Dispute solved… all teams on for ’14 Olympiad

2014 Chess Olympiad (Tromso, Norway)

The organizing committee for the 2014 Chess Olympiad (COT2014) has declared that all teams will be allowed to play in the biennial event. This comes after a contentious battle between the world body (FIDE) and the COT2014. The issue arose when the COT2014 stated that no team registering after the June 1st deadline would be allowed to play.

The situation became acute when this list included the Russian women who stand as the defending champions. The other federations were: Cambodia, Central African Republic, Gabon, Cote d’Ivoire, Oman, Pakistan and Senegal and Afghanistan (women). The Russian Chess Federation (RCF) registered the team a month later after getting a resolution on the transfer of GM Kateryna Lagno (from Ukraine to Russia).

What ensued was a war of words with FIDE stating that the deadline offered no punitive measure other than the 100 euro fine for each player. The RCF also pointed to the invoice showing payment on July 7th for both teams although the Lagno case was not resolved until July 11th. Thus, only the men’s full team was registered.

Ilyumzhinov issued an ultimatum to allow the teams and while the dispute is now settled, the COT2014 still disagrees with his professed authority over all decisions concerning the Olympiad. These issues will certainly be discussed at the General Assembly. Photo by chess-news.ru.

In addition, the RCF pointed out that given the financial difficulties of the COT2014, they were unsure the Olympiad would be held. Thus, they did not feel the June 1st deadline was still valid. This is a rather dubious assertion given the actual reason the RCF delayed their process (Lagno’s transfer).

COT2014 contends that they received confirmation (via e-mail) of the deadline from Israel Gelfer on whether teams failing to meet the deadline would not be allowed to play. When it was discovered that the defending champions were one of the teams, FIDE apparently backtracked and Gelfer demanded that the team be reinstated.

The FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov injected that via the Olympiad regulation 6.1, he alone could decide who will play or not play. This interpretation raises several questions especially during an election year. FIDE also offered that Garry Kasparov must have been behind the omissions. Kasparov has denied any complicity in the initial decisions of COT2014.

After being delivered an ultimatum of reinstatement by FIDE, COT2014 deliberated and decided to admit all teams, but maintained that they were misled by FIDE and did not agree that the FIDE President could make such an arbitrary decision. Thus, the COT2014 is allowing the late teams for the goodness of the players, federations and for chess.

This case begs the question… if Russia was not among the listed teams, would the same uproar have been created for these federations? Would this have been handled the same way? Let us hope so. Smaller nations always have to fight so hard for minimum attention to their concerns on issues such as registrations, federation dues and visas.

A precedent has now been set and the FIDE President has overreaching powers on who participate and who doesn’t (regardless of the circumstances). This is either a loose interpretation or a reckless execution of the powers of the FIDE President. Again… being an incumbent during election year, such powers could easily be abused by current or future FIDE Presidents.

The Norwegian Olympiad committee should be commended for handling this with grace and diplomacy and seeks further “constructive dialogue” on this question. Below is the letter:

Dear Mr. President,

We acknowledge the receipt of your letter stipulating a set deadline for response.

During a Board meeting yesterday evening, COT2014 discussed the recent developments and reached the following decisions:

1. During the entire planning of the event in Tromsø, COT2014 has worked on the assumption that FIDE accepted that the registration deadline for participants was June 1, 2014. As soon as COT2014 became aware that there could be various interpretations of the regulations, we sought support for our interpretation that teams
that registered after this date could not participate, in a specific enquiry to FIDE Chief Inspector and Vice President Israel Gelfer, who confirmed this by e-mail on June 5, 2014.

2. COT2014 stands by its interpretation of the regulations and therefore does not agree that the FIDE president can use Section 6.1 of the Olympic Regulations.

3. However, COT2014 takes a positive attitude to the FIDE President’s request out of consideration for the players, federations and good sportsmanship. Consequently, COT2014 accepts that the federations that have not registered teams by the deadline of June 1, 2014, are hereby permitted to register their respective teams, as they would have been on June 1.

4. COT2014 will seek in negotiations with FIDE to find a solution to deal with the increased costs incurred by COT2014 as a consequence of this decision.

5. COT2014 will do its utmost to solve the logistical challenges, and will seek FIDE approval regarding the accommodation arrangements for the teams for which this decision applies. In addition to the above five points, the Board notes with satisfaction your statement in a recent interview that the Chess Olympiad will not be moved from Tromsø. This strong statement gives you credit and COT2014 hopes for a positive and constructive dialogue with FIDE up to and during the Chess Olympiad and with no further legal threats.

Tromsø 21.7.2014

Kind regards,

Hans Olav Karde
Chairman of Board COT2014

Børge Robertsen

Letter from COT2014 (PDF)



  1. I don’t see any grace and dignity on the Tromso side. The exclusion was wrong for many reasons, and 6.1 clearly allows any FIDE President to make any such clarifying decision. The organizers thought they could bully and embarrass FIDE, and wrote their initial letter using silly amateur legal jargon. Faced with serious legal challenge, they folded like cheap paper underwear.

    1. Vlad,

      Thanks for comments.

      I agree with the decision in principle. However, if the President has those overarching powers, what stops any abuse?? There are apparently no checks in place to prevent abuse. Then FIDE injects politics into the matter. Ilyumzhinov puts on a t-shirt with names of disqualified nations… that was pure vote-mongering. In addition, a precedent has been set. Under what conditions will any nation ever have to follow rules if the President can override any decision?

      I believe they did the right thing, but if a FIDE official (Gelfer) confirmed the COT2014 that all teams not meeting the June 1st deadline are disqualified, how can you be criticized?? It makes Gelfer disingenuous for not admitting his mistake and blaming a political conspiracy. I doubt if anything would have been done had Russia not been in the list.

      In 2008, I saw nations on the verge of being banned in previous Olympiad for arrears. I’ve seen accommodations cancelled because of this… after federations had worked hard to get flight arrangements and such. There was no huge outcry or public appeal from the FIDE President, but of course it was not an election year and elite chess nations were not involved. There are several cases, but 2008 Olympiad was the worst.


      Norway could have been less graceful and diplomatic and held their position. If Norway would have held fast, what could FIDE have done? Arrest the organizers? Cancel the Olympiad? Move it to Sochi with a week left? All disasters. Norway’s COT2014 did the right thing… we are all fortunate they didn’t hold.

      1. My guess is that the Norwegians were amply “compensated” by some of that hot Russian money sloshing around. Even though the Norwegians are the wealthiest Western state, their Chess Federation is not that flush with funds–and they discovered that holding a Chess Olympiad in Tromso is a good way to lose money.

        What I don’t understand is that Kirsan built his Chess City in Kalmykia–why isn’t every Olympiad held in Elista?

        1. “4. COT2014 will seek in negotiations with FIDE to find a solution to deal with the increased costs incurred by COT2014 as a consequence of this decision.”

          My guess is that the deal amounts to a bail-out of the Olympiad. The Norwegian organizers balked not due to grand principles (any principled federation would have declined to do business with FIDE/Kirsan), but simply due to financial pressures. First, they collect from the Russian Chess Federation the fees for BOTH Men’s and Women’s teams, and then they try to exclude the Women’s team on a technicality. Now they seek (and will get) compensation. It looks liked they used whatever leverage they could find to strike a better deal.

          For all that, I doubt that the Russian Women’s team will cohere and perform well. Few players can thrive under the increased scrutiny that comes with scandal and controversy.

          I can well excuse Lahno for wanting to change Chess Federations, but the way that she did so was rather unseemly. Certainly not a “Decent Interval”, nor does the transfer adhere to FIDE’s own regulations. (Not that FIDE regulations mean anything–they are flouted, ignored, or revised on a whim, just as soon as they become inconvenient for the major stakeholders.

          I expect Lahno to have a poor event, and that the Russian Chess Team will not profit from its cynical actions.

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