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Carlsen up for more prizes, but not all

UPDATED: Magnus Carlsen is now the reigning world champion in chess but that didn’t qualify him to be a candidate for Norway’s best male athlete of the year. As the debate goes on over whether chess is also sport, Carlsen is nominated for other prizes at Norway’s annual sports gala on January 4, but not the one many think he deserves the most.

New Chess World Champion Magnus Carlsen with all the symbols of his victory in India on Monday. PHOTO: Erlend Aas/NTB Scanpix
Magnus Carlsen won the World Chess Championship but doesn’t qualify for a nomination as Norway’s male athlete of the year. PHOTO: Erlend Aas/NTB Scanpix

That’s set off a flood of criticism against Norway’s national athletics federation, which won’t allow Carlsen to be nominated as the country’s top athlete. Garry Kasparov, the former chess world champion who has coached Carlsen in the past, told newspaper Aftenposten that he thinks Carlsen is a victim of “stupid prejudices” and that he definitely considers Carlsen to be Norway’s top athlete of the year.

Kasparov, in Oslo this week to campaign for the presidency of the international chess federation (FIDE) and meet with Norwegian officials about a school chess project, believes there’s “an element of opposition” within traditional sports in Norway, because they’re accustomed to securing the prize nominations. Kasparov thinks they instead should have done “what’s right,” and nominated Carlsen for the top prize. “If we had a prize for the best athlete in the world, I think he would have won,” Kasparov said, calling Carlsen “bigger than Norway’ with an important role in that extends far beyond Norway’s borders.

Chess is a recognized sport in 105 countries, according to Professor Matti Goksøyr of Norway’s top athletic college (Norges idrettshøgskole). It’s also been recognized as a sport by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), while FIDE claims that it deals with sport.

Several of Norway’s international sports stars, like golfer Suzann Pettersen and legendary alpine skier Kjetil André Aamodt, view Carlsen as “absolutely a top athlete,” and for years he’s received lots of votes for the annual athletes’ prize, Goksøyr wrote in a recent commentary in newspaper Aftenposten. Goksøyr also stresses that “athletics isn’t only about strength, speed and muscles. Athletics is muscle movement set into a conscious perspective.”

‘Not part of Norwegian athletics’
The sports bureaucrats running Norway’s national athletics federation (Norges Idrettsforbund), however, note that Norway’s chess federation (Norges Sjakkforbund) isn’t a member of the athletics federation, and therefore Carlsen and other chess players don’t qualify. Those arguing that Carlsen (who puts great emphasis on physical athletic exertion to stay in shape because “when I feel well I play well”) should have been a candidate for top athlete of the year, they argue, would first need to push through new rules for doling out the athletics federation’s prizes.

“Carlsen is not part of Norwegian athletics,” Tore Øvrebø, leader of the jury that handles the athletics prizes, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “He is a fantastic performer, and does something that borders on being sport, but for now he is not a part of Norwegian athletics.”

That position has infuriated many fans of Carlsen, and debate has been brisk on social media sites this week, with the athletics federation drawing harsh criticism. It remains undaunted. “The jury’s main principle is that we don’t discuss candidates, but the nominations speak for themselves,” stated a press release from the federation earlier this week. “They do this year as well, but since there’s been special focus on the (upcoming) sports gala and Magnus Carlsen’s presentation at the World Chess Championship, we made a small exception here.”

Consolation prizes
Carlsen has been nominated for the prize of Årets navn (The Name of the Year) and for the top prize in the Åpen klasse (Open class). He reportedly is pleased about those nominations and “understands that he can’t be nominated as male athlete of the year” in Norway, according to his manager Espen Agdestein.

And Carlsen, who’s been raking in lots of other honours lately, like being allowed to kick off a football match for his favourite professional club Real Madrid, will attend the athletics gala in January. “He thinks it’s nice to be nominated for the two prizes and also looks forward to dole out other prizes at the gala,” Agdestein told NRK.

The others nominated for male athlete of the year, by the way, include skiers Emil Hegle Svendsen, Petter Northug and Aksel Lund Svindal along with ski jumper Anders Bardal and snowboarder Torstein Horgmo. Berglund



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