Gukesh’s win has triggered a fair amount of corporate interest: AICF chief - Hindustan Times

Gukesh’s win has triggered a fair amount of corporate interest: AICF chief

May 10, 2024 06:30 PM IST

Helmed by entrepreneur-turned-administrator Nitin Narang, the federation recently rolled out an ambitious ₹65 crore action plan

These are heady times for Indian chess. A 17 year-old GM from the country is going to take a crack at becoming the youngest-ever world champion.

Nitin Narang
Nitin Narang

There’s a fresh set of office-bearers at the All India Chess Federation (AICF) helmed by entrepreneur-turned-administrator Nitin Narang. The federation recently rolled out an ambitious 65 crore action plan, announcing measures such as cash rewards and contracts for players and a national rating system. There’s also the prospect of hosting the Gukesh vs Ding Liren World Chess Championship in India later this year. Narang, spoke to Hindustan Times on the challenges, opportunities, and why he believes he can make a difference.

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First things first, where are we on the World Championship? Singapore has apparently expressed interest to host it as well…

We are still figuring out all aspects. Of course we are keen to host the match. But there many things to consider. The $8.5 million budget for one. I think it’s more of an estimated figure that Fide believes will be incurred in organising an event like this. A lot would depend on our efficiency if are to bring down costs. The bids close end of this month so we will have to decide soon.

Some great ideas in the recent AICF blueprint. However, the question of feasibility, execution and funds, arises..

As for funds, we already have four partners who will offer 5 crore per year for 5 years. I'm in advanced stage of talks for another 7 crores, which should be secured in the next few months. Funding shouldn’t be a challenge, as I see it.Gukesh’s win has triggered a fair amount of corporate interest. The onus is on us to bring more transparency and clarity in our processes, so that corporates feel comfortable and confident to give us money. Each one of the fundings that we are procuring is directly linked to utilisation under a particular head. We’re not building a corpus yet.

There are at least two, three initiatives in our action plan that will directly increase AICF’s revenue which we are not even accounting for at the moment. For instance, the national rating system. We expect numbers to go crazy once we have AICF rated tournaments. Also merging all registrations under ‘one nation one registration’ should see a jump in our revenue. We’re looking at them as bonus.

The real challenge will be execution. It’s why we plan to set up a management board. We will be hiring professionals to monitor and execute the plans.

What are the timelines for each action plan?

13 days against every action plan and I will have clarity on the rolling-out time. We should be able to have a functioning prototype of the AICF ratings within three months for instance. We will try to do the same of the rest. I'm working out timelines so that we have clarity on what will be achieved by when. Largely, 90% of the plan has to be rolled out in this financial year. Of course something like setting up a state-of-the-art National Chess Arena is a long-term plan.

What about the Super tournament…

We want to host a Super tournament this year. But we have a full calendar and if we are to bid and win the right to host the World Championship, then till early December it’s packed. So, it can only happen after that. But yes, it is a priority and it will be part of the 90% action plan that we want to roll out in this financial year. We also want to host a round robin tournament for our elite players. It’s necessary that our big names play here.

How do you plan to ensure that the ‘Chess in Schools’ program is effective…

Since education is a state subject, we would need government support to roll this out. I think largely the issue is with the curriculum. Though we have a theoretical curriculum ready, my focus will be to have the eLearning module ready in vernacular which will solve the problem of not having teachers on the ground and will democratise the ‘Chess in Schools’ program. It's a major challenge.

Cash rewards for top players and contracts for age-group players sounds promising...

We will be taking the annual average of the Fide ratings, and based on that the top 10 players will be rewarded between 12.5 lakhs (ranked 6-10) to 25 lakhs (ranked 1-5). We will be implementing it in the current financial year. To be eligible for the cash reward the top players will have to play at least one national and a minimum of 27 classical games. So just being on the top of the chart but not fulfilling the criterias won’t do. To have our top names playing in the country will generate lot more interest and entries. For the U-7 to U-19, the top three in each in boys and girls across seven categories so that’s 42 players, will be a given a two-year contract with a monthly remuneration.

There are lots of mid-level players who slip through the cracks because of lack of funds for coaching and travelling to tournaments…

So, we’re planning to have 20 online academies to address the coaching issue. These academies will focus on 320 players who need some sort of hand-holding. We plan to rope in top Indian GMS and aid will be given by the federation, so players don’t have to spend on coaching.

You mentioned training for coaches in your presentation…

Yes, we will be doing a ‘Train the trainers’ program for coaches as a regular exercise. When I was a student, my dad would go away for these short workshops on continued medical education. He’s a doctor. So that was my reference for coaches being trained.

The Indian Chess League has long been in limbo…

Chess League is definitely part of our plans. The priority though is to first lay the foundation right. Our focus is to strengthen grassroots level ecosystem with academies and and coaches, since that is where talent identification will happen. Then we need to implement the AICF ratings. These two are the top priority areas because they will directly impact the penetration of what we do. Chess League will be a step to be taken after all of this is implemented. A super priority right now would be to build a Corporate Championship because that I think, it’s going to increase the opportunity for our chess players to be employed. At the stage that they start thinking about their career, and leave the game, that is where the Corporate Chess Championship comes in. The Chess League will follow.

Some good plans outlined for Indian women in chess, what seems to be missing though is closed tournaments for women...

For now, we have five initiatives centred around women. Among them,not only do we have 33 per cent reservation in terms of granting women arbiters’ certification, but also deploying them in tournaments. We have increased the number of events under the ‘Smart Girl program’, from 10-12 events that used to happen with 50,000 support from the AICF to 50 events with a 1 lakh support. Closed tournaments for women sounds like a good idea. Let me see what can be done and if it can be rolled out this financial year, or maybe next year.

You spoke about incentivising chess content creators…

A game like chess needs to have a lot of aspiration, and branding around it. There are content creators like Samay Raina and many others running chess streams. We want to be able to rope them in. In the present age of social media, we need to make it more interesting for people to consume chess. The more we are able to do that, the more we'll be able to out to reach out to a larger number of people and also create monetization opportunities around broadcast rights and streaming rights. I run a communications firm and have close to 15 years of experience in content creation myself. So, I understand the space really well. So, I'm going to bring in whatever I've learned in terms of content creation and building an organisation around it. I hope to have a town hall with our chess content creators soon to try and understand their challenges and then work on a plan.

It’s still early days in office, what are your key challenges at this point

Sustainability of the AICF in terms of a financial model, is one of the top priorities and a major challenge. The coaching and academy ecosystem is another challenge. We have players but they’re not registered. The AICF rating system will make ensure that they're rated and so they become a part of the formal chess ecosystem. So that has to happen at district level academies. My focus will be to have more coaches and academies so that we’re able to capture the right talent,create a system where they’re given formal training and whosoever wants to opt for it, moves forward. I think that is one of the major loopholes. A lot of policy framework is missing, so we will be focusing on it. We want to build a robust policy framework and SOPs so that we are able to grow and build capacities within the institution.

You will see a very active federation. Over the last 40-45 days, we spoke to various stakeholders to get an idea of the ecosystem, understand the loopholes, look at the gaps and try to figure out a way to bridge them.

We are open to more ideas from people and we can try and incorporate them in the action plan as long as they're feasible and largely in sync with the plan being rolled out. As a new body we might have some teething troubles. We are trying to understand issues like players' grievances and how they're being attended to when they reach out to us. So, we want to make these changes to make sure everything is taken care of really well. We want to build a stable organisation that understands how to function on its own.

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