The World Chess Federation (FIDE) is stil looking for a host city to organize the second world title match between Viswanathan Anand and Magnus Carlsen. The match is scheduled for November 2014, but on the deadline of April 30th, 2014 FIDE had not received any bids.
It's a disturbing and perhaps unique situation for the chess world, at least in the past few decades: there are no bidders for the next World Championship. One week ago a brief note was posted on the FIDE website about the Anand-Carlsen rematch:
FIDE has not received any bid by the deadline of 13.00 GMT of April 30th, 2014.
A further announcement will be made by FIDE in due course.
Mid-March FIDE had extended the deadline by a month and a half. Back then FIDE Executive Director Nigel Freeman told Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet:
“There are probably many who wait and see how the Candidates’ Tournament goes, and if one of their players will play the World Championship match.”
In the mean time Viswanathan Anand has won the Candidates’ Tournament convincingly but now, in early May (and six months before the match should start!), the situation hasn't changed.
This can hardly be the fault of the players, or chess itself. Mr Freeman made a somewhat controversial statement when he said in March (in the same Dagbladet article):
“If we have not received any bids within the new deadline either, we just have to recognize that the product is not marketable enough.”
Update: After seeing this article Mr Freeman told Chess.com: “I believe my comment was that the match was not marketable enough with such a prize fund, obviously it is marketable.” Note that the bidding rules do not require a minimum prize fund, but the fund of the previous match in Chennai is mentioned: 1,850,000 Euros.
Update 2: The Rules & Regulations in the FIDE Handbook (in PDF here) do speak of a minimum prize fund: “13.1 The prize fund of the match, provided by the organizer, should be a minimum of 1,000,000 (one million) euros, net of any applicable taxes.”
With a World Champion who models for G-Star, from a country where TV stations are fighting for the rights to broadcast his tournaments, and with an Indian challenger who is one of the most successful sports stars from his country, it's hard to believe Mr Freeman.
Espen Agdestein, manager of World Champion Magnus Carlsen, said that he is “not surprised” that there are no bidders yet. He told Chess.com:
“In my opinion the reason is twofold. The first is time frame that FIDE operates with, which has has been extremely short, so it has been very difficult for potential organizers to organize a bid.
Second, we know from the last match that the global interest is huge, but the commercial concept of a WC match has not been systematically developed. I think FIDE needs a new approach to selling the match. You need to look to other sports and how they commercialize big global events. The chess match is defined, but the package around and how to present it is not.”
Aruna Anand, wife and manager of Challenger Viswanathan Anand, also gave a statement to Chess.com:
“As soon as Vishy won the Candidates, FIDE has been in touch with us and updated us on the bids. In the past a bid had always been confirmed along with the match announcement. FIDE will revert back to us after their world championship committee reviews the situation and decides on plausible bidders.
For us personally, we are looking forward to the match. Winning the Candidates was definitely a morale booster for Vishy and he will soon start his preparations for the match. When and where should get cleared up soon.”
Only a year after the match in Chennai, a new bid from India seems unlikely. And although the popularity of chess is rising fast in the country of Carlsen, a Norwegian bid might be complicated because two major events are already scheduled for 2014: the Norway Chess tournament in June and the Olympiad in August.
Nonetheless, as Norwegian newspaper VG reported last week, the federation has made some attempts to try to get the match to Oslo. According to VG, they worked together with an events company and a communications agency, and intended to go with a budget of 40 million Norwegian Krone (4.85 million Euro / 6.76 million dollar). Without any bids so far, the Norwegians might have some extra time to attract commercial sponsorship?
“FIDE is currently examining all possible solutions, including (another) extension of the deadline or direct negotiations with organizers of the contesting duo,” Mr Freeman told The Times of India last week. “It is a situation which has occurred in the past with other World Championship events and were positively resolved.”
FIDE's optimisim might sound surprising to some, since the World Championship is not the only official event that is lacking sponsors. The FIDE Grand Prix Series is also in serious danger. Whereas the first two Series were held over six events, FIDE was forced to shrink the third Series to only four tournaments. Meanwhile, the first tournament, scheduled for May 2014, has been quietly removed from the FIDE Calendar.
Garry Kasparov, the Challenger of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov at the upcoming FIDE Presidential elections, once again used social media to blame his opponent. On Facebook Mr Kasparov wrote:
“A young charismatic world champion in Magnus Carlsen and a popular veteran from India , Anand, looking for revenge, but no bids to host this match at all! What a shame. Chess does not have a "product problem." It has a Kirsan's FIDE problem! Chess is popular at the grassroots level and in education and has a great reputation with politicians and businesses, that is, with potential sponsors. And these sponsors are eager to support chess when approached by professionals. The common denominator of the problem is today's FIDE, which has none of the transparency and long-term planning required to deal with serious commercial sponsorship.”
The published dates for the 2014 World Championship match are 6-25 November. With exactly six months to go, the World Chess Federation is getting into time trouble.