A second bidding deadline has come and gone without a single bid being received for the November rematch between World Champion Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand. Why is it proving a struggle to find hosts for a match involving perhaps the most marketable player in a generation, and what happens now? chess24 takes an in-depth look at the situation.
The latest setback was announced in a post entitled “World Championship Match 2014” that appeared on the World Chess Federation website 5 minutes after the deadline had passed:
FIDE has not received any bid by the deadline of 13:00 GMT of April 30th, 2014. A further announcement will be made by FIDE in due course.
That deadline was itself an extension of the original 10th March deadline for a match that should start in just under six months, on November 6th 2014. As we reported at the time, FIDE Executive Director Nigel Freeman was quoted as saying:
But if we haven’t received any bids by the new deadline either, we just have to recognise that the product isn’t marketable enough.
Is that the case with 23-year-old Magnus Carlsen attracting media attention around the globe and Viswanathan Anand a star in a country of over 1.2 billion people? Let’s first take a look at some of the possible stumbling blocks.
Viswanathan Anand ripped up the formbook and defied his critics to sail to victory in the recent Candidates Tournament. It was a wonderful comeback after a difficult few years for the Indian legend, but it’s easy to imagine it was met with dismay in FIDE circles. The clear hope in setting a new deadline after the tournament must have been that a challenger would emerge from Russia, Bulgaria, Armenia or Azerbaijan, as any of those countries would be likely to bid for a match.
Although not cited by any potential bidders it’s easy to imagine that a repeat match with the same participants is also a harder sell in general than a match with a new challenger, especially if the match comes less than a year after the previous clash.
The will to hold the match is there, with Norwegian Chess Federation President Joran Aulin-Jansson describing it as “an event that would be fantastic for Norway”. An article on VG.no explained that the federation had worked together with the events company Gyro and the communications agency Apeland in order to hold the match in the Oslo area, with a budget of 40 million Norwegian Krone (4.85 million Euro). The plan was to find the money from commercial sponsors, but that proved impossible before the deadline.
In the same article Aulin-Jansson was asked if the Chess Olympiad being hosted in Tromsø this August was an issue for the World Championship match:
I’ve certainly been very conscious that we must not destroy Tromsø.
The context behind that remark is that the Olympiad is facing a 15 million NOK (1.82 million EUR) funding shortfall and has approached the Norwegian government for assistance. Tromsø Chess Club Director Jan Sigmund Berglund was annoyed that the federation was striving for a possible World Championship match:
It’s borderline scandalous. This will steal the focus, not least financially. It's no secret that the Chess Olympiad is looking for sponsors. I, and many others, really wonder how the Chess President can work day and night to find sponsors for a competing event.
I think forgetting everything else because we're organising the Olympiad would be an even greater sin. I also think two major events can complement each other.
In any case, if you add what looks set to be comfortably the strongest chess tournament of the year, Norway Chess 2014, it’s clear that sponsorship in Norway could be spread thinly in 2014… of course unless the Norwegian government chose to tap into some of its enormous financial reserves!
Finding commercial sponsors for chess has never been easy, and Nigel Freeman isn’t alone in expressing doubts. Jacob Lund, who worked on sponsorship for the Olympiad, is quoted by aftenposten.no as saying:
A chess tournament has little exposure for sponsors. It’s difficult to bring customers and arrange special events in conjunction with a chess tournament. How many of the local sponsors of last year’s World Championship in India do you remember?
India holds a general election every five years – a monumental undertaking, with over 800 million people eligible to vote in a process that lasts more than a month. How does that affect chess? Well, last year’s World Championship match in Chennai was funded by the State of Tamil Nadu, and chess fans will no doubt remember that the opening ceremony was close to a political rally, with the players dwarfed by images of the Chief Minister.
The Indian Express writes:
It is understood that the Indian Chess Federation, who hosted the final last year in Chennai, may have passed up on the opportunity this time around due to the political commitments of the current president, JCD Prabhakar, who is an MLA [Member of the Legislative Assembly] of Tamil Nadu’s AIADMK party.
Government funding is unlikely before election results are known, and something similar may apply in the chess world itself. This year sees Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and Garry Kasparov engaged in a fierce battle for the post of FIDE President, with supporters of either camp perhaps wary of sanctioning bids that would see significant funds transferred to their opponent if the election goes badly. For instance, American multi-millionaire Rex Sinquefield is a potential future match sponsor, but not in 2014 while he’s on the ticket of Garry Kasparov.Just to add to the perfect storm, perennial hosts Russia seem less likely to offer a bailout than usual. Billionaire Andrei Filatov took over the role of President of the Russian Chess Federation this February, but although he sponsored his friend Boris Gelfand’s World Championship match against Anand it’s been reported that the focus of the federation will be junior chess. New sponsors are being sought for traditional events, but currently it looks unlikely the Alekhine Memorial will take place this year while the Tal Memorial is in serious doubt. Events in Ukraine are also having a serious impact on the Russian economy.
As it’s an election year it’s no surprise that Garry Kasparov immediately seized on the failure to find a bidder to make political capital, with a torrent of tweets:
FIDE has certainly never cracked the secret of attracting commercial sponsorship, but the former World Champion may have gone too far. The FIDE Not For Sale website is one of a proliferation of depressing sites set up solely to attack opponents anonymously, but on this occasion it seemed to have a point:
Kasparov said that: "FIDE never keeps to schedule". But the fact is that the last two cycles, including World Cups, Grand Prix, Candidates Tournaments and World Championship matches were held on schedule.
European Chess Union President and Kasparov ally Silvio Danaliov got in on the act, blaming FIDE Deputy President Georgios Makropoulos and the FIDE Presidential Board for the absence of a Norwegian bid:
The bitter nature of the political feud is evident in the List of Decisions from that same meeting that FIDE published today:
To condemn by unanimous vote the former World Champion Garry Kasparov for insulting the International Olympic Committee and its President Thomas Bach.
Regardless of how you allot blame, it's clear the political infighting doesn't provide a perfect backdrop for seeking sponsorship from commercial or government organisations.
New York, Paris and Dubai were all touted as possible venues, while the mysterious Chess News Agency (perhaps another site "set up solely to attack opponents anonymously") claimed to quote the FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov before the Candidates Tournament:
I have an excellent suggestion for holding the championship match. There are serious people, who are willing to spend 10 million dollars for organizing the match, and that will leave a prize fund of a record 4-5 million. If we can arrange it, I think everyone will be greatly pleased.
So far, however, nothing has materialised.
The result of the 2014 Candidates Tournament was known after Round 13 on 29th March 2014, while the bidding deadline was 30th April. Although some plans might have been set in motion before that, one month is still an almost ludicrously short space of time to find not only a venue, but also somewhere in the region of 5 million euros. That problem is compounded if you're looking for commercial or government sponsorship, with the laborious decision-making processes such funding requires in most parts of the world.
The Times of India quotes Nigel Freeman:
Fide is currently examining all possible solutions, including (another) extension of the deadline or direct negotiations with organizers of the contesting duo. It is a situation which has occurred in the past with other World Championship events and [it was] positively resolved.
After the deadline passed Norwegian Chess Federation President Joran Aulin-Jansson was also remaining positive:
We’ll see what the content of the next message from FIDE is. We still haven’t given up hope of holding the championship on home ground.
One thing is clear - time is rapidly running out if the match is going to be held on schedule in November 2014!
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