Singapore edged past the two Indian cities of Chennai and New Delhi to win the hosting rights for the World Chess Championship, which will see 18-year-old Gukesh take on world champion Ding Liren in a bid to become the youngest world champion in history.

While the Chennai bid was backed by the Tamil Nadu state government, the central government had thrown its weight behind New Delhi to host the landmark event.

Neutrality was a major factor for Singapore being awarded the bid, FIDE CEO Emil Sutovsky told The Indian Express in an interview after the global governing body of the sport revealed its decision on Monday. If the event was hosted by either New Delhi or Chennai, which is Gukesh’s hometown, it would favor the Indian teen, who became the youngest ever player in history to qualify for the World Chess Championship.

โ€œNeutrality was very much a factor (in deciding which city should get the hosting rights for the World Championship). But one does not win a bid just by being neutral. Singapore also had a very strong bid in many respects,โ€ Sutovsky told The Indian Express. “A neutral venue is by far the main criteria when bids (from competing cities) are comparable.”

Among the things that each city had to mention in their bid was how the broadcast revenues and other commercial revenues would be split with FIDE, where the event would be hosted, who was backing the bids (central government, state government or wealthy private individuals) , where players and other FIDE personnel would stay, what was the plan for broadcast etc.

โ€œWe are not disclosing the details of the financial agreement in regards to percentage of rights. As for the budget and financial backing, I can just say that all the bids were more or less in the same category,โ€ he added.

Festive offer

Sutovsky said that FIDE also decided to award the event to Singapore to reignite the South East Asian region’s interest in chess. Back in the 1990s, the neighboring nations of Singapore like Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia hosted many big-ticket events. One portion of the Anatoly Karpov vs Jan Timman World Chess Championship battle in 1993 was held in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta while Manila hosted the Chess Olympiad in 1992.

“We also found it is important to give a boost to chess in South East Asia โ€” they haven’t had a chance to host a major event for over 30 years already,” Sutovsky said before adding: “We do see India as a major strategic partner, and we’re already working on bringing one of FIDE’s very major events to the country in 2025. It is too early to start sharing (details about this event). But it is one of the very major FIDE events.โ€

The World Championship match is scheduled for the period between November 20 and December 15. Air quality in India’s capital is alarmingly poor in the two months of November and December. According to data published by the Press Information Bureau, the month-wise daily average AQI (Air Quality Index) for Delhi in November was 373 while for December it was 348. On November 6, 2023, the city’s AQI had touched 421. AQI in the range of 401-500 is categorized as ‘severe’, while anything in the 301-400 range is deemed very poor. The PIB data showed that 2023 witnessed the second worst November air in the capital since 2018 (with only 2021 being worse), while December 2023 saw the monthly average AQI be at its lowest in five years since 2019.

“Climate was among the criteria (for deciding which city got the chance to host), but clearly not anywhere near the top of the list,” clarified Sutovsky.

With Chennai and New Delhi both bidding โ€” with the Chennai bid being backed by the DMK-led Tamil Nadu government and Delhi’s bid finding support from the NDA-led national government โ€” did FIDE want to avoid getting caught in a political tug of war.

“Both of them (Chennai or New Delhi) would not be neutral anyways โ€” so, it was not about internal Indian politics,” he said.

He added that the final venue is not confirmed yet and four locations in Singapore are in the running. โ€œWe have inspected four different venues. All of them are of a high standard. The final decision will be in July,โ€ he revealed.

The FIDE release said that Singapore’s bid was submitted on May 31 while the inspection of the venues took place on June 11 and 12.

Singapore though a neutral venue, also boasts of sizeable ethnic Indian and Chinese populations which will add to the host nation’s interest.

According to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, Singapore has about 6.5 lakh Indians (NRIs and PIOs) living there.

The country also has a sizeable population of Indian-origin naturalized Singaporean citizens. As per a 2023 study by the Singapore Department of Statistics, Singapore’s population is 74 percent ethnically Chinese citizens, while about 9 percent of citizens are of Indian origin.

Gukesh, Ding confirmed participation

Sutovsky also revealed that Gukesh and Ding Liren had both agreed to play in the World Championship. There had been speculation about Ding forfeiting his title since he has looked to be in a fragile emotional state ever since he became the world champion.

“They both signed an agreement to play. A detailed contract โ€” which will come later โ€” shall include the city, exact dates and schedule etc,โ€ said Sutovsky.

The World Chess Championship match โ€” which is held every two years โ€” consists of 14 games between the defending World Champion and the Challenger, who is chosen through the Candidates Tournament. The player who scores 7.5 points or more wins the match. If the score is equal after 14 games, the winner is decided by a tiebreak.