet the expenses of the office staff. It is not being spent on development of the game," the players said.
"And the AICF turnover is in crores, so high that the proportion forms a very small percentage of the balance sheet."
The players said Nisha "was wrongly left out" of the Indian women's team that participated in the Asian Championships held at Beirtut, Lebanon, in December.
One official entry from every federation besides five players with qualified rating were eligible for participating in the event with the hospitality borne by the hosts and the other expenses met by the government.
The AICF nomination of the lone entry has been based on national ranking over the years but Nisha, who finished third in the Women's National 'A' behind Koneru Humpy and S Vijayalakshmi, was ignored.
The players were of the opinion that Nisha could have been made the official entry by the AICF instead of Vijayalakshmi, who represented India along with S Meenakshi and Esha Karvade, as she would have qualified by virtue of her FIDE rating.
"Interestingly, all those who participated in the event are not members of the CPAI," the players pointed out.
They also pointed out that the AICF had adhered to the same policy in the selection of the men's team for the same event.
Another issue raised by the CPAI was the donor entry fee of Rs. 15,000 charged by the federation from the players for participating in events in India.
The fee was double the amount stipulated by FIDE, the sport's world governing body of which Koya is a vice-president.
Koya, who had issued show cause notices to Barua and Mohota for airing their views in public recently, termed the players' allegations as "unfounded".
Koya maintained that 10 per cent deduction of the players' prize-money was to meet the federation's expenses.
"We have lot of expenses and unfortunately chess does not have corporate sponsorship," he said.
"We have to pay FIDE Rating fee of five Swiss francs every six months for every rated player in the country, including [Viswanathan] Anand, which we have been doing without default. We also have to take care of the fluctuation in the dollar value.
"And every year, the number of players participating in tournaments is increasing. We have to meet all those expenses."
On Nisha's omission from the Asian Championships, Koya said she had "neither the qualifying rating nor the ranking".