Oslo Out Of Running For 2018 World Champs, Demands Transparency

Oslo Out Of Running For 2018 World Champs, Demands Transparency

| 57 | Chess Politics

Oslo is no longer a candidate to organize the 2018 world chess championship match. Agon and the Norwegian Chess Federation state that "funds have not been secured in time" but don't mention that the Norwegian government demanded a transparent bidding process.

Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin playing in the 2016 world championship.

Since December 2016, a month after Magnus Carlsen defended his title against Sergey Karjakin in New York, attempts were made to get the next world title match to Norway. But it won't happen.

Behind the scenes the Norwegian Chess Federation was working with Agon, the company that holds the rights to organize events in the world chess championship cycle, to hold the match in Oslo. On Thursday both parties issued a press release, stating that the project is off.

"The reason is that it has turned out to take too long to get funding," said Geir Nesheim, Secretary General of the Norwegian Chess Federation. "The holder of the rights [Agon, PD] needed clarification in order to start and complete the detailed planning of next year's match. We understand this very much."

Agon's Ilya Merenzon: "We are very pleased with professionalism and motivation of the Norwegian Chess Federation to hold the Match in Oslo, but understand that the government support has not been committed on the level they hoped, and organizing a sporting event of this magnitude without strong governmental support is impossible, as we estimated the budget to exceed €4 million."

Interestingly, neither side mentions why Oslo isn't providing the funds. An important reason was revealed by Norwegian newspaper VG two weeks ago: in order to consider state aid, the Norwegian government demands an open and transparent bidding process for selecting a host city. And there is no such thing, in chess.

The World Chess Federation works with a bidding process for many of its international events, but does not require this for world championship matches. Of the last three title matches, Chennai (2013) and New York (2016), were awarded without bidding. The 2013 match was awarded to Chennai personally by FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, in spite of a higher bid from Paris.


Carlsen, on TV2 yesterday: "I had certainly hoped the world championship to be in Norway. It is a pity that it won't happen." | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

It's not the first time that the Carlsen team is disappointed by FIDE. In 2013, Carlsen himself said that he was "deeply disappointed" about the choice of Chennai without bidding, and the Norwegian Chess Federation protested with an open letter. 

As early as 2008, when Carlsen decided to step out of the FIDE Grand Prix, the team stated: "Chess as a sport, chess as an attraction to sponsors, the situation of top chess players in general and the Chess World Championship cycle, are in our opinion best and only served by a system which is transparent, fair and predictable."

It is the word "transparency" that keeps on returning. Linda Hofstad Helleland, Norway's Minister of Culture, said she could not grant a request for 16 million kroner (€1.65 million/$1.88 million) because there is no open and transparent bidding process. For the same reason, Stavanger recently had to drop out as candidate host city for the 2017 World Rapid and Blitz Championship. 

It is unclear which other host cities are candidates. Ilyumzhinov mentioned London recently, and Russian press agency Tass mentioned Japan, South Korea and Singapore, but none of this information is official.

Update: June 9, 4 a.m. Pacific:

An article by Norwegian media NRK now quotes Merenzon saying: "I think the Culture Minister misleads the Norwegian people. It seems that politicians are trying to find excuses. This is obviously highly political in Norway, but for us this is show and business. I'm a little disappointed that the Minister of Culture says such things."

Merenzon then describes how Agon works: "We select the host country which we like best. The factors are money that the host country can provide itself, the environment for sponsors, media, etc."

NRK then quotes Helleland: "He has a completely different understanding of transparency than we do. (...)  It appears to be a closed process about who puts the most money on the table."

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the Sochi 2014 world championship was awarded without bidding. In fact there was a bidding procedure, for which the deadline was extended, but no bids arrived in time.

Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

Peter has a Master of Arts degree in Dutch Language & Literature. He briefly worked at New in Chess, then as a Dutch teacher and then in a project for improving safety and security in Amsterdam schools.

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