India has won the bid to host the 2022 Chess Olympiad in July-August this year, in Chennai. It will be the first big-ticket chess event to be held in the country since the 2013 World Championship match between Viswanathan Anand and Magnus Carlsen.
Here's the lowdown on how India stepped in as last-minute hosts and what it means:
What is the Olympiad?
Held every two years, the Olympiad sees the fiercely individual sport of chess shift shape into a team event, where over 190 nations compete for bragging rights. Each team comprises five players and India's best showing in an over-the-board Olympiad was a bronze in the 2014 edition. After the pandemic broke out, the 1st Online Olympiad was held in 2020 and India jointly won it with Russia. In its second edition, India tied for third place with China. India has never hosted the Olympiad before.
How did it happen?
Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine last month, chess governing body FIDE (International Chess Federation) stripped the country of all its hosting rights. It included the Chess Olympiad, which was scheduled to be held in Moscow between July 26 and August 8 this year.
Once news of events looking for new hosts broke, All India Chess Federation (AICF) secretary-general, Bharat Singh Chauhan, texted FIDE president, Arkady Dvorkovich, on February 25, informing him that India was open to host events. The president replied, asking whether India would be interested in putting together the Olympiad. It was terribly short notice. "I said yes right away and told myself I'll figure out the details later," says Chauhan.
Initially, Delhi and Gujarat too were in the mix as prospective venues. On March 1, Chauhan, together with Indian team coach, Srinath Narayanan, met Tamil Nadu chief minister MK Stalin to seek support. "He just heard the brief and in less than five minutes said yes. He offered us a $10 million dollar assurance to conduct the Olympiad and five IAS officers accompanied us for a recce of venues. Within five days of pitching our interest, we had a solid plan in place."
Thank you sir for making Chennai all about chess ! A proud moment for all of Indian and Chennai chess community. Chennai Chess ... always has a nice ring to it. The efforts of @aicfchess and @FIDE_chess in working together so swiftly is to be commended. https://t.co/UB6jIfKW5T
- Viswanathan Anand (@vishy64theking) March 15, 2022
What are the arrangements planned?
AICF has already submitted a detailed plan to FIDE on the logistics of the event and booked the playing venue - Four Points by Sheraton - along with 3000 rooms for participants, arbiters and other staff. There are going to be ambulances on standby at the venue and players' hotels. Further, keeping in mind the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the Indian federation will be linking medical data of all players to their accreditation - to make cases of any emergencies hassle free.
What does this mean for India?
It's no doubt a shot in the arm for Indian chess which is already on an upswing. A major over-the-board tournament brings with it eyeballs and sponsor interest in the sport. The spike in Indian GM numbers and the sport's overall improved visibility and growth during the pandemic have created a push in private players too willing to test the waters.
Chauhan says AICF is fielding a couple of sponsorship offers from private firms for the Olympiad. For players, particularly junior and upcoming names, experiencing a major chess tournament in person, can be an indelible experience.
Rallying behind AICF's Olympiad bid, five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand too had written a note of support to Fide. Given Chennai's status as India's chess capital, the Olympiad couldn't have asked for a more fitting home this year.