Leading Article: A choice of chess champions

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AT FIRST sight, boxing and chess do not have much in common apart from involving a form of duelling between two people. Chess can even be played long-distance. Yet, for all its lack of physicality, it is coming to resemble boxing in one significant respect: the disregard of its leading players (for boxing, read promoters) for the game's international organisation, resulting in a proliferation of 'world champions'.

Consider the signs. In 1972 Bobby Fischer beat Boris Spassky to become world champion, under the umbrella of FIDE (the Federation Internationale des Echecs) - but never played another international match because he could not agree the financial terms.

None the less, he continued to call himself world champion, even though the title was subsequently won by the two rival Russians Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov. Last year Fischer was persuaded by a Yugoslav entrepreneur to have a lucrative return bout against Spassky in what remained of Yugoslavia, which he duly won. FIDE was not involved.

Now the FIDE-blessed champion, Kasparov, and his no-less-official challenger, Britain's Nigel Short, have in effect seized control of the world championship by reopening the bidding for their forthcoming match. This had been awarded by FIDE to Manchester for a sum the two players considered inadequate: with some reason, to judge by the much higher offers announced yesterday. In revenge, FIDE is showing signs of staging its own world championship match between the two runners-up, Jan Timman and Karpov. There is thus the possibility that before long three players will be calling themselves world champion: Fischer, and the winners of the Kasparov-Short and Timman-Karpov matches. With luck, the new body set up to organise the Kasparov- Short event will survive to give FIDE a run for the available money.

The proliferation would still be modest by the standards of boxing, whose practitioners can choose between the World Boxing Association, the World Boxing Council, the International Boxing Federation and the World Boxing Organisation. Between them these bodies boast more than 60 'world' champions at 17 weights. Chess is not there yet, but it is doing its best to catch up.