As soon as humanly possible, I’ll be producing the official minutes of the ECF’s Annual General Meeting, held at the Euston Square Hotel, London on Saturday, 15 October. In the meantime, what follows is a summary of the main decisions taken.
To begin on a personal note, I was re-elected as Chief Executive with no votes against. This means that ChEx readers will have to put up with another twelve months of my ramblings. (Sorry about that.) Although there was no candidate opposing me, I did not take my re-election for granted, and I am grateful for the support shown. I’m sure that I made mistakes during my first year, and doubtless there will be things I get wrong in the months ahead as well. I do promise, however, that I shall give of my best and follow my conscience and my judgement in trying to do what’s right for the ECF and English chess.
Achievement Report and Long Term Strategic Plan
Both papers were approved nem con [none against] and without any questions posed or comments made. As the author of the papers, I confess that I was ambivalent about this. I may be in a tiny minority in believing this, but I genuinely do think that these documents are an important part of the ECF’s health as an organisation.
It’s a common enough reaction among chess players to question the value of the ECF and to ask what it actually does, so the Achievement Report has to be tested against whatever benchmarks members wish to apply to see if the reported actions are adequate. Similarly, when a planned action was not completed, is the explanation satisfactory?
With regard to the Strategic Plan, I acknowledged during the meeting that this was something of a holding document, as the ECF makes a transition from its current form to something (or rather, two somethings) different. I did try to set out some indication of how a split into a charity and a non-charitable body would affect the goals and nature of the organisations, and this is something on which members need to be reflecting.
The “glass half empty” part of my nature causes me to worry about the absence of challenge. Members’ time is limited, of course, and I’m sure that the issues relating to funding had a greater immediacy and prominence in the minds of many, but we do need to be looking further ahead as well.
I should very much welcome feedback on either document if readers want to contact me in the usual way.
All of the directors’ reports were received and approved.
The Director of Finance’s report led to lengthy discussion of the draft ECF annual statement of accounts, which showed a deficit for 2010-11 of £5.6k. This was a disappointing outcome, to put it mildly, given the expectations of a significant surplus during the bulk of the year. An unexpectedly heavy workload in the Director of Finance’s day job meant that there had been very little time to delve into the reasons for the deficit or to finalise the accounts. Unfortunately, this left the Board and Council without definitive answers to their questions, and approval of the accounts had to be postponed. It will take place as soon as practicable by mail and e-mail.
One sentence in the Director of Marketing’s report proved controversial. Referring to the incident prior to the British Championships prizegiving, Stewart Reuben stated, “Had the Marketing Director been consulted initially there would have been no problem.” Many felt that this assertion was questionable, and a statement to this effect from Alex McFarlane was read by the Chairman. Council members reiterated their support for British Championship organisers, and I took the opportunity to repeat the Board’s view that the regrettable accusations made by some following the incident were entirely without foundation. A proposal to note (rather than approve) the Director of Marketing’s report was overwhelmingly defeated; Council members appeared to accept that the statement was the expression of an opinion which, whilst they might not agree with it, was within the director’s right to express. The report was approved on a show of hands, with 3 votes against.
Directors and Officers Responsibilities
A number of changes were approved, removing outdated references (to a Manager of Chess for Schools and to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport) and bringing responsibility for the Voting Register Officer under the Non-Executive Chairman, a more natural home.
The age limit for the players covered by the Director of Junior Chess & Education was lowered from 21 to 18. This brought the regulations into line with existing practice, whereby the Director of International Chess has dealt with the World Junior Championships (for U21s) rather than the Director of Junior Chess.
Elections and Appointments
Every year at the AGM, the members of the Board are elected, along with the FIDE Delegate and the Chairmen and members of the Finance and Governance Committees.
The results of the Board elections were as follows:
- President – CJ de Mooi was re-elected on a hand vote, with 1 vote against;
- Chief Executive – Andrew Farthing was re-elected on a hand vote, nem con;
- Non-Executive Chairman – Mike Gunn was re-elected on a hand vote, nem con;
- Director of Finance – Gareth Caller was re-elected on a hand vote, nem con;
- Non-Executive Directors – John Wickham and Jack Rudd were re-elected on a hand vote, nem con;
- Director of Home Chess – Adam Raoof was re-elected on a hand vote, with 1 vote against;
- Director of Junior Chess & Education – Phil Ehr was elected in a poll, defeating Sabrina Chevannes by 107 votes to 91 (with 4 votes for “Neither of the above”, 1 spoiled ballot paper and 3 abstentions);
- Director of International Chess – Lawrence Cooper was re-elected on a hand vote, nem con;
- Director of Marketing – Tim Woolgar was elected in a poll, receiving 95 votes in favour against 89 votes for “Not this candidate” (6 abstentions).
Nigel Short was re-elected as the ECF’s FIDE Delegate on a hand vote nem con.
John Philpott was re-elected as Chairman of the Governance Committee on a hand vote nem con. Richard Haddrell and Andrew Leadbetter were likewise re-elected to the committee (with 1 vote against in the case of the latter).
There was no candidate nominated in time for Chairman of the Finance Committee. However, Mike Truran has offered his services, and the Board expressed its intention to appoint him and sought Council’s views. None of the members present objected. Ray Clark, John Philpott and Ian Reynolds were all elected to the Finance Committee on a hand vote, nem con.
Goatcher Chandler was reappointed as Auditor.
The Future Funding of the ECF
It will be recalled that the Finance Council in April 2011 voted in favour of moving to a membership scheme as its future funding model. Following a period of consultation, the AGM was presented with a paper setting out the final version of the membership proposals and a set of detailed changes to the Articles and Byelaws for approval.
Following considerable discussion, the results of the polls were as follows:
- The amendments to Articles 1.1 and 5.14, removing the need for individual Direct Members to sign the £1 guarantee, were approved by 184 votes to 22, a majority of 89%;
- The amendment to Article 30(1), concerning the allocation of voting rights based on actual or deemed Game Fee, was approved by 156 votes to 23, a majority of 87%;
- The changes to Byelaw No.1 (Direct Members) were passed by 137 votes to 57, a majority of 71%;
- The changes to Byelaw No. 2 (Game Fee) were passed by 134 votes to 61, a majority of 69%.
An amendment to Byelaw No.2, seeking to exempt members of national federations other than the ECF from payment of the “Pay to Play” fee for congresses was defeated in a hand vote 19-8.
It should be stressed that Council did NOT set the membership or game fee rates at this time. The ECF’s rules require that this is done by the Finance Council (i.e. in April 2012). The meeting was asked to note a paper setting out the rates which the Board proposes to present to Finance Council next April, which it did on a hand vote, with 2 votes against in the room and 10 directed proxies against.
County Championship rules
An amendment granting the Director of Home Chess discretion to nominate a central venue for the Final of each Championship, subject to Board agreement. This amendment, from the SCCU, was intended to give flexibility to the Director of Home Chess, so that, if the finalists are from the same geographical region, it would not be mandatory to insist that both travel to a central venue when a more local solution might be preferable.
For most people, the decision over the funding proposals will be the dominant feature of this year’s AGM. Some members expressed deep reservations and questioned whether they would continue within the ECF if the changes were implemented. Others were clearly anxious about specific aspects.
I am extremely conscious of these concerns. I recognise the scale of the challenge in the months ahead, not least to communicate effectively with players and organisations across the country to explain what is happening and to try to persuade as many people as possible of the benefits and value of supporting the national federation.
There are anxieties about the implementation of this project, particularly the IT solution for online membership. I understand these concerns and the reasons for them. I shall be committing as much time as possible to ensuring that the project is carried out in as professional a manner as possible. For many, this statement may be a cause for scepticism, and I understand this. However, I have experience of implementing projects on a much larger scale and of greater complexity in the past, and I am optimistic that this can be done in a satisfactory way.
I shall report progress over the coming months. For now, I would ask for patience. I know that people have many questions about the practical details of the scheme but would respectfully ask that the Federation be given some space to work at this time.