The ongoing Tata Steel Chess tournament has been embroiled in an unnecessary controversy after the event's broadcaster invited Norway's most infamous bank robber, David Toska as a guest for a show.
Known as the mastermind behind the biggest heist in the country's history, Toska has been invited to join as a guest during TV 2's Tata Steel Chess broadcast.
The controversial move, however, has provoked strong reactions from the chess fraternity with one sponsor pulling out of the show hours after the announcement, according to chess24.com website.
The Tata Steel Chess tournament is being played in Wijk Aan Zee, the Netherlands from January 14 to 30 where top players including Norwegian world no 1 Magnus Carlsen will be vying for top honours. Norwegian TV has a tradition of inviting celebrities as guests during chess broadcasts, but Toska's choice turned out to be the most controversial so far, the website said.
Toska was touted to be "the mastermind" behind the Nokas bank robbery in Stavanger in 2004, the biggest in Norway's history, where a policeman was killed. He was arrested in Spain a year later after being on the run, the website said.
Toska, who served 13 years of a 20-year sentence, was fully released in 2018, and now has a daughter and a full-time job as a programmer.
According to the website, he is a big chess fan and was known to be a talented player in his teenage. He had finished fourth in the Norwegian Under-14 championship, before taking to crime.
He got back into chess by following Carlsen's success while in prison, and shortly after his release he was seen at the venue of the 2019 Fischer Random World Championship in Hovik outside Oslo. He has an online rating of around 2000 now, the website said.
Toska is slated to appear in TV 2's studio for their Tata Steel Chess broadcast, alongside host Fin Gnatt and commentators Heidi Røneid and GM Jon Ludvig Hammer, on Monday and Tuesday.
While the commercial broadcaster quoted the Chief Sports Editor Vegar Jansen Hagen as saying that the decision to sign up the notorious robber for the show was taken after obtaining feedback from several people, one of the policemen who was present at the scene of the heist and was shot at, wasn't so pleased.
Erik Haland, the policeman, was not amused and was quoted as saying, "I never stop being surprised at the media bending over for known criminals. Another reason not to watch chess. The fact that his celebrity has come due to serious crimes is in my opinion senseless glorification." A sports commentator wondered whether Toska would have appeared as a chess expert if it had not been for his celebrity status.
However, Toska was quoted as saying that he was prepared for the negative reactions and hoped the focus would be on the game and that his story would not disturb it.