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Senior Advisor to the Basin Countries: “Closed” for 11 years

Senior Advisor to the Basin Countries: “Closed” for 11 years

It recently became clear that Uzbekistan will host the Space Christmas Blitz tournament and the Rapid Chess World Cup. More specifically, it is the city of Samarkand where Magnus Carlsen (32 years old) can defend his gold.

Uzbekistan has a long chess tradition, but if we turn back the clock just over seven years, it is likely that the event would not have been held in the country.


Uzbekistan was closed to human rights organizations and journalists until 2016, so it has done a lot to open up to improve its international reputation, Ivar Diehl, senior advisor to the Helsinki Committee, tells Dagbladet.

Best of the Best?: Magnus Carlsen captured the gold medal in the World Blitz and Rapid Chess Championships during the tournament in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Can he do the same in Samarkand? Reuters/Pavel Mikheyev
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– They were isolated

Dale says the country was, so to speak, “closed” before 2016, and that it was difficult for people to visit the country.

This is said to have occurred as a result of the 2005 massacre in Andijan, where several hundred peaceful demonstrators were killed.

Dale says that after the death of the country’s former president Islam Karimov in 2016, there must be an attempt to change the situation.

– They were isolated. The aim of many of his reforms was to “rebrand” Uzbekistan as an emerging democracy.

Thunder: - Incredibly frustrating

Thunder: – Incredibly frustrating

It is believed that this is where chess, among other things, comes into play.

– All major and prestigious events are beneficial for Uzbekistan in strengthening its position at the international level and attracting investments.

Dale believes that corruption and human rights had previously been written about and focused on in the country, but were now working to get a different kind of attention.

On the visit: French President Emmanuel Macron takes a photo with the current president of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, in Samarkand earlier this year.  Photo: AP

On the visit: French President Emmanuel Macron takes a photo with the current president of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, in Samarkand earlier this year. Photo: AP
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“I wouldn’t call it sports washing,” he says and clarifies.

– Uzbekistan has hosted many high-level events in the past two years, not only in the field of sports. We are not categorically against major events in Uzbekistan, and we believe that the international community should continue to work with the government to implement democratic reforms.

– I stopped

However, Dale recognizes that the country has recently taken some steps backwards, and points to, among other things, the state of human rights.

The United Nations writes that there are several thousand imprisoned for criticizing the regime in the country, and that the regime is accused of religious, political and ethnic persecution of the population.

On the United Nations Democracy Index, the country scored 2.1 points. For comparison, Norway received a score of 9.8.

– The first reforms were good (from 2016), but then they stopped. Dale says there is now a slightly more pessimistic approach from human rights organisations.

It is believed that there is still a high degree of self-censorship in the country.

– There are many things that you cannot write because you are afraid of the consequences.

Chess master Torsten Bey had every detail of his leg of the Holmenkoll race planned, but then things go wrong. Video: NRK / Berthe Skingen, Dagbladet TV-sporten
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– The benefit is great

Uzbekistan is also the organizer of the Chess Olympiad in 2026. It will thus be the second major chess tournament that the country will host in a short time.

The country is famous for having produced many good chess players, including Noderbek Abdustarov, who is considered one of the best chess players in the world.

Dale has visited the country several times, and he is clear on one thing:

Chess is a big game in Uzbekistan and interest in it is also great.

  • The tournament will be held from December 26 to 30 and will be broadcast on NRK.
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