International Chess Olympiad promises a new chapter for the game in India
On Thursday, while Chennai grabbed all the eyeballs with the inaugural of the Chess Olympiad, the adjacent coastal town of Mamallapuram was ready for its tryst with the 64 squares promising to herald a new chapter for the game in India.
Mamallapuram, which is hosting the 44th International Chess Olympiad that starts on Friday, wore the black-and-white theme like Chennai, with its roads painted in the two colours and cutouts announcing the mega event.
According to the organisers and the International Chess Federation (FIDE), this may well be the beginning of a sea change in Indian chess with a long line-up of corporate sponsors joining hands, the proposed origin of a franchisee-model league and much-needed global attention.
The magnitude of expectation from the country and Tamil Nadu from the event is evident from the spending so far, which has exceeded Rs 100 crore — much higher than the Rs 75 crore reportedly targeted initially — around 25 per cent of which was contributed by corporate sponsors.
The mood of optimism was evident at the venue, Four Points by Sheraton Mahabalipuram Resort & Convention Center, and the stretch of East Coast Road connecting the town to the state capital. The scenic road is festooned on both sides with pictures of the mascot, Thambi the chess knight, and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the event on Thursday at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai; the first round of the Olympiad will kick off on Friday and the games will conclude on August 10.
Poonjeri village in Mamallapuram, whose monolithic monument complex is a UNESCO world heritage site, became the host of the Chess Olympiad by accident. The Olympiad was scheduled to take place in Russia, but owing to the Russia-Ukraine war FIDE decided to opt for a new venue. Its search ended in Poonjeri, located about 50 km from Chennai.
“The event was organised in a span of four months. We are going to see the largest number of teams. The next two weeks are going to be an exciting period for chess,” gushed Arkady Dvorkovich, FIDE president. With more than 2,200 participants from over 340 teams representing 187 countries, the 44th edition will be the largest-ever chess event.
All India Chess Federation (AICF) President Sanjay Kapoor told Business Standard that riding on the interest generated from the Olympiad, the federation will be launching its much-awaited franchise-based Indian Chess League by the end of this year. “This will be the biggest chess extravaganza that the country has seen. We are going to start a league by the end of this year,” Kapoor said. According to the initial plans, the league will be a six-franchise event with each team consisting of eight players.
Asked about the expenses for the Olympiad, AICF Secretary Bharat Singh Chauhan said, “We have spent over Rs 100 crore so far. In addition, there is a travel subsidy from FIDE for some countries.”
The state government and the Bharatiya Janata Party have also sparred over crediting themselves for organising the Olympiad for the first time in India. In a late development, some hoardings in Mamallapuram had the photo of Modi glued onto them separately.
Chauhan, however, thanked both the Centre and the state government for cooperating with the federation. “In terms of clearing the visas of several players and delegates, the team work was vital,” he added.
The state government has come out with health insurance cards in tie-up with United India Insurance for all the players. The card will cover up to Rs 2 lakh for treatment in 13 empanelled hospitals. In addition, the state government has also sanctioned Rs 92 crore for conducting the entire event.
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