New Delhi: The chess fraternity, following a host of top-notch performances in recent years, is foreseeing the government extending the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) to its players despite the sport not being a part of the Games curriculum.
R Vaishali and Vidit Gujrathi who recently won the FIDE Grand Swiss women's and open titles in a rare double for India in Isle of Man to qualify for the the prestigious Candidates tournament in Toronto next year, felt that it's a matter of time before the government extends the scheme to chess, while All India Chess Federation vice-president Bharat Singh Chauhan said that the sports ministry had "told us we can apply" for TOPS.
TOPS is the sports ministry's flagship programme that attempts to assist India's premier athletes in Olympic disciplines. The scheme aims to improve the athletes' training so they can compete for medals in the global showpiece.
"TOPS are going to support us. They have told us we can apply and they will support. This discussion has taken place. The government is supporting us on all fronts, no doubt about it," Chauhan told PTI on the sidelines of the announcement of a Rs two crore financial assistance for R Praggnandhaaa, Gujrathi and Vaishali to prepare for the Candidates tournament in Toronto in April.
The international chess body, FIDE, organises the Candidates as the final contest to determine the challenger for the World Championship.
Gujrathi, who beat Alexandr Predke of Serbia to record his seventh victory in the Grand Swiss event in Isle of Man to take the top spot in the open section last week, said it will be the icing on the cake if chess players also get support under TOPS.
"We would be very glad. Of course the government is doing a lot of good things and this (inclusion in TOPS) would be the icing on the cake. I mean we will be getting better facilities, trainers. Because of that, we can train better and achieve our goals, which is not easy.
"So if it happens there is nothing like it. I really wish that it does." The 29-year-old also hoped chess becomes a part of the Olympic curriculum.
"It's my dream to represent India in the Olympics. There is a huge potential," he added.
Vaishali, the elder sister of chess prodigy Praggnandhaaa, too felt TOPS will support chess players in the long run.
"As a sport, chess is gaining a lot of popularity. Definitely it will be nice if it's a part of the TOPS. I am sure it will happen in the long run," said Vaishali, who is on the threshold of becoming the third Indian woman to become a Grandmaster.
"To become a Grandmaster has always been my dream when I started playing chess. In Isle of Man, I was so close to completing the title. All I had to do was win the last game to join Koneru Humpy and D Harika in the elite club of grandmasters.
"But I drew. Now I am just like a few points away. I hope it will come soon. I do keep thinking about it every day. I've planned a tournament in this month-end in Spain. I just confirmed it yesterday. There is a good chance I could become a GM there," she hoped.
Vaishali is happy that she will be competing in the prestigious Candidates tournament next year along with younger brother Praggnandhaaa, which will be a proud moment for the family.
"Our family is very happy that two of us have qualified for the Candidates. Only (Viswanathan) Anand sir has got into Candidates from India so far.
"In our family, we are like two players in the Candidates now. Our mother is very happy about it and she would be travelling with us," added Vaishali.
AICF's grand plans: Indian cook, security for its players in Canada ======================================== The AICF said it will leave no stone turned to ensure its players qualify for the FIDE World Championship through the Candidates event in Toronto.
India has three confirmed players, Praggnandhaaa, Gujrathi and Vaishali, who will be competing in the Candidates, while stalwart Koneru Humpy is almost sure of making the grade based on her ranking points.
D Gukesh too can qualify for the Candidates if he wins in FIDE-defined tournaments for the Candidates in the months to come.
AICF president Sanjay Kapoor said players had been given the freedom to pick their seconds and mental trainers to prepare for the Candidates.
"We will be spending Rs 2 crore on the preparation of our players for the Candidates, which will include giving them the seconds of their choice, mental trainers and other facilities.
"Since it's a three-week long tournament, Indian cook and security management will also be taken care of during the course of the tournament," said Kapoor.
Asked what he meant by "security" and whether it was linked to the strained relations between India and Canada of late, Kapoor said, "I cannot discuss bilateral issues between two countries. No ifs and buts," he said.
The AICF also announced the hosting of five International Grandmaster Tournaments in the next two months.
The initiative aims to provide opportunities for the next generation of players to earn international title norms, contributing to the overall development of the sport in the country.