Usually, the hosting rights of a Chess Olympiad is given four years in advance. When Budapest bid to organise the 2024 edition, little did it know that it could well become a challenge of a different kind.
The way the All India Chess Federation (AICF), with whole hearted support from the Tamil Nadu government, organised the 43rd edition, it became clear to one and all that the next host would find it tough to match this effort.
Without doubt, despite the time constraint to put together an event of such a magnitude in around four months, the Tamil Nadu government raised the bar to such a high that Budapest could find it tough to come anywhere close to it.
The technical aspect of the organisation, of course, could get better but the overall staging scale seen in Chennai and the venue at Mahabalipuram will be hard to match.
The visiting players and officials from over 180 nations praised the organisation of the event. From the moment the teams landed at the airport, the immigration clearance, the seamless transfer to the hotel, the variety of food on the menu etc left the players in awe.
The ready-to-help health workers and facilities were readily in place. Hundreds from the security forces may have appeared to be very strict but that was the need of the hour. The volunteers, around 400 in number, handled more than what they were trained to do. Coming from across age-groups, these volunteers are considered the pillars of such mega events and these helping hands left nothing to chance.
The scale on which the Opening and Closing Ceremonies were mounted were clearly unprecedented. Despite the 90-minute travel from the hotels in Mahabalipuram to the Nehru Stadium in Chennai, those who attended these ceremonies found it was worth it.
Not surprisingly, the successful hosting of the event was not without its shares of glitches. After the Tamil Nadu government committed to spend over Rs. 100 crores for the event, somewhere along the way, the officers realised that they needed to take control of almost every aspect and left very little for the inexperienced office-bearers of the AICF.
Though it left AICF feeling a little stifled at times, eventually, the federation secretary Bharat Singh Chauhan acknowledged that the bureaucracy entrusted with the responsibility did a fabulous job. “I am very happy with the way the event turned out. I must congratulate honourable Chief Minister M. K. Stalin and his team of astute bureaucrats for the huge success of this event.”
Once the TN government tightened the purse-strings, the AICF found it tough to keep the promises made to the office-bearers from its affiliates, pertaining to the hospitality during the event. This clearly left AICF officials exasperated and many state officials noticeably unhappy.
“When you have an event of this magnitude, it is natural to have moments of disagreement and discontent. Barring a few people from both sides, I must reiterate that almost every person gave it all for the pride of the state and our nation. That’s why the result is loved by all our guests,” said Sanjay Kapoor, the AICF president.
The World Chess Federation (FIDE) was pleased with the arrangements not only for the Olympiad but also its Congress that saw elections of the office-bearers for a four-year term.
A lot of credit is due to the presence of former FIDE CEO Geoffrey Borg who came down from Dubai to help AICF and TN officials meet the challenges of hosting this event.
The man behind the last couple of Olympiads, besides several FIDE events over 12 years, Borg worked tirelessly once he realised the AICF was behind schedule. Once the TN bureaucracy saw the value that Borg was bringing to the table, they dealt directly with him.
Within a day of the start, it was clear that TN officials had taken over the logistics of the venue. This was triggered off after the crowd management left a lot to be desired on the first day. Thereafter, things improved noticeably and eventually, each one across various points at the venue, understood what was expected from him/her.
Another standout feature was the way the staff of the venue for the event worked round the clock to ensure the success of this mega event. Overall, the conduct of the event, at all levels, including the much-awaited Bermuda Party, was top class.
Levon Aronian, who represented USA in this edition after being part of his home country Armenia in the previous edition, was asked midway through the event what was preventing USA from performing to its best.
Aronian’s apt response was, “You know the event is so well organised that sometimes it’s just that you get to relax. I mean, we swim every day, we have wonderful food, and the rooms are wonderful, so this is the problem when the event is organised too well.”
He could not have put it any better.