On May 26th 2016, a selection of well known memory athletes, arbiters and organizers from around the world spoke up in a public letter addressed to World Memory Sports Council, the non-democratic organ behind the organizers of the World Memory Championships (WMC) and all its substitutes, the so-called “rankable” championships. It addresses the lack of democratic structures and the privatization of the sport. Simon Reinhard posted it in the name of the first signatories who developed the letter in the Facebook group of the World Memory Championships. By now it has been shared many times and many more people have signed this public letter already.
Something like this is long overdue. The doings of Tony Buzan and Ray Keene, the founders of the WMC, have been watched by all of us with critical eyes for many years. In fact this year is the 25th anniversary of the WMC. It might become the most important one in its history. There have been several attempts of changing the structures over the years but the duo kept its tight grip around the sport and slowly but steadily squeezed more and more resources out of the development of the sport into their on pockets. I will not go into further details here, but I have seen too many outrageous undemocratic decisions over the last thirteen years by Buzan and Keene. It is save to say that the majority of memory sports athletes, arbiters and organizers are done with the shady practises of this regime and call to the support of the entire community.
But read for yourself:
Open Letter to the Memory Community
Dear athletes, organisers, arbiters and friends of our sport,
We are writing this letter with a clear purpose in mind: We want to inform you about the troublesome state of the sport of memory. Many things that remained below the surface for a long time have recently come to the forefront. And things are getting worse as we speak.
Therefore, we can no longer remain silent. We feel the need to speak up:
1. Memory sport is managed like a business.
Memory sport, as organised by the World Memory Sports Council (WMSC), is no sport. It is a business. Looking back, it has always been a business, aimed towards the financial advantage of a few select people. The World Memory Championship (WMC) mainly serves as a marketing vehicle, using the hard-earned achievements of the athletes for the promotion of private business interests. Consequently, at the World Championships, the athletes are not presented as individuals but rather as an anonymous group that “pushes the boundaries of the human mind”. A strong athlete media presence is prevented, while the attention is centered on the usual speakers.
2. There are no democratic elections.
The WMSC is not organised in a democratic way: There are no elections and there is no democratic legitimation.
3. There is no rule of law.
There is no true accountability and no true rule of law in the WMSC: Established rules and regulations are no longer followed if they stand in the way of commercial success. When longstanding arbiters Ms Gaby Kappus and Ms Nathalie Lecordier protested against this situation last year, they were told that the WMSC founders could decide what they want, appoint arbiters at will and ignore every Council decision—simply because they are the founders.
4. Inconvenient committees were dissolved.
Last year, the rules were broken in order to allow the appointment of two Level 2 arbiters who were not eligible. They were simply appointed because the organiser demanded it. After many members had protested, an unprecedented escalation followed: The entire Rules Committee—for a long time the core institution of the sport—was dissolved. This action was clearly against Council rules and a severe ethics violation. When we continued to demand that existing core rules be followed, we received the telling answer that the rules themselves were standing in the way of the commercial potential of the sport. At that point we realised that no rule or structure was safe any more, and that everything was subject to the whims of the WMSC founders and their helpers.
5. Members profit privately from expensive courses.
Over time, it has become apparent what shape this commercial potential was supposed to take: As we speak, members of the Council are offering very expensive memory courses in China for arbiters and memory trainers, charging fees of several thousand US dollars per person. This allows them to profit privately from their position in the supposedly non-profit WMSC. According to our information, it seems they also want control over which athletes are allowed to work as memory trainers, citing “quality control” reasons as justification.
6. There is no freedom of speech.
After the dissolution of the main committee, any further protest was met with severe threats of punishment: athletes were threatened with bans from last year’s WMC if they did not retract all critical comments immediately. Long-time arbiters Ms. Gaby Kappus and Ms. Nathalie Lecordier were forbidden from attending the WMC. For us these two are heroes because they did not waver in the face of adversity and because they stood by their ideals, values and principles.
7. Replacements were made.
In the context of that purge, suddenly a number of people from the founders’ private network were brought into the WMSC, without any voting. These appointments are not valid.
8. High licensing fees threaten to cripple the sport.
The founders demand very high licensing fees from WMC organisers. We do not believe that enough of this money is invested in the future of the sport as it should be. But another—perhaps even graver—problem is that, with such high licensing fees, it becomes almost impossible for many countries to host a world championship. This is against every tenet of the sport as a worldwide endeavour. The potential necessity of paying such sums without any kind of consideration apart from getting a “license for the IP of the sport” may have killed off more than one promising world championship location in the past, causing extreme harm to the sport.
9. The sport is treated like personal property.
We believe it is an illusion that the sport can be “owned” by only a few. The sport belongs to everybody, to all who make it great and contribute to its progress and growth. We believe that the sport, our sport that we love so dearly, must be free from private business interests.
We ask for the support of all who share our vision of a future for memory sports which is very different than what has been stated above: one where democratic principles are valued, where important positions are earned through due proceedings rather than merely given to whom it is deemed convenient, and where the flourishing of the sport in the future is pursued as a valuable end in itself, as opposed to being a means to the end of sustaining private financial opportunities. We the undersigned, athletes, organisers and arbiters who have always cared about the sport, believe wholeheartedly in these principles. In due time, we will provide further detail and inform you all about our intended course of events.
Until then, we will refrain from registering for this year’s WMC.
Kindest regards (in alphabetical order),
Majdedeen Abugseeaa (Memory athlete; Libyan team)
Mücahit Aköz (Memory athlete; Turkish team)
Tansel Ali (Winner Australian Memory Championship 2008, 2011, 2013 and 2015)
Issa Almgadmi (Memory athlete; Libyan team)
Lukas Amsüss, GM (memory athlete; Austrian team)
Phill Ash (Memory athlete; British team)
Hafssa Askaoui (Memory athlete; Moroccan team)
Bartłomiej Boral (Memory athlete; Polish team)
Tobiasz Boral (Winner Polish Memory Championship 2012 and 2013)
Steffen Bütow, GM (trainer of memory athletes; former memory athlete; German team)
Mark Anthony Pascual Castaneda, GM (Winner Philippine Open Memory Championship 2014; world no. 22)
Lars Christiansen (Winner Danish Memory Championship 2015)
Ed Cooke, GM (Winner Cambridge Memory Championship 2007)
Søren Damtoft (Senior world memory champion 2014 and 2015)
Florian Dellé (WMSC arbiter; tournament organiser US Open and MAA Open)
Nelson Charles Dellis, GM (Winner US Memory Championship 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015; organiser XMT)
Luis Angel Echeverria (Memory athlete; US team)
Jonas von Essen, IGM (World memory champion 2013 and 2014; world no. 5)
Claire Ferguson (former WMSC arbiter)
Darren Ferguson (Memory athlete; British team)
Mohamed Gamal (Memory athlete; Egypt)
Ali Gatanesh (Memory athlete; Libyan team)
Tamim Gatanesh, IMM (Memory athlete; Libyan team)
Thomas Hirt (Memory athlete trainer)
Melanie Höllein, IMM (Winner South German Championship 2015)
Gabriele Kappus (WMSC arbiter 2009-2015)
Katie Kermode (World record holder 5 min Names and Faces; world no. 41)
Omkar Kibe (Memory athlete; Indian team)
Daniel Kilov (Memory athlete; Australian team)
Clay Knight (Memory athlete; British team)
Kelly Knight (friend of the sport of memory)
Marlo Knight, IMM (Winner UK Championship 2015; world no. 39)
Boris Nikolai Konrad, IGM (tournament organiser; president of MemoryXL; winner UK Open Championship 2012; world no. 15)
Nathalie Lecordier (WMSC arbiter 2005-2015)
Marcin Maskow Kowalczyk (World record holder in solving Rubik’s Cube blindfolded)
Yudi Lesmana, GM (Organiser Indonesian Memory Championship)
Johannes Mallow, IGM (World memory champion 2012; world no. 1; world record holder 5 min Binary, Dates and 10 min Cards)
Eline Maluray (Memory athlete; French team)
Jake O’Gorman (Memory athlete; British team)
Simon Orton (Winner Australian Memory Championship 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007; organiser and programmer XMT)
Hordiy Ostapovych (Memory athlete; Ukrainian team)
Nick Papadopoulos (Memory athlete; Greek team)
Ben Pridmore, IGM (World memory champion 2004, 2008 and 2009; organiser Friendly Memory Championship; world record holder 30 min Cards)
Roberto Racasa (Tournament organizer; Filipino team)
Simon Reinhard, IGM (World no. 4; since 2010 Athlete Representative at the WMSC; world record holder 5 min Words and 15 min Words)
Norbert Reulke (Winner Italian Memory Championship 2016)
Ola Kåre Risa, IGM (Winner Swedish Open Memory Championship 2013; world no. 10)
Almantas Šarakojis (Memory athlete; Lithuanian team)
Christian Schäfer, IGM (Winner Cambridge Memory Championship 2010; world no. 12)
Kevin Schulz (Memory athlete; team Terra)
Mike Smauley (Winner South German Memory Championship 2003)
Charifa Souissi (Memory athlete; Moroccan team)
Yanjaa, IGM (World record holder 15 min Names and Faces; winner Gothenburg Open Memory Championship 2015; world no. 11)
Sri Vyshnavi Yarlagadda, IMM (Memory athlete; Indian team)
Johannes Zhou (South German Junior Champion 2013; world no. 42)
Idriz Zogaj (Chairman of the Swedish Memory Sports Council, on behalf of the Swedish memory sports team)