GM Joel on an American Olympiad
By GM Joel Benjamin   
February 24, 2009

After following my first Olympiad, I noticed that the U.S. has not hosted an Olympiad, ever.  Do you know how close the U.S. has been to hosting an Olympiad?  Does the USCF have any plans on bidding for a future Olympiad? 

Tony W.


Hosting an Olympiad can indeed be a great source of pride for a chess community.  On top of the prestige, the host country gets to field a second and possibly third team as well.  So several American players would get the opportunity to compete in the greatest tournament in the world.

There are, unfortunately, a few obstacles an American bid would have to overcome.  A U.S. city could probably provide a sufficiently large playing hall; there is no shortage of convention centers here.  Providing heaps of low-cost housing and food for the players is a much greater challenge.  Olympiads virtually take over the host cities, towns, and resort areas.  It is quite a logistical undertaking.  Traditionally, the host country has to provide free room and board for the players and captains (three double rooms for both men and women).  There has been discussion that in future tournaments each country could become responsible for its own accommodations.  That would ease the burden on the host, but could lead to substantially smaller participation.

Anything is possible if the right corporate sponsorship could be found.  Chess may not be so attractive to companies, but any kind of Olympics brings a fair bit of appeal.  In 2006, Turin used the Olympic village from the “real” Olympics to house the players.  Though most of the amenities the athletes enjoyed had been removed form the dorms, the conditions were still quite acceptable.  Chess could potentially piggyback onto an American host of the Summer or Winter Olympics.

The U.S. also faces a political problem.  FIDE is the largest sports organization after FIFA, the world soccer federation.  Many of the participating countries, to quote John McCain, “don’t like us very much.”  Any foreigner who has ever visited the U.S. knows how suspicious Homeland Security is.  Many players, perhaps whole teams in some cases, could face difficulties obtaining visas.  Some kind of official governmental arrangement could definitely help the process, both in getting a bid accepted and making the Olympiad successful.

I won’t say an Olympiad in the U.S. is impossible, but it seems like a long shot.  I think a smaller, more localized FIDE event might be more attainable.  Something like a Pan-American Youth Championship might be a good place to start—I think that is something we might very well see within the next few years.