The Tromsø Chess Olympiad, which is scheduled for the first two weeks of August, is having serious budget problems. 15 million kroner (1.8 million euros) are still missing, and according to Norwegian media the event might be cancelled. “We are with our back against the wall,” says Jøran Aulin-Jansson, the President of the Norwegian Chess Federation.
The headlines in the Norwegian media couldn't be less clear: “Chess Olympiad threatened to be cancelled,” (Aftenposten) “Threat to drop Olympiad,” (VG) “Chess Olympics may be canceled,” (Nordlys) “Chess Olympiad in Tromsø checkmated by the government” (TV2). The reason? A budget problem.
At the 2010 Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk, the Norwegian Chess Federation won the vote of the General Assembly and was given the rights to organize the 2014 Olympiad. Back then, the Norwegian government had demonstrated its support by pledging financial backing of 70 million Norwegian kroner (8,8 million euros). The total budget was planned to be almost double that amount.
However, initially the Norwegians didn't know that they also needed to stage the 2013 World Cup. “We first asked the government for support for the Olympiad as early as May 2009,” Børge Robertsen, CEO for the Olympiad told Chess.com. “But only later FIDE made the World Cup an obligatory part of the bidding procedure.”
The World Cup was held in Tromsø last year, and cost about 2 million euros. These 2 million form a problem now: this morning it became clear that a request for extra funding wasn't approved by the Norwegian government.
“We had applied for extra support for the World Cup, to get that refunded,” said Mr Robertsen. “But we just take into consideration that so far the government hasn't approved it.”
“We have sent an additional application to the government due to the fact that we have not overspent. Because we had to take the World Cup, and some other parts of the budget were not adjusted, we now need this, ” said Jøran Aulin-Jansson, the President of the Norwegian Chess Federation. “But they haven't approved it yet, so now we are with our back against the wall.”
Mr Robertsen: “We still need another 15 million Norwegian kroner to complete the budget. It is crucial that we get the money.”
The Norwegian government had already secured 75 million kroner (€ 9,2 million euros), 5 more than the original 70 million. Knut Olav Åmås, State Secretary in the Ministry of Culture, told VG that this was for the opening ceremony. He doesn't seem optimistic about extra funding: “Once you have received state support, you must adapt the event to the amount you have applied for and received. It is not appropriate to propose increased funding for the Chess Olympiad.”
The organizers have managed to attract a number of private sponsors (including KPMG), but there are extra costs as well. For example, there is an additional 5 million kroner spent on a travel fund that helps those federations who are in need of financial support in order to send teams to Tromsø.
A new decision by the Norwegian government might take place in early June. The chairman of the Olympiad's organizing committe, Hans Olav Karde, told VG that the economic situation is precarious. “Unless we get the 15 million it will be extremely difficult to implement this.”
The Chess Olympiad is a limited liability company in Norway with the municipality of Tromsø as the majority shareholder (90%). The Norwegian Chess Federation owns 10%.
FIDE couldn't give a clear statement yet about the situation. “We are planning to meet the organizers next week,” FIDE Executive Director Nigel Freeman told Chess.com. “That visit was already planned, but of course we will speak about the financial situation as well. We have to find out where the spending has gone. Until now we thought everything was going smoothly.”
As reported earlier, the Norwegian Chess Federation is still trying to find sponsors to get another huge event to Norway: the Anand-Carlsen rematch. Could this make it even more difficult to find funds for the Olympiad? Mr Robertsen doesn't think so.
“In general, the market for sponsorship is very hard, not only in Norway but all over Europe. Chess is a new developed sport, if we look at it in a commercial way. But chess is booming in Norway. While the match will mostly attract Indian and Norwegian fans, an Olympiad should be interesting on a global scale. But in general we experience that chess Olympiads have until now not been commercially developed. But there is a huge potential, which we aim to contribute to.”
Mr Aulin-Jansson agrees: “This doesn't bit each other, it builds each other. With chess being so popular in Norway, there should be enough sponsors to support both the Olympiad and a world title match.”
But at the moment it's still government sponsorship that can make or break the Olympiad.
Update May 15th, 13:00 CET: FIDE has now published on its website two letters to both the Chairman of the Organising Committee and the President of the Norwegian Chess Federation. The World Chess Federation expresses its “great concern” after receiving “many questions from Federations and the press.” Mr Freeman writes: “Please confirm to us on behalf of the Organising Committee that there is no chance that the Tromso Chess Olympiad will be cancelled. Federations, Delegates and Commission members are not going to buy their tickets unless we get such a confirmation. So we need to put an end to all this speculation.”
Update May 15th, 16:00 CET: Mr Aulin-Jansson responded to FIDE in VG saying: “FIDE claims we had not included charges in our bid, but we claim we did include them. It is the same as they had during the Olympics two years ago.”
Update May 15th, 15:00 CET: Chances that the Norwegian government will pay the extra 15 million kroner are slim. Minister of Culture Thorhild Widvey said in another VG article: “You can not just come and ask for more money because you have not been able to get it. The premise of this was clear when they applied.”