Home / Lounge / Features /  Chess Olympiad: Players received no support while preparing, says India captain

Vidit Gujrathi, captain of the Indian team at the ongoing FIDE (The International Chess Federation) Online Olympiad 2020, has said the Indian government has been of little help in preparing for the world tournament. The Indian team, seeded seventh in the tournament, which began on 24 July and runs till 30 August, will be playing its first matches against Zimbabwe, Vietnam and Uzbekistan on Friday, 20 August.

“There’s no role of the government, sadly, in this preparation," said Gujrathi to Mint, adding that the players are training at their own expense. “We’re trying to help each other as much as we can. It’s sad to see as a professional player, playing for the country, even the training expenses aren’t taken care of... All preparation done here is based on the players’ own individual skill and finances."

10 days of intense training, says Gujrathi, costs €4,000-5,000 (around Rs3.5-4.4 lakh). “I invest all my earnings into coaching."

The chess Olympiad is a bienneal tournament that was scheduled to be played in Russia in August. Earlier this year, FIDE cancelled it citing the covid-19 pandemic. But in June, it announced that it will be hosting the event online.

The 10-member Indian team features several heavyweights, including former world champion Vishwanathan Anand, women’s chess world number two Koneru Humpy, grandmasters P Harikrishna and D Harika, and two junior world champions, Nihal Sarin and R Pragganananda. They will join players from 163 countries, most of whom will be playing from their homes.

The tournament’s online-only format has its set of challenges, said Gujrathi. If a player’s internet connection is interrupted, it might cost her the match. “The Chinese have been given a facility of playing from some university where the internet connection is very stable, so they don’t lose any game by default. That’s taken care of by their government or chess federation."

The Indian team, however, has been left to their own devices.

Bharat Singh Chauhan, secretary of the All India Chess Federation (AICF), India’s premier chess body, said that the federation could not help the players because the Olympiad was announced at a short notice. It is an aberration, he insists. “When we had the Olympiad in 2018, we had three coaching camps for men and women players. They were given accommodation in 5-star hotels, had a psychologist, yoga teacher also and also provided Indian food."

This year, given the pandemic, Chauhan says it wasn’t “feasible" for the team to travel and meet at one place for a training camp. “The situation in other countries is different. In China, things are okay, they can meet, they can do normal coaching camp. We can’t."

Varugeese Koshy, president of the Chess Players Forum, said that one of the reason for the unpreparedness is an internal rift in the AICF. Earlier this year, the federation split into two factions: one led by Chauhan, the other by president PR Venketrama Raja. According to news reports in April, the federation’s bank accounts have been frozen. The standoff, said Koshy, continues till date.

“The crisis is affecting the players," said Koshy. “The AICF should have done all those things: coaching, training and arrangements for the Olympiad. But it is not possible. We’ve appealed to FIDE and the Indian government to resolve matters but little progress has been made on it." Responding to Koshy's allegation, Chauhan said, “Bank accounts is an issue but not for the camps."

Despite these issues, Gujrathi says that he’s positive about India’s chances at the Olympiad. “I’ll focus on what is in my control. I’m in touch with the team. We have private talks, trainings and analysis. We’re working hard. I’m sure our skill will speak."

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