Forgoing the Nobel magic

Pierre-Henry Deshayes & Helene Dauschy

OSLO (AFP) – Forget lavish banquets and glittering ceremonies attended by royals wearing tiaras: the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize will be presented to the World Food Programme (WFP) in more austere fashion online because of COVID-19.

“This year has been difficult for us, as it has been for many others as well,” Director of the Nobel Institute Olav Njolstad, told AFP on the eve of the ceremony.

“It’s a shame that the laureate misses out on the usual magic but there’s nothing we can do about that.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Nobel officials to scale back the traditional festivities to a bare minimum, both in Oslo where the Peace Prize is announced and presented, and in Stockholm, which is home to the prizes for medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and economics.

As a result, WFP Executive Director David Beasley was presented the Nobel gold medal and diploma at the organisation’s Rome headquarters in a ceremony broadcast online.

The WFP, founded in 1961, was honoured with the prestigious award for its efforts “to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict”, Nobel committee chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen said when she announced the winner on October 9.

File photo shows a child suffering from severe malnutrition is measured at a treatment centre in the Huthi-rebel-held Yemeni capital Sanaa. PHOTOS: AFP
Displaced Iraqis, who fled their homes collect sacs of food donated by the World Food Programme (WFP) in the southern city of Basra
ABOVE & BELOW: Sudanese displaced women collect humanitarian aid supplies provided by the UN’s World Food Programme in the Kalma camp for internally displaced people (IDP) located east of Nyala city in Sudan’s Darfur; and a Russian-made Ilyushin airlifter aircraft leased to the World Food Programme (WFP) makes a drop of food aid near a village in Ayod county

The largest humanitarian organisation fighting famine, the United Nations (UN) agency feeds tens of millions of people each year – 97 million last year – across all continents.

“Every one of the 690 million hungry people in the world today has the right to live peacefully and without hunger,” the WFP wrote on Twitter this week.


The Nobels are traditionally presented on December 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of prize founder Alfred Nobel, a Swedish scientist and philanthropist.

The Oslo celebration is known for its lush floral arrangements at City Hall, musical interludes, special guests from Hollywood and royalty, and a highly anticipated Nobel acceptance speech, all followed by a fancy banquet.

But the ceremony was a simple online affair.

In order to respect restrictions on contacts, only Reiss-Andersen as the head of the five-member Nobel committee took part, and she was online from inside the walls of the Nobel Institute in Oslo.

Beasley will instead make a visit to the Norwegian capital sometime in 2021.

The last time the Peace Prize ceremony was scrapped was in 1976, when the award was “reserved” until the following year owing to a lack of suitable candidates.


Despite the scaled-back format, Njolstad tried to see things from the bright side. “It’s very possible that, paradoxically, more people than usual will watch the prize ceremony since we’ve gone to so much effort to be present online,” he said.

The ceremony was broadcast on the WFP’s Facebook page, YouTube and the Nobel Prize website, among others.

Meanwhile in Stockholm, the extravagant festivities have also been cancelled, replaced by events mostly pre-recorded for an online broadcast.

US poet Louise Gluck received her Nobel Literature Prize in a private ceremony at her home in Massachusetts on Sunday, followed by separate events for the other winners in their cities of residence in recent days.

Stockholm nonetheless held a ceremony, albeit with no audience or laureates, at City Hall yesterday, also broadcast online.

The head of the Nobel Foundation and members of the various prize committees made speeches, interspersed with pre-recorded musical performances and footage of the laureates receiving their diplomas and medals. This is the first time since World War II that the Stockholm celebrations – which include a gala banquet attended by the royal family – have been cancelled.