FIDE: 'Players need not worry about the Olympiad'

| 0 | Chess Event Coverage
FIDE: Players need not worry about the OlympiadThe first round of the upcoming Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk is scheduled for September 21st. A record 160 teams of chess players from all over the globe are expected to travel to Siberia, which makes the organization of transportation, accommodation and food an arduous task. Many players have their worries and complaints, but FIDE Vice President Israel Gelfer says they shouldn't.

Tuesday FIDE published an article on its website titled 'Travel details for Olympiad'. It informs the participants of changes in departure and arrival time of the charters for the 39th Olympiad, which will be held from September 20th till October 3rd in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. It's not the first time the charters times have been changed, and not the second either. According to WIM Arlette van Weersel, who will play for the Dutch women's team, they have been changed five (!) times already, as she posted with clear annoyance as a Facebook status update last week.

This is not just annoying of course, but has serious financial consequences as well, as almost all players have connecting flights that need to be changed each time. On August 28th Daaim Shabazz wrote on The Chess Drum:
Several federations have already reported overstepping their budgetary limits and complaints are beginning to mount from various federations. There have been charter flights arranged, but some of the scheduled times have changed… more than once. One small federation has to disburse a total of US$5000 for charter flights! More fees are added with each adjustment in scheduling.
Khanty-Mansiysk has hosted three FIDE World Cups, in which 128 players participated. The Olympiad however will host more than ten times this number, and also the 81st FIDE Congress with delegates from almost all nations coming to vote for the presidential elections, with obvious consquences for local accommodation. 

Besides chess events, biathlon World Cup competitions are annually held in the city, and "tourism infrastructure has been developed here quite well", according to Wikipedia. The article adds: "15 hotels offered their services to tourists in 2005. All of them are fully booked during Biathlon World Cups, regional and All-Russia conferences, etc., so it’s practically impossible to book a room in a hotel during these events." However, these biathlon events seem to be smaller than an Olympiad. More accommodation needed to be built.

On July 23rd published an article with many photos (summarized in English by Mark Crowther) that stated that FIDE Vice President Israel Gelfer was concerned about the pace of the Olympiad preparations. Gelfer conducted an inspection of the hotel where most of the players will stay, which was still under construction. He also found out that the Organizing Committee had still not signed a contract with a service company, which will be responsible for lodging the players. According to URA, the head of the organizing committee Nikolai Bondarev explained this by saying that in fact the hotel was not yet ready for use. (You can find a full transcription of their conversation here!)

The Olympic Hotel in July

The Olympic Hotel in July | Photo URA

A few days later FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov also expressed his disappointment in an interview with Sport Express, saying "I do not want to exaggerate the situation and talk about a catastrophe, but the situation is alarming. The Olympiad organizers had promised to build three hotels, but built only one. But even this one, which was built a month ago, is not functioning."

Do the players and team captains of the 39th Olympiad need to worry, or will transportation and accommodation turn out all right in the end? Normally we would be inclined to believe the latter, since stories like this are not unprecedented. Many Olympiads, in fact many big sporting events, including the latest FIFA World Cup, saw concerns about the ‘pace of preparations'.

However, we aren't a hundred percent sure. From talking to players we learnt that many don't have a clue in which hotel they'll be staying, and whether it's already finished or not. They are concerned about the state of Hotel Olympic, and annoyed about the charter changes. Below are a few reactions from participants.

Alexei Shirov, for one, isn't worried at all:

"I am not worried about any Khanty issues, there have often been some minor problems in Olympiads, practically in every one which is understandable taking into account the dimensions of the event. I think the Spanish team will be fine in Khanty."

Sergei Movsesian told us the following: 

"Me and my team will be staying in "Olympic" hotel (in case it would be ready:) I stayed in 3 different hotel during my stays in Khanty and they were acceptable. Nobody knows, how the new "Olympic" will look like and hopefully we will not be forced to repeat Elista story (following the building process upon arrival...)"

Ruslan Ponomariov isn't sure at all about the situation:

"I played in Khanty three times. The first time the players stayed in the four star hotel Ugra Valley*. But the next two times there were more options and I prefered hotel "Taray" (also four stars) because it was much closer to the tournament hall. The local food was quite nice as well.

But this time, during the Chess Olympiad, I have lots of worries about organization. In the Word Cups during the first round played just 128 players, but now it's going to be much more people. So there are many questions about hotels, transport, tournament hall, food.

I hope that everything will be OK. But if the conditions will not allow us to concentrate on chess - I think I will quit from the Chess Olympiad."

Yannick Pelleter mentioned the charter flights: 

"In my opinion, an equally interesting story concerns the ever-changing schedule of the charter flights to Khanty. Barely a month before our journey, FIDE keeps changing the flying times. People who have already bought a ticket to Munich (like me) may simply lose their ticket because of their juggling..."

Ilia Bluvshtein, the father of GM Mark Bluvshtein and in charge of all the organizational elements of the Canadian team going to the Olympiad wrote to us:

"The organizers provide charter flights to Khanty-Mansiysk from 4 cities in Europe: Moscow, Prague, Munich, and Milan. Tentative schedule for charter flights was provided in the Official Invitation. Delegations had to book charter flights by May 20th. Essentially it meant that delegations had to purchase tickets to European airports at the same time because flights to Europe are linked to charters.

Then without any notification flight schedule was changed in another announcement issued on July 28th. What I know is that the flight Khanty-Milan was moved down significantly and some delegations would not be able to catch their flights from Milan on the way from the Olympiad. (Our Canadian situation was aggregated by the fact the we book charters from different airports: through Munich on the way to the Olympiad and through Milan on the way from the Olympiad. The registration system allowed us to do this and the Organizers told us nothing at that time. After I found out from the website that we would not be able to catch the flight from Milan to Canada, it also appeared that organizers put us on the flight Khanty-Munich instead of Khanty-Milan…without any notice! So we had to re-book the tickets and incur financial losses.)

Then without any notification the flight schedule was changed again! The organizers simply changed flight times on the web announcement from July 28th!!! It happened somewhere between July 30th (when I checked previous time) and August 27th (when I found out the new schedule). I know that flight time for charters Khanty-Munich and Khanty-Milan were changed. Probably there were other changes as well…

I know that other Federations are also outraged at all these changes."

We also spoke with Jeroen Bosch, Sports Director of the Dutch Chess Federation's Office and team captain of the Dutch women's team. He had a similar story as Mr Bluvshtein:

"The charters were changed at least four times, although it must be said that in the first documentation there was a note saying 'these times might be changed'. At the end of July I thought I had arranged everything, but when I returned from holiday it was changed considerably - we're talking about a twelve hour difference, leading to very inconvenient times and necessary hotel bookings.

These were supposed to be the final times, and so we booked the hotels and new connecting flights and everything was arranged on August 25th. Then we received an email on the 26th, which was about other things, and had a sidenote saying 'by the way the charters have been changed'. Again! 

Let me make it clear that I don't want to just complain. I mean, it's a very good thing that the organizers actually arrange charters. They don't have to do this, as far as I'm aware of. And besides, the managed to offer them for very cheap prices. Players and captains only pay the air taxes, which is about 60 Euros. So that's actually very positive. But the many changes, and the suboptimal communication, that's quite negative."

Chess Today editor Alexander Baburin this week wrote in his magazine:

A few days ago I decided not to play in the forthcoming chess Olympiad in Khanty-Mansijsk. That will be only the second Olympiad I have missed since 1994. One of the reasons for my decision was the fact this Olympiad seems to be badly organised. Recently FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who backed the bid from Khanty-Mansijsk a few years ago, admitted that only one of the three promised hotels (which were to be built for this event) existed, and even that one was not ready. Student accommodation for chess teams is being mentioned.

That is not the only problem – the departure time of the charter flight from Munich (where the Irish team intends to travel from) has been changed at least twice, making it impossible to buy tickets to Munich. Some teams already bought their tickets, so they had to change them, which is never cheap.

Single rooms for captains were offered and then withdrawn. Those wishing to have a single room were asked to pay 1120 euro per room – and to pay in advance!

As already mentioned, the World Chess Federation is not happy either with the developments so far. But it seems that they're also not happy when players express their disappointment about it. We also received the following mail exchange from Nick Faulks, who will play for Bermuda and is a member of the FIDE Qualification Commission. He communicated with the already mentioned FIDE Vice President Israel Gelfer:

From: Nick Faulks To: Cc: Mr. Israel Gelfer, Nigel Freeman, FIDE Secretariat Sent: Thu, 26 Aug 2010 05:49:43 -0700 Subject: Re: Bermuda team - accommodation

Dear Mr. Bondarev,

I have received no reply to my email of 20th August, attached. I repeat that my federation will not authorise the release of funds for accommodation about which you cannot provide any details, and know that other federations feel the same way.

Bermuda has taken part in Olympiads since 1976, and has never before been forced to pay in advance for undescribed services. In the case of a room for the team captain, this has not even been an issue, since you are the first organisers, and I hope the last, who are failing to provide this as a matter of courtesy.

It is extremely disappointing that FIDE allows you to treat your guests in this way. But for the fact that several team members have already bought non-refundable tickets I would be withdrawing our entry.

Yours sincerely,

Nick Faulks

To this, he received the following e-mail:

From: Mr. Israel Gelfer To: Nick Faulks, Cc: Nigel Freeman, FIDE Secretariat Sent: Thu, 26 Aug 2010 08:06:40 -0700 Subject: Re: Bermuda team - accommodation

Dear Mr. Faulks   Without going into the details of invoice you got let me just respond to your style of your mail :   I find your last message to the organizers  ,and to Fide  as disgraceful  and unbearable  and if I were the organizer   I would simply disregard any mail from you ,from now on .   Personally , I would not care if people like you would withdraw from the olympiad .   Israel  Gelfer

Well, that's not the sort of answer a chess player would expect from a FIDE official and spokesman for the Olympiad, which is of course why Mr Faulks sent this to us and other chess media. This week we spoke with Mr Gelfer, who didn't want to say much about this email exchange except for mentioning that Mr Faulks is an 'uneducated person'.

Naturally we also confronted him with the worries and complaints from the players about the accommodation and transportation. Mr Gelfer told us:

"For the last two years, I have been going to Khanty-Mansiysk for inspections, meetings, consulting etc. Due to a medical problem of my wife, I could not attend this time and GM Zurab Azmaiparashvili, FIDE Vice President and also a member in our Commission for World Championship and Olympiad,s went there and had three days of meetings and inspections  (26 - 29 August), together with the Chief Arbiter of the Olympiad, Mrs. Sava Stoisavljevic, the TAP (Technical Pannel) Chairman Mr. Stubenvol and the Organizing Committee people. I've just received his report, and it is very encouraging  from all points of view.

According to my (daily) talks with the Organizing Committee, I can definitely confirm that the Olympic hotel (and all others, of course) is 100% finished and ready for the Olympiad. The Olympic hotel will accommodate more than 1200 participants, out of the 1600 that we expect. The dining room, in two floors, can accommodate 1200 people simultaneously, and will be open for lunch starting 12.30 every day. Food - we took special care of this subject, including carefully checking the venue and all the facilities in the kitchen, and in the restaurant itself. Transportation from the hotel to the playing hall is very well arranged (traffic time is less then 10 minutes)."
  Nikolay Bondarev, Executive Director of the Organizing Committee, also sent us a comment: 

"Thank you for the opportunity to comment the accommodation situation. Yesterday, on the 30th of August the final FIDE inspection left Khanty-Mansiysk. As a result of inspection there are two protocols of the working meeting. According to these protocols Khanty-Mansiysk is ready to hold the Olympiad. All construction sites are finished including Hotel Olympic. Construction of other hotels did not need because the Hotel Olympic will not completely occupied. All players and guests will be provided with transportation."

About the charter flights Mr Bondarev said: 

"Of course we understand, that these changes caused many inconveniences for Federations. Therefore we apologize for it and hope for their understanding! This situation is not pleasant for us too. But also we want you to understand, that first of all these changes are determined by the safety of the flights. And this is the decision of air-companies and airports. The OC has to agree with them, as safety of the participants is the main issue in the process of the organization the Olympiad. We apologize once again for any inconveniences! We hope for understanding!"

Naturally these comments from FIDE and the organizers are both encouraging and predictable, and hard to doublecheck. Even with a hotel that's finished there might be issues - will basic things like water, heating, electricity and internet be of acceptable standard? Will the charters currently shown on the official website and on be the final timetables? Players, captains and delegates can only hope.
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