Friday, 13 June 2008

What are you willing to pay? (World Championship Edition)

A number of years ago GM Raymond Keene was asked whether he had played for the World Championship. "Yes" replied Raymondo, in his Times chess column, "I played in a Zonal in 1976". For this reply he was mocked by many, including (IIRC) the chess magazine King Pin. However this mocking may have been quite unfair.
While having a chat with Oceania Zonal President Gary Bekker, he alerted me to the fact that FIDE charge a $150USD fee per World Championship participant ($100USD for the Women's Championship). I found this quite astonishing, but sure enough, in the FIDE Handbook under A.03.7.1 a list of fees is set out for participation in various FIDE events. This isn't just for the players that reach the final, but for every player who enters the World Championship cycle (starting with the Zonal).
So basically, if you enter the Oceania Zonal (or any Zonal) the first $150USD of your entry fee isn't even going to the organisers (although the host federation gets 20% of this). At first blush this seems terribly unfair on the players (and organisers) but I did some thinking (as I occasionally do).
Maybe it is fair, but only if you treat the Zonal as part of an important component in the path to deciding who the World Champion is. That is, the Zonal isn't just another tournament with prizes and in this case, titles, but is for players who are seriously aiming to at least make the next stage of the cycle (or beyond). Now this may seem elitist, and indeed make it very hard for anyone to organise a non-sponsored Zonal, but maybe this is the rationale behind FIDE's thinking.
Of course the cynical explanation is that FIDE see it as a way of generating extra revenue, and I certainly see that this may also be the case, but I keep coming back to who is being exploited here? The Zonal players by FIDE (by making them pay extra), FIDE by the players (I'm playing in your WC cycle even though I have no serious chance of progressing further), or simply they have both moved to a middle ground where players want a chance to earn titles through Zonals, and FIDE simply make them pay for the privilege.

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