Bharat Singh Chauhan on how India got the Chess Olympiad

‘Tamil Nadu is rich historically and culturally and we shall take pride in showcasing it to our guests from over 180 nations.’

Timely: “Within 10 days of sending that first text message to the FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich , India became the host of the 44th Chess Olympiad,” says Bharat Singh Chauhan, Secretary of the All India Chess Federation.

Timely: “Within 10 days of sending that first text message to the FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich , India became the host of the 44th Chess Olympiad,” says Bharat Singh Chauhan, Secretary of the All India Chess Federation. | Photo Credit: B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

‘Tamil Nadu is rich historically and culturally and we shall take pride in showcasing it to our guests from over 180 nations.’

Today, as I look back, it appears like a fantasy that India could get the right to host the prestigious Chess Olympiad in a matter of days. It all began in late February when I sent a text message to the FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich to explore the possibility of India hosting an elite tournament. But how the response from Mr. Dvorkovich led to the Olympiad coming India’s way is not only a pleasant surprise but also a distant dream come true.

I remember, I was returning from Kanpur to Delhi by train after finalising the venue for the National championship. A thought ran through my mind that India had hosted many big events and we were now ready to hold something bigger. So, I texted Mr. Dvorkovich that India was keen on hosting any big event for FIDE. The response I received was, “Olympiad?”

I was surprised because till that point I was not aware that the Olympiad was taken away from Russia and FIDE was looking for a new host. I checked and came to know that Moscow was no longer going to be the venue due to Russia’s military offensive against Ukraine. I requested Mr. Dvorkovich for time till the following morning to respond. I was so excited that I didn’t want to lose the opportunity.

After all, India was aiming to bid for the 2026 edition but with so many European nations to contend with, it could be very difficult to win the bid. So, I said yes.

I made my first call to the Union Sports Minister Anurag Thakur and he, too, gave his approval to the idea. He was quick to remind me of the regulations, the paucity of time and, of course, the ongoing situation involving Russia and Ukraine. I then texted some of my friends from the industry and business houses. I knew the industry was not doing well but before 10 a.m. the following day, I had confirmation from a few sponsors and two governments — Tamil Nadu and Delhi.

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The officials of the Tamil Nadu Government suggested that I reach Chennai the same evening so that I could have a brief meeting with the Chief Minister Mr. M. K. Stalin the following morning. Trust me, the honourable Chief Minister did not take time to put his seal of approval. The letter of undertaking from the TN Government was issued to me by 4 p.m. the same day.

Since I had mentioned that our preferred venue was Mahabalipuram because of its seaside location, a team of TN officials accompanied me to check out the hotel facilities at the proposed site. The Mahabalipuram Collector was quick to block a couple of thousand rooms, across various categories, for the players and guests, estimated from over 180 countries. Once we submitted the details of our preparedness to the FIDE, we officially got the hosting rights.

In effect, within 10 days of sending that first text message to Mr. Dvorkovich, India became the host of the 44th Chess Olympiad.

Many people have asked me why Tamil Nadu was preferred over Delhi to play the host. Well, Tamil Nadu is the motherland of Indian chess.

Countdown begins: The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. K. Stalin unveils the hashtag for the Chess Olympiad. From left are V. Meyyanathan, Minister for Youth Welfare and Sports Development, M. Subramanian, Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Bharat Singh Chauhan, secretary, All India Chess Federation and Tournament Director, 44th Chess Olympiad, and Sanjay Kapoor, President, All India Chess Federation.

Countdown begins: The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. K. Stalin unveils the hashtag for the Chess Olympiad. From left are V. Meyyanathan, Minister for Youth Welfare and Sports Development, M. Subramanian, Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Bharat Singh Chauhan, secretary, All India Chess Federation and Tournament Director, 44th Chess Olympiad, and Sanjay Kapoor, President, All India Chess Federation. | Photo Credit: S. R. RAGHUNATHAN

Most Indian Grandmasters come from Tamil Nadu. Plus, historically and culturally, the State is rich and we shall take immense pride in showcasing it to our guests from over 180 nations. I chose Mahabalipuram because I wanted the players to enjoy the beachside locales, something not available in Delhi. It is a long event and the chosen location will have something for everyone.

Working with the TN Government and its officials has been a great experience. In my career, I have not seen a more efficient and positive bureaucracy. They are clear in their thoughts and quick to make decisions. So, whatever we discuss, it gets done with full support of the Government. Being from Delhi and deciding to hold it in Mahabalipuram was a challenge but the pros far outweigh the cons.

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Today, I am delighted to have so many reasons to support the decision to have it in this glorious State.

In the past four months, the Organising Committee and its dedicated members have relocated to Mahabalipuram and worked round the clock. The first-ever Chess Olympiad Torch Relay, with stops at 75 cities across the country, has played a significant part in spreading chess and Olympiad to many unexplored areas.

For now, all credit to the Tamil Nadu Government for ensuring that the scale of this edition of Olympiad surpasses anything the chess world has seen in nearly 100 years of this premier team championship.

We, at the AICF headed by Dr. Sanjay Kapoor, are committed to delivering the best Olympiad ever. We wish everyone associated with this Olympiad returns home with memories, and more.

Though I am looking forward to a memorable event, I now understand the magnitude of that text to Mr. Dvorkovich. It has proved to be the first step in bringing the Olympiad to India. May I add, that’s the reason why I think it was my best train journey till date.

As told to Rakesh Rao

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