Visa problems for the Chess Olympiad

7/10/2014 – In order to travel to the Olympiad in Tromsø many players require a visa. But in countries without Norwegian embassies this can pose a problem. European laws require biometric data to be supplied personally, forcing players to travel to a different country. In an open letter FIDE President has complained to the Norwegian Prime Minister, and the Olympiad CEO has replied.

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Visa problems for Norway

Moscow, 7 July 2014

H.E. Erna Solberg
Prime Minister, Norway, Oslo

Your Excellency,

I am approaching you in respect of the World Chess Olympiad which is scheduled to be held in Tromso, August 1-15.

When bidding for the Olympiad, Norway and the city of Tromso declared that all countries in the world will get visas to attend this worldwide event.

Now we are less than one month from the event and only recently we have learnt from several Federations who have no Norwegian Consulates in their country that they have to travel to another country to apply and collect their visas and moreover, each and every member of the respective team (sometimes 12-15 people) have to do it individually in person.

I would like to mention this has no precedents in the history of FIDE and probably not in any other sport. Needless to say that no one from the Organisers’ side has ever mentioned such a possibility as the common understanding between FIDE and them has been, as in previous Olympiads, that the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Interior of the organising country coordinate this issue to avoid such unfortunate situations.

FIDE Secretariat has been receiving a considerable amount of letters of complaint from the Federations which are unable to bear huge expenses of 15 persons travelling to another country (within the African continent, for example, or from Syria to another country).

Other Schengen countries allow people to collect visas from other Schengen countries that have embassies in the individual countries, thus sparing the cost of so many people travelling, but apparently Norway does not allow this.

So far, all our requests addressed to the Organising Committee of Tromso 2014 have been answered in the same manner, claiming that in spite their goodwill, they are unable to solve the problem.

I wonder whether this problem will be solved before the decision on the Winter Olympic Games 2022 is taken, and in case of a positive solution, whether it can also refer to the coming event in Tromso.

Your Excellency, I am approaching you with the request to use your authority to instruct relevant Norwegian institutions to find a way for solving the problem and avoiding a worldwide chaos.

Thank you so much.
Yours very truly.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov

A day later the CEO of the 2014 Chess Olympiad, Børge Robertsen, issued a response on behalf of the organisers, responding to the FIDE President's Open Letter to the Norwegian Prime Minister.

The COT is working on this matter, and is fully aware of the international regulations concerned. We have already sent approximately 1500 personal letters to all of those who require a visa.

The Norwegian immigration authorities have a user-friendly web site with a clear, easy to follow visa application process. The entire process can be handled online, and Olympiad participants can apply individually. At the end of the application process a message instructs the individual to book an appointment with an embassy - and it is this final step that has posed challenges.

In the summer of 2013 an agreement was implemented in the Schengen countries regarding the exchange of biometric data. This is an unalterable requirement agreed by the Schengen nations, not a special Norwegian regulation.

This means that one must appear at a Norwegian embassy to supply fingerprints. If Norway does not have an official office in a country, then one must go to the closest country with Norwegian ambassadorial representation. We fully understand that this is extremely frustrating if, for example, you are from Gambia and need to travel to Ghana to get a Norwegian visa.

The current problem is not that participants will not receive visas, but rather that they may be compelled to travel far to do so.

We are currently cooperating with the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI), and have a good working relationship with them. Norwegian embassies carry out visa services on behalf of the UDI.

We have asked the UDI if there are possible exceptions to this regulation. We have been informed that the Chess Olympiad does not meet the requirements for exemption from this rule.

The FIDE President writes in his letter that Schengen nations have previously been granted exemption from this regulation. We have tried to find out how, but have not learned how this was done or who has achieved this earlier. This information would be extremely helpful for us.

The COT understands that the current situation can be extremely upsetting for many. We can only state the hard fact that we, the organisers, are in no position to change internationally agreed laws.

We hope that as many as possible of the registered participants will be able to attend the event, and are doing everything in our power to help make it happen.

Kind regards

Børge Robertsen
CEO, Chess Olympiad Tromsø 2014

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Treize Treize 7/13/2014 08:25
I have no comprehension and reading problem, the question was directed at you and asking what are the exceptions since you sound well informed, not paraphrasing....

@Wowbagger, I like the depth of the analysis...Bureaucracy at its most absurd....Well, there are laws for immigration, what is absurd is that people seem not to understand.

Those problems have arisen because persons from these countries do not have bio-metric passports in the first place...This is why they need a bio-metric visa, simple.
BestByTest BestByTest 7/13/2014 06:03
Look at the article:
"We have asked the UDI if there are possible exceptions to this regulation. We have been informed that the Chess Olympiad does not meet the requirements for exemption from this rule."
So there are exemptions possible.
(I see, you have not read the article. I already expected that by your previous posts.)
Peace anyway.
wowbagger wowbagger 7/12/2014 04:03
Crazy stuff. I don't like to agree with Mr Ilyumzhinov but that's bureaucracy at its most absurd. This is not about money, this is about the organizers moving their inert chair-hugging body regions. It costs nothing and makes human and political sense to make an exception for one of the biggest, in terms of participants, international sporting events. That's your job, organizers. Get in touch with whoever is in charge of enforcing the regulations, talk about the situation, talk about how non-threatening 10-100 African chess players are, find a practical way.
Treize Treize 7/12/2014 02:43
@BestbyTest : please enlight us with the exceptions to visa regulations...
BestByTest BestByTest 7/12/2014 12:05
Not to forget that Norway's officials with no real problems at home are surely not cracking down under an immense load of work. They could easily handle all formalities that come along with making an exception for this event - As they refue any cooperation they obviously arbitrarily don't WANT to support THIS event with the current setting.
BestByTest BestByTest 7/12/2014 12:00
This is just part of the ongoing assault on Russia stemming from New York.
Here with all additional problems created they try to bring the current FIDE people in disregard. The goal is to promote Kasparov to president.
It's totally unheard of that a country acts like this when an international event takes place at their place - especially when like in our case the participants are known of regularily not being really wealthy.
Furthermore it's unheard of that organizers or country's officials use such lame empty words in their answers - unless they in fact want to embaress the recipients of such addresses.

I don't know about the text of the contracts between Norway's organizers and FIDE, but it would be unusual if the organizers hadn't to guarantee access for every participant without spending a fortune personally, and without using around 2 days of traveltime alone.

Furthermore all regulations like Schengen is one are known to have exceptions. In the FIDE letter and the Norway organizers' letter it's cleary said, that the elected Norway politicians don't want to value the Chess Olympiad as an important enough event for an exception. Given the number of people playing chess worldwide and the still existing prestige in chess this unfriendly behaviour clearly comes from malevolent other motivations.
Treize Treize 7/11/2014 08:44
Dear Bill,

The money spent is not an issue, what I find borderline is that there are always people thinking it is never enough and never satisfying whatever is done.

The visa regulation in place are not a surprise, out of curiosity did you check which countries have a diplomatic representation in Gambia ? The embassies or consulates did not vanish overnight.

Certainly, the whole situation is unfortunate but if you pretend to be a chess olympian organize yourself as such. The olympiad location is known since the last worldcup. I maintain the term tourist for the Gambian players which by the way Kasparov applied to whoever under 2700 at his time, but this is not personal or geographical, I am also a chess tourist , I love the game and travel where finance and holidays permit (or not) but I would not have the impoliteness of complaining about lack of assistance for a situation which is not from the organizers responsibilities.

Like I wrote, I believe that our FIDE president is more than wealthy, maybe he can part with some crumbs to help those in dire need of travel support as we can guess from the letter that everyone is upset there. As usual, it is easier to be upset for the deeds of others and spending the neighbour money.

For fun, I would love to see an Olympiad organized in Khanty-Mansysk and the visa procedure to get there, certainly there will a special aeroflot antonov hopping from country to country all over the place.
Bill Alg Bill Alg 7/11/2014 07:49
Treize, you obviously think that Norway has spent more money than it should have for this Olympiad, and that is the only conclusion one can make of your posts. And it is highly irrelevant.

But what is the point of calling Ghana chess players tourists? Even if they are, they are tourists who were allowed to play in previous Olympiads, even if those Olympiads were not held in such a great country as Norway. It might be part of FIDE's strategy to promote chess all over the world, and you can't expect every country in the world to begin producing grandmasters as soon as they learn the game.

But if what you suggest takes place (i.e. the organizers simply do nothing), for practical reasons already explained, those players will not travel to Norway at all, they will stay home and that clearly makes them NOT tourists.
Marcel Volker Marcel Volker 7/11/2014 06:00
FIDE complaining about the level of organisation of a tournament? That's beyond irony.

The same FIDE that assigned the WCC in Libya a few years ago? Lybia?
The same FIDE that assigned the WCC to Bulgaria, who refused Anand a delayed start?
The same FIDE that relocates tournaments at last notice (mostly to Khanty-Mansiysk or Elista) or yanks them from the calendar altogether?

Norway must be amused by the recent criticism they have been receiving from odd quarters, first from Saudi Arabia about human rights, now this. Too right they mostly politely ignore it.
Treize Treize 7/11/2014 05:18
@firestorm. Yes, this was my basic understanding that EU countries only request a visa for the Schengen Area as a whole but there might be local subtleties depending on where you fly to and have a connecting flight (if not direct).

Otherwise "Moshe Rachmuth" and "sandeeproy1" inspired me some ironic thoughts :
This is true that those greedy Norwegians who are around 6 Millions and wealthier than decency can bear with all those oil fields could at least pay a couple of private jets for the rest of the world to come around play chess...Incredible but true, the Norwegian government has a strange sense of priority.

It goes without saying it that next time FIDE will take care of not picking up a retarded European country with a middle-age infrastructure, awful travel possibilities.

To make sure that everything runs smoothly next time, the FIDE president will puncture a couple of millions in his personal fortune to give everyone a mean of transport in relation to the magnitude of the royal game...Gens Una Suma and to quote and rephrase Lasker "I prefer to sacrifice my (opponent) partner's money"!

PS : SandeepRoy, I assume, that upset as you are, you have already wired some dollars to our chess friends in need, right ?

firestorm firestorm 7/11/2014 04:10
Kind of you to offer a solution, trieze, but it would be a bit heavy going. Intrigued, I googled it, and gives the info that for the purposes of short stay/visa, the Schengen countries operate a common boarder policy, with 22/26 EU countries in Schengen. The inference is you don't need to visit a Norwegian embassy, just a Schengen one, to get your visa. I can think of other, inelegant, solutions (organise travel to Olympiad to include getting visa, for example), but I'm curious now where the closest Schengen embassy is for each nation. As another comment said, surprising that this should be surfacing so close to the Olympiad.
Treize Treize 7/11/2014 02:33

Bureaucratic or verbose.... I fell from my chair laughing, thanks.

To be fair the Norwegian diplomatic representation in Africa are limited but this is no news from yesterday...Just look at the list diplomatic representations in South-America... And strangely we did not hear about the peruvian team not able to travel because of the mean Norwegians and their underdeveloped infrastructure...

On your request, I suggest the following practical solution : The Gambian Air Force is operating 2 Air Tractor AT-802 plane (2 seats) - performance (source wikipedia) :
Cruise speed: 221 mph (356 km/h)
Range: 800 miles (1,289 km)
Service ceiling: 25,000 ft (7,620 m)
Rate of climb: 850 ft/min (4.3 m/s)

Distance Banjul - Accra 1200 miles, otherwise there is also an embassy in Ivory Coast and Abidjan is 1023 miles away.

Therefore it is possible to fly 2 chess players to the nearest embassy in around 12 hours (both ways including refuelling stops). Within 1 week the whole team will have done the biometric procedure. The Olympiad starts early August, this leaves enough time...

Is this practical enough ?

Chess tourists : from the FIDE rating list, Gambia has 36 players registered of which 5 have a normal rating, 3 a rapid rating and 8 a blitz rating. Even the club in my village has more players (but not higher rated).

I really would like to go play in the Hawaii Open in 2015 but unfortunately the US governement has no money to fund my travel and hotel expenses ...


malazan malazan 7/11/2014 02:03
Tourist visa rules apply to everyone with no exception. It is preposterous to expect to change them for entire Schengen Area because of Chess Olympiad or any other such event. Do you think Brasil, Greece or Spain have embassy/consulate in every single country in the world? Yet they will or have hosted Summer Olympics. If someone has to be blamed for this it should be FIDE or National Federations.
sandeeproy1 sandeeproy1 7/11/2014 11:18
@Trieze I believe you are misguided in your understanding of "chess tourists". It really doesnt matter who pays, the people or the govt or the association, Norway earns anyway! The point is, to repeat, why make it that much more expensive for participants (notwithstanding who is paying) by travel laws during such international events. Forget chess Olympiad, do you think Norway can host a Summer Olympics with this kind of travel infrastructure.
sandeeproy1 sandeeproy1 7/11/2014 11:08
That was the most beauracratic of replies!! Verbose and yet didnt solve anything for all practical purpose!
Treize Treize 7/11/2014 10:19

This letter from FIDE is unbelievable as well as some reactions below.

There are established rules regarding international travel which are valid for everyone including chess competitors.

This is the responsibility of the travellers to go through whatever administrative procedures in a timely manner and not at the last minute. I find it weird that some people discover a few days aways from travelling that there is no diplomatic representation from Norway in their country...

Anyway, I find this hard to swallow...

For "Moshe Rachmuth", the scandal is that loads of chess tourists are being paid a nice summer holiday in Norway all expenses funded...

firestorm firestorm 7/11/2014 08:38
It would be interesting to know the names of the 15 countries experiencing this problem, and why they don't have a Norwegian embassy.

For the problem facing the national teams/players, a solution could be envisaged such as take/scan/send finger prints to get a provisional visa for travel and then take fingerprints at immigration control (passport control) to very against the sent fingerprints, but

1) It sets a precedent for travelling without proper verification, and legal and regulatory bodies are mindful of the implications of precedent, and

2) You wouldn't really want to be travelling to the Olympiad with the possibility that a member of, or the whole team, could be blocked from entry if somehow the matching system failed.

A better alternative would be to arrange for a local embassy to take responsibility for taking and verifying the biometric data on behalf of the Norwegian embassy, but the requirement it be in the host country's embassy (here, Norway) is likely to be stringent and inviolate under the rules. Again, precdence etc, but perhaps worth exploring if there is a Schengen embassy locally. I guess, though, they've already thought of that and explored it.
Decade Decade 7/11/2014 05:44
The reply is summarised as "Not my problem, deal with it yourself"
Moshe Rachmuth Moshe Rachmuth 7/11/2014 01:57
This is a scandal.
The organizers response is completely unsatisfying. They should be asked to finance the trips of the African players to the Norwegian embassies. I am sure if this is the case the organizers will find a creative solution.