They say there’s no money in chess and the majority of players who aren’t in the Top 100 live almost below the poverty line – from tournament success to success. But if you look at how they, or rather their federations, spend money left, right and centre once every two years when they attend the Chess Olympiad, you can’t help but stop to think about the validity of that thesis. Is it all so bad?!
by Evgeny Atarov
They might object: but what can you do if at the Tournament of Nations in, for instance, Istanbul, you have to pay for every sneeze? The answer’s very simple – if you don’t like it, don’t play! The Olympiad is a voluntary affair. Demand does, after all, create supply, and if the chess federations of the majority of countries weren’t so accommodating perhaps the organisers would restrain their appetites. For them, after all, whether you like it or not, the Olympiad is a commercial undertaking from which they need, above all, to earn money…
By the way, there’s nothing wrong with the desire to earn money. That’s what happens in all sports: in football, tennis or Formula 1. There’s just a single, but quite significant difference – in all of those sports they earn from the viewers and those who are willing to invest in advertising i.e. sponsors. In chess, meanwhile, they earn exclusively from the participants and those accompanying them. This “system” was first tried out on children, then it migrated to the European Championship, and now it’s found its way to the Olympiads.
No, I’m not saying tea and sandwiches were ever offered for free before either, but… people were somehow coy about it, as if they were thinking, “you have to strain your minds thinking about moves, while here we are trying to sell you things.” The smaller the event, the greater the coyness; and, correspondingly, the bigger the event the less coy. You can’t feel coy about everyone. The conveyor belt exists to cater for them and not empathise. Everything’s clear and simple, and subject to the slogan: “No money – no honey!” If you want to live and eat well you have to pay for it. As for “Gens Una Sumus” – there’s a variety of children in the family.
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I have to say that in itself I really like the organisation of the Istanbul Olympiad. Everything’s clear, concrete and everyone knows their task and responsibility. There’s not even a hint of Eastern slackness. At every door where a guard’s supposed to stand a guard will be standing there. It’s the same for every stand or counter, and in general wherever there should be an employee or a volunteer you can be sure you’ll find one. And… that’s all despite the fact that the majority of them seem to be working at the Olympiad purely “for the idea”, getting paid nothing or almost nothing for their work.
There are brightly lit, spacious halls, which are well-decorated and have nothing for your eye to “stumble” on, no false touches. Anyone can glance into the chess museum with unique sets or into the shop with a huge variety of literature. There’s a cosy café with a veranda, and simply places to relax. A huge part of the pavilion has been taken over by the press centre, there’s a room with live commentary and a room for press conferences… The playing hall is also elegantly decorated and the main thing is that you could still fit another couple of hundred players. Tables, chairs, lighting, electronic boards for all the teams without exception, from the leaders right down to the absolute outsiders.
Everything’s simply wonderful! But… wherever you go at the Istanbul Olympiad, whatever you do, you constantly have to pay or come to terms with various explicit or indirect inconveniences if you’ve firmly decided not to spend too much.
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However, we have to go back a bit. To the accommodation. For the first few days of the tournament that was the main topic of conversation… What was it that the players and captains didn’t like there?
So then, according to the official regulations the organisers were supposed to provide every team taking part with six places in an official hotel: five for the players and one for the captain. According to the unspoken rules, that would be according to the system “2+2” – two single rooms (usually for the coach and the team leader) and two double rooms.
If those conditions didn’t suit the teams in any way they could independently negotiate with the hotels – pay a supplement (as a rule, a small one) and move.
In Istanbul the organisers went to the effort of making that process as simple as possible, but… for some reason instead of the approved “2+2” they offered the option “0+3”, and in order to exchange the double room for a single room they set the fee at €100. A day.
So a standard team of six people, each of whom wanted to live in a single room, would have to pay an additional €600 a day. For the two weeks over which the Olympiad runs (despite the 11 playing days), that corresponds to €8,400. And that’s not counting the additional places required for officials and other members of the delegations. Here you have to fork out a full €250 for a room in the WOW Hotel “HQ”, although according to the assessment of those living there the hotel is rather average, and in no aspect does it stretch to more than three stars.
How much WOW, located almost 20 km from the centre of Istanbul with all its minarets and the bridge between Europe and Asia, usually costs is something no-one knows. In the other hotels offered for accommodation the price/quality ratio isn’t great either… You can imagine how much the participants in the 40th Olympiad have paid for rooms if you consider there are 158 men’s and 131 women’s teams.
And that’s only for the room. Lunches, dinners, getting about? Just take the banal airport transfer. Those who thought to go up to the Olympiad counter were taken to WOW for free. The others, and strangely enough that was the majority, had to pay something like €100. The road from the airport to the hotel is two metro stops…
Ok, you’ve arrived and settled in. €100 for accreditation, please. From everyone. For what? What do you mean for what – for accreditation! But still, for what ex-act-ly? For ac-cre-di-ta-tion!!
Well, you know… when “Customs” take a bribe from players and arbiters (from their federations, again) you can somehow understand it. But when the organisers demand €100 from journalists for the right to promote the Olympiad around the whole world something just doesn’t click i.e. the very fact that for a piece of cardboard around your neck you have to pay simply doesn’t fit in my head. It’s already twenty years now that I’ve been travelling around different countries and events, and all the organisers push different demands for accreditation: based on the length of time, the number of people from the publication and so on, but no-one has yet adopted the idea of… selling journalists “the right to work”.
Besides, the point where it’s mentioned that you need to pay this €100 is so deeply buried in the list of “regulations” that it’s impossible to find. Or if you find it, to interpret:
Each person who is registered for Olympiad in any duty will pay 100,00 Euro organization fee (including accommodating people) consists of accreditation, transportation, organization. Except officials and principals described in Olympiad regulations. Now there’s a regulation for you...
Frankly, I was so outraged that I “held out” a day and didn’t pay. It was only half an hour before the clocks were started for the first games, when it became clear that there was no means of getting into the playing hall without that accreditation, that I gave in and “bought it”.
At the previous Chess Olympiads they gifted accredited journalists some little souvenirs, and in Dresden they say there was also the right to travel for free on public transport. At the Istanbul Olympiad the accreditation gives you the right to stay in the press centre, to enter the playing hall for 10 minutes and to reserve yourself a place in the spectator area, from which, however, the playing hall is perfectly visible.
The press centre has wired internet (with a limited number of connections) and a few Wi-Fi channels which work so badly that no-one recalls their existence, preferring to use “old-fashioned” methods… In the corner of the hall is a coffee machine, a kettle and a water tank with a pump, with a waiter on duty.
But that’s enough about journalists – what about the players and spectators? At their disposal are two cafes. One is public, while the other is isolated next to the playing hall. Both of them have tea (€1.1), coffee (€2.2), rolls (€2.2), sandwiches (€3) and other snacks. There’s also water: a bottle costs 1 lira.
How much does an average chess play drink and eat in a four-hour game, in a hot climate? It’s impossible to calculate. Just like the difference in the cost of a bottle of still water (in the city it ranges from 40 kurus - €0.2 to 2.5 lira - €1). How many times does the captain of each team go to the bar over the course of a match? It can’t be counted. The hoarders (and the economic!) bring water and fruit with them…
Let’s keep going. It’s not entirely clear why the organisers have set up scanning equipment at the entrance to the playing hall. Apart from the contents of women’s handbags it essentially doesn’t show anything. The use of airport metal detectors also provokes questions, but they make it possible to discover the presence of telephones, which the Turkish Chess Federation consider the main evil and strongly prohibits from being carried with you into the hall. It makes no difference if you use the telephone or not.
If you were caught with a “transmitter” there’s only one option – to hand it in at the cloakroom. And then it begins. The procedure isn’t free! One lira, something like 44 euro cents. But for what?! At the Anand – Gelfand match they also took away mobile phones and there was also a cloakroom, but it didn’t enter anyone’s head to take money for it.
But well done to the Turks, they thought about it. Does your phone need charging? They can help you – any device can also be charged there. But… for two liras!
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At some point in the middle of the day piles of bulletins about the previous day at the Olympiad appear on the counters at the entrance to the hall. To be honest, they don’t look very presentable: there’s a bright cover, but the content is too pale. The information you’ll find there can be found, for instance, on the official website, and the games are printed off from ChessBase. You don’t get transcripts of the press conferences, or photographs, or anything of interest. It’s also unbound and on paper that’s not particularly pleasant to hold in your hands. People come up, thumb through it and move on. True, sometimes the team captains come up to the counters and take a few copies for preparation. For free? Don’t be ridiculous - €5 a copy. As far as I recall you didn’t have to pay for the bulletins either in Elista or Khanty-Mansiysk, although in those cases it wasn’t a fig leaf but a proper daily magazine.
Honestly: however much you want to calculate the “statements of expenditure” of the team captains at the 40th Chess Olympiad in Istanbul, and therefore the direct contribution of the countries’ chess federations, it’s simply impossible! You pay here and there, and in places where it would never have entered your head that you would need to part with money.
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But for the majority of federations whose teams are hoping for medals the main item of expenditure is unlikely to be the additional charges, although the size of those can raise eyebrows, but the players’ fees… The size of those is most often kept a strict secret, and we’ll never know how much is spent on any particular team.
We're not talking about an expensive cup of coffee during a crucial game!
And you say there’s no money in chess? There’s money, and a lot of it… You simply need to be able to siphon it off – from your country’s sports committee, sponsors and private investors. Well, and whose pockets the money will later line – that’s a topic for a separate discussion.
Earlier WhyChess coverage of the 2012 Olympiad:
Lessons of Turkish economics, or where to spend money?