Trouble in Tromso: Olympiad underfunded

5/14/2014 – The Chess Olympiad is scheduled to begin in just two and a half months. Everything was looking great, with participants and fans expecting to see the biggest and finest team championship ever. But now, suddenly, the Norwegian media has sounded alarm: apparently there is a US $2.5 million hole in the budget, which the organisers need to fill at very short notice. Should we be worried?

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It seems that even the comet-like prestige Magnus Carlsen has in the chess world, and popular media, is not enough to go against economic realities as seen in the recent concerns regarding the lack of World Championship bids. This time, the issue is more serious, and closer to home in his case. The organizers of the 2014 Chess Olympiad, scheduled to be held in Tromsø, Norway, have admitted they are deeply concerned by a shortage of funds, and have now made declarations regarding the uncertainty of the event being held at all.

This came after they petitioned a further 15 million Kroner (roughly 2.5 million USD) from the Ministry of Culture, only to see their request denied. Incidentally the missing 15 million NOK is pretty much what was spent for the FIDE World Cup in Tromsø last August. Organizers were left scrambling on Wednesday to save the event from financial ruin.

Just a day after mounting what the Norwegian chess federation claimed was its “best chess team ever” for the Chess Olympiad, led by Carlsen, organizers got the bad news that the state government wasn’t allocating an extra NOK 15 million (USD 2.5) they claim they need in the government’s revised state budget.

"Threat to cancel the Chess Olympiad" is the headline of this Aftenposten report

“The organizers of the Chess Olympiad has received NOK 75 million (12.65 million USD) from the state. There are five million (840 thousand USD) more than they originally applied for, because they got five million extra for the opening ceremony”, said the state secretary for the Conservative Party, Knut Olav Åmås.

Åmås was firm that “when a group gets money from the state, they have to mount an arrangement that fits within the framework.” The Chess Olympiad (Sjakk-OL) organizers (a company owned by Tromsø township and the chess federation, Norges Sjakkforbund) won’t be getting any more state funding guarantees, he said.

"Tromsø Olympiad checkmated by government" says Norwegian TV Channel 2

In an interview, Børge Robertsen, Director of the Chess Olympiad, said that if the 15 million Kroner was not allocated, it would mean less hospitality for the participants, and a reduced cultural program and opening ceremony. In December, Robertsen had stated that things were on schedule.

Chairman Hans Olav Karde now says that the organizers have looked at the numbers and found that the Chess Olympiad cannot be implemented without further funds. They need an answer by the end of the month to see whether it can be staged as planned.

The news and public declarations have been met with no small amount of consternation and criticism as can be imagined. Magnus Carlsen’s manager, Espen Agdestein, told Norwegian media VG, "It is embarrassing if this prestigious event does not take place. I think it was unwise of the organizers to go public with a statement today that creates uncertainty among the 181 countries that registered to play.

The VG report says "Threat to drop Chess Olympiad" with the bullet points: "Refused money
in the budget: the consequences very serious – Ministry of Culture:
They got 5 million extra for the opening ceremony – No extra funding for Chess Olympiad.

Joran Aulin-Jansson, Deputy Director of the Chess Olympiad and the president of the Norwegian Chess Federation, sees their statements as unfortunate, but believes they have no choice. "Yes, it's very unfortunate. But the alternative of a quiet death is not much better", Aulin-Jansson told VG.

He says they do not like to appear dramatic, but that the situation requires it. "We are in any case obliged to ensure that the entire Parliament understands the situation."

Aulin-Jansson explained that a significant part of the problem stems from the record interest in the event. "When we sent the application we expected 140-150 nations. Now it's 181 nations. There has never in history been near that many."

They now must try to drum up more money from sponsors or other sources. More than 2,000 participants from 181 countries are expected to travel to Tromsø for the Olympiad due to begin August 1. The local government owns 90 percent of the shares in the company formed to host the Chess Olympiad, with the federation owning the other 10 percent. Its chairman, Hans Olav Karde, said it was now in “a very difficult situation.”

(Source: VG, News in English, TV2.no)

Addendum: We have spoken to ogranisers and Chess Federation contacts in Norway and did not find the mood pessimistic or gloomy. They are working hard on a solution, and the prediction is that the Olympiad will go ahead as planned.



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