Nobel banquet axed; award ceremonies to be held in 'new forms'

STOCKHOLM • The Nobel Foundation, which manages the Nobel Prizes, has cancelled its traditional December banquet because of the coronavirus pandemic and said the award ceremonies would be held in "new forms".

This is the first time since 1956 that the lavish banquet has been cancelled, according to the foundation.

The event traditionally marks the end of the so-called Nobel Week, when the year's prize winners are invited to Swedish capital Stockholm for talks and the award ceremony.

"The Nobel Week will not be as it usually is due to the current pandemic. This is a very special year when everyone needs to make sacrifices and adapt to completely new circumstances," Dr Lars Heikensten, executive director of the Nobel Foundation, said in a statement.

He added that the laureates and their work would be highlighted in "different ways", hinting that prize winners would receive their awards in their home countries or at embassies.

Traditionally, the prize winners join the Swedish royal family and some 1,300 guests for the banquet at Stockholm's City Hall after the award ceremony - held on Dec 10, the anniversary of the death of the prizes' founder, dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel.

The winners, except Peace Prize laureates who are honoured in Oslo, also usually give speeches during the dinner.

Many of the events will be held under new arrangements because of the uncertainty around large gatherings and international travel, the foundation said.

The announcement of the prizes (Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Literature, Peace and Economics) would still be made between Oct 5 and 12, the Foundation said.

The Nobel Banquet was last cancelled in 1956 to avoid inviting the Soviet ambassador because of the repression of the Hungarian Revolution, Ms Rebecka Oxelstrom, head of press at the Nobel Foundation, told Agence France-Presse.

"An unofficial dinner was nevertheless organised, without the ambassador, in another room," she said.

The banquet was also cancelled during the two world wars and in 1907 and 1924.

While no prizes were awarded during World War II, they were handed out during World War I - although the ceremonies were postponed, Nobel expert Gustav Kallstrand told AFP.

"A ceremony and dinner, without royals, was held in the summer of 1920 when they handed out the awards for previous years," Dr Kallstrand said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2020, with the headline 'Nobel banquet axed; award ceremonies to be held in 'new forms''. Print Edition | Subscribe