Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Campomanes receives highest award

By Frank “Boy” Pestaño

I HAD a surprise visitor at Handuraw a few days ago and it was no less than the honorary president of Fide himself, Florencio Campomanes, who has spent most of his life with the game. I consider him to be primarily responsible for the current popularity of the game worldwide and expanding Fide membership that now includes most of the countries in the United Nations and more.

He is eyeing the island countries of the Pacific as the next step to really make chess global. The countries number almost a dozen with Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Tonga and Palau among them.

He recently received the Spirit of Sports award from the General Association of International Sports Association, which comprises all sports under the International Olympic Committee. This is the highest honor that can be awarded to an individual, much like the Nobel Prize, but without any monetary consideration. Among the previous awardees were former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch and Prince Rainier of Monaco.

Together with the current President of Cepca, Nato Casia, we spent the whole evening playing chess and discussing chess politics.

Also, his contributions and involvement in the development of chess for more than half a century earned him the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Philippine Sportswriters Association.

The distinctive honor was awarded to the 80-year-old gentleman last Jan. 18, 2007. “Mr. Campomanes deserves this Lifetime Achievement Award,” said PSA ‘s Jimmy Cantor of Malaya.

Along the way, Campo has his share of controversies on all fronts, local, national and international.

Here are some excerpts from an article in Chessbase by the webmaster of Fide, Casto Abundo, who knows him very well.

“Graduating cum laude from the University of the Philippines in 1948, Florencio Campomanes was among the first Fulbright Scholars from the Philippines and was taking his Masters Degree in Political Science from Brown University and Doctoral Studies in Georgetown University, both in America, when he heard of the World Chess Federation. It was auspicious that his thesis was on the nascent United Nations.

Campo was a habitué at the Manhattan and Marshall Chess Clubs. He was exposed to organized chess and on his return to Manila co-founded the Philippine Chess Federation and affiliated with FIDE in 1956.

In 1967, Campo invited Bobby Fischer for a series of matches in the Philippines. Years later when Fischer opened the first Philippines International Chess Tournament in Manila in 1973, he was asked why he turned down all other official invitations after he became World Champion and accepted only the one from the Philippines. “I was there in ‘67. I was not champion then, but they treated me like a champion,” Fischer explained.

Campo was the first chess columnist in major Philippine dailies, the Manila Times (1954-56) and Manila Chronicle (1956-1961). He also produced and hosted the first daily TV program “Chess Today” from 1973 to 1982. He was the Philippine Delegate to Fide from 1956 to 1982, Asian Zone President 1960-1964, Deputy President 1974-1982 and Fide President from 1982 to 1995, Fide Chairman 1995-1996 and Honorary President since 1996.

An avid player, Campo was Philippine champion in 1956 and 1960, and tied for second with Edmar Mednis in the 1954 New York State Championship.”

A case was filed against Campo in Manila due to the hosting of the1992 Manila Chess Olympiad. Last December, the Supreme Court unanimously cleared him of all charges. “I took no short cuts and kept my sanity and my sense of humor for 10 years. It was only a matter of a fine of around 100 Euros, but I refused to accept the verdict,” Campo said.

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