Norway’s World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen was disappointed when he was told, right after tying another match at the Norway Chess tournament now underway in Stavanger, that he won’t be able to defend his title on home turf next year. Oslo has been dumped as a potential host city for the next World Chess Championship, with its arranger and the Norwegian government arguing over the reason why.
A war of words has broken out between the arranger of the World Chess Championships, Jersey-founded sports promotion firm Agon Limited, and Norway’s culture minister, Linda Hofstad Helleland. World Chess claims Helleland and the government failed to put up the necessary funding guarantee, while the government claims Agon and World Chess flunked Norway’s transparency rules.
“I think it’s sad,” Helleland said after Agon issued a press release reporting that Oslo was “out of the running” to host the event in 2018. “Like many other Norwegians, I would have liked to see Carlsen play here at home, but the demands we make for openness in how championships are granted weren’t met by the arranger. So we had to say ‘no’ to (offering any) financial support.”
Agon has a different version, claiming in its press release that it was “pleased” with the “professionalism and motivation of the Norwegian Chess Federation (NCF),” which had submitted the application to host the 2018 championship event in Oslo, “pending confirmation of funding from government sources.” Agon claimed that both it and the international chess federation (FIDE) supported NCF’s efforts to hold the match in Oslo “because it’s Carlsen’s home” and because chess is “one of the most popular sports in the country.” Agon noted that state broadcaster NRK’s coverage of last year’s championship in New York City attracted large viewership and “most importantly, we wanted hundreds of thousands of fans in Norway to be able to witness the historic event live.”
Agon went on to write that the necessary government support, however, “has not been committed on the level they (NCF) hoped, and organizing a sporting event of this magnitude without strong governmental support is impossible, as we estimated the budget to exceed EUR 4 million (nearly NOK 40 million).” The government was reportedly asked to guarantee at least NOK 18 million of that.
On Friday, Agon’s chief executive officer of the World Chess Championships, Ilya Merenzon, lashed out at Helleland, telling NRK that Helleland’s claims about a lack of openness in Agon’s application process were “misleading.” Merenzon told NRK that “it seems like the politicians are trying to find excuses. This is clearly very political in Norway, but for us it’s a show and business. I’m a bit disappointed that the culture minister would say such things.”
Merenzon said Helleland didn’t receive any list of requirements over how championships are granted because none exist. “We choose the host country that we like best,” he told NRK. “The factors are the money the host country can supply, the environment for sponsors, the media etc. There’s no detailed application process. It’s very simple.”
Helleland responded that Merenzon thus has a very different definition of openness than the Norwegian government has. “We have asked for what the criteria are, what the process involves from a time perspective and what’s required for a candidate city to succeed,” she told NRK. “We have not received an answer, and then it appears to be more like secret negotiations than an open and transparent process.”
She added that Merenzon’s claim that there are no set requirements for host cities explains “why Norway can’t be a part of this. It seems like a secret process over who puts the most money on the table.”
Carlsen, meanwhile, told Norway’s TV2 that it “would have meant a lot” to defend his third championship title in Norway. “I had absolutely hoped to be able to do that in Norway, it’s sad that it won’t happen,” Carlsen told TV2. “I can’t say anything other than that.”
Others weren’t so disappointed. NRK’s chess commentator Torstein Bae noted that Carlsen actually has performed better in tournaments abroad than he has in Norway. That was proving true again this week, after Carlsen failed to win and logged his third remis (tie) in a row, against US player Hikaru Nakamura at the Chess Norway tournament in Stavanger on Thursday. “Magnus has had some problems in tournaments at home, where the pressure and attention can be too much,” Bae said. “So in regards to defending his title here, I don’t think that’s any setback for Magnus.”