Note posted by Boris Konrad in the World Memory Championship page on Facebook:
Dear competitors, memory athletes, friends,
The WMC 2011 is approaching fast and we have had much to think about. Important decisions had to be made, taking all the factors into account. So now we would like to address all of you for a few moments to make the following statement:
We are sad to announce that the German Team will not defend its team title at the WMC this year.
With only a few days left we, for several reasons, have decided to cancel our participation in this year’s event. In the following, we would like to give you the main reasons for our decision:
1. The change of venue and the non-payment of flights
In 2010 the date was changed, without warning, therefore causing considerable financial losses to many competitors. It was an outrage back then. This year the same things happened again. Until the beginning of October everybody was expecting and was very much looking forward to going to Beijing. It was always said that Bejing was definite and that everyone could start booking. Because of this many competitors booked their flights and were shocked when it was announced that the venue was moved to Guangzhou without any further explanation. After a lot of negotiation New Mind, the Chinese organizers, promised that all competitors who had already booked a non-refundable flight would be paid the now necessary extra flight from Beijing to Guangzhou.
A few days ago it turned out that this promise to pay for the flights was broken. All the time, communication with China was a catastrophe. No one was answering quickly and there seemed to be a “I don’t care”-attitude. Also those responsible for managing it were very often not helpful, providing not enough information or outright declining to answer. The impression was that the whole situation was getting worse and worse by the hour. Now New Mind graciously offers to pay for four days of hotel stay at a venue where they know the owner, making it very cheap for them. Instead of paying for a full flight to Guangzhou, they will probably only pay about 150 â‚¬ instead. On the other hand, we as competitors have to pay for the unnecessary extra flight and feel cheated all the way. For some of us that means that we lose a lot of money for a second year in a row and honestly it’s not like it could not have been prevented. New Mind could have told everyone much earlier that the event was not happening as planned, thereby ensuring that many tickets would not have been booked for naught.
2. The cancelled prize money and the strangely allocated non-cash prizes
As you all surely know, the prize money was cancelled. 92,000.00 $ were promised as a minimum. And then it was not reduced, halved, whatever: It was completely nixed like it had never existed. We are still not sure if it was really because of some “financial problems” or simply because they thought they might save some money that way. Another point is that the prize money obviously was not put on a trust account or escrow account a long time ago (like it is absolutely normal and completely obligatory when such sums are involved, after all: It is business and business has to be done in a professional way!). No, those 92,000.00 $ were simply left in the hands of New Mind for them to say: “No, we decided to cancel it. And you can’t do anything about it…” Probably they simply did it because they noticed they could. That’s all. Whoever let this happen was extremely negligent and foolish, dooming us all.
The aftermath was that at first they did not want to talk about it all, we had to write and write until it was finally clear: New Mind would not pay anything. It still took another month until the Council finally announced it on their English webpage. Instead of prizes there will be non-cash prizes only. Then New Mind simply decided, completely unilaterally, that only the best one from each nation would get such a non-cash prize – and that was it. No more discussion, nothing. Even today, nobody knows what those prizes are supposed to be. But as we said, not only is it completely unknown what we would get, we wouldn’t even get it because only one from each nation, even if he was the only one, can get a prize. No prizes for the top 10, for the discipline winners, for world records or special achievements: Nil. We felt and we feel that at least the best competitors (top 10) should get prizes before anybody else. Sport is based on achievement. This is the usual and adequate way. So, we protested but our protest was completely ignored. Like in an 80’s regime, it was simply decided and the people were expected to accept it … . No, we don’t.
3. The number of competitors: Limited? Record high? Who knows.
After last year’s complete arbiting chaos caused by the much too high number of competitors we asked the organizers and the WMSC repeatedly to limit the number of Chinese entries. At first it was confirmed that the limit should be 20, but after the Chinese competition took place last weekend it was mentioned that there will be most likely much more entries from China than 20. Many came to us and said that it was not entirely helpful in that regard that the WMSC site at first stated that the total number of competitors would be limited just to boast shortly afterwards that it was totally great to have a “record number of international competitors”. That left many confused — and, in the light of their disappointment, angry. That all means we are faced with the next arbiting disaster, and that is a gruesome prospect.
4. Solidarity with our friends
Other competitors like Ben Pridmore, Christian SchÃ¤fer or Nelson Dellis already cancelled the trip to China because of all this chaos and the lost confidence in the organizers. We feel that is important to stand together at this point. The thought of supporting those decisions through our own cancellation definitely also played a part in our decision-making. But apart from those four important points, there is one that stands out the most:
5. The China Sponsoring Fees
We have heard from multiple reliable sources (and have no denial until now) that in 2010 and 2011 respectively there was paid a sum of 100,000.00 $ (so 200,000.00 $ total) in sponsoring fees to the company World Memory Championships International Ltd. All relevant information about that company can be found in the British company register:
The company number is 03405948.
You might also want to check out the World Memory Championship Ltd., the previous company who managed WMCs until some years ago (company number 06364695).
Now don’t get us wrong: Having a separate company to administrate the intellectual property of the WMC and to manage the financial aspects is all fine and seems like a reasonable idea but: What about this money, where is it?
We are sure it was not completely spent on expenses: From the accounts (also available online) for the WMC in Bahrain 2007 and 2008 we know that the total costs paid from the fees for an WMC abroad were about 25,000.00 GBP each year. So, even with some addedbonus, there should be at least 100,000.00 $ left of the sum mentioned above.
The thing we truly have problems with is: As it seems, not a cent of it will go to the WMSC (which is, as one had to learn, only supposed to be the “rules body”) or to the athletes. Not a cent of those 200,000.00 $. To clarify: We really appreciate all the great work that was done for so many years for the WMC. But we see the company’s decision to keep that money as a decision that we have the gravest difficulty to accept.
Perhaps we got it all wrong, in which case we are truly and honestly sorry. But the facts (money and company) are there and we are only trying to make some sense out of them. That much money simply resting in some account while the sport is facing the scenario of the 20th World Championship magnificently going down the drain simply does not feel right.
So, after those statements perhaps the ones responsible are displeased now, but we have only said it as it is. If we are wrong and if there is a good reason for all of that, we would be happy to know. Perhaps we never will.
We hope that you all understand it a bit better now. All five points we mentioned were important factors in making our decision.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, we still hope that we can find a way to continue our joint and productive work with the WMSC in the future. Surely the last point mentioned above (No. 5) would have to be clarified: What will happen with next year’s sponsoring fees? Also some other important points (trust account/escrow account for prize money, internal communication, transparency) will have to be sorted out to provide the maximum future security for the competitors.
We want to apologize to all those who were looking forward to seeing us in China this year. We want you to know that we, like you, have simply fallen too much for that great sport to play along this time.
On a closing note: Our friends, let us wish you all the best! We hope to soon being able to meet with you again. And after all, as they say: A new year can be a new beginning.
Boris Nikolai Konrad