Int’l Chess Federation Takes Flak For Allowing Saudis to Bar Israelis From World Champs

By Patrick Goodenough | December 27, 2017 | 5:48 PM EST

The King Salman competition in Riyadh marks the first time FIDE has allowed Saudi Arabia to host a world chess championship. (Photo: Saudi Press Agency)

( – The international chess federation is under fire for a decision to allow Saudi Arabia to host the world championships – for the first time – despite the kingdom’s refusal to comply with the body’s non-discrimination statutes.

Ahead of the King Salman world championships now underway in Riyadh, the federation known by the acronym FIDE touted the fact that it had negotiated permission for female players to compete without wearing a hijab or headscarf, or the abaya, the body-covering black cloak Saudi women must wear in public.

Instead, women are required to wear “dark blue or black formal trouser suits, with high necked white blouses.”

FIDE noted that the absence of a strict Islamic dress requirement for women was “a first for any sporting event in Saudi Arabia.”

It came just months after FIDE took flak after allowing Iran to host a women’s chess competition and require players to wear the hijab. Several high-profile players boycotted that event.

FIDE arranged with the Saudi organizers to allow female players to compete without having their hair and bodies covered in customary Islamic garb. (Photo: SPA)

But while FIDE secured permission to have the dress requirement relaxed for the Dec. 26-30 event, it appeared to unable to shift the Saudis on another key dogma – the boycott of Israel.

FIDE said in an earlier statement that it “has raised with the organizers that there may be problems for players from certain countries.”

“FIDE has not been advised that any player will not be able to participate,” it said. “FIDE is continuing to work with the organizers to ensure that visas will be issued to all players who have confirmed their participation.”

FIDE was able to get the Saudis to back down on an initial refusal to provide visas to players from Iran and Qatar. Iran is Saudi Arabia’s chief regional rival, and the kingdom is leading a campaign to isolate Qatar over allegations of support for extremism.

In a Dec. 24 statement, FIDE announced the breakthrough on Iran and Qatar.

FIDE has been working very hard and in a discreet manner to organize and safeguard the process of entry visas for all participants of the event,” it said, adding that Iranians and Qataris were free to take part.

“As everybody clearly understands from the above, FIDE and the Saudi organizers are always ready to welcome any participant,” it said.

But the statement was silent on Israel.

In a letter to FIDE, Israel Chess Federation head Zvika Barkai pointed out the absence of any reference in the statement to Israel, despite its claim that “FIDE and the Saudi organizers are always ready to welcome any participant.”

Barkai asked FIDE to give an assurance that planned future Saudi-hosted events would be canceled, for compensation for Israeli players who were denied visas, and for FIDE to make clear such a situation will not happen again.

FIDE’s handbook states that the federation “rejects discriminatory treatment for national, political, racial, social or religious reasons or on account of sex.”

FIDE did not take up an invitation to comment on the situation regarding the Israeli boycott,  but executive director Nigel Freeman said in an email that “FIDE will issue a full statement after the end of the event.”

Queries sent to the Israel Chess Federation brought no response by press time.

Muslim female participants at the King Salman chess championship in Riyadh. (Photo: SPA)

Earlier this year, FIDE took flak after allowing Iran to host a women’s chess competition and require players to wear the hijab.

In the months leading up to the competition, the top-ranked women’s chess player in the U.S., Russian-born Nazi Paikidze-Barnes sought to have the event moved to a different venue, or for FIDE to compel a change to the head-covering requirement.

It didn’t, and Paikidze-Barnes was one of several leading chess players to boycott the competition. Another to stay away was Anna Muzychuk, a Ukrainian chess grandmaster.

(Paikidze-Barnes’ first name is relatively common in Georgia. It means “delicate” and is pronounced Nahzee.)

Despite the relaxing of dress requirement by the Saudis, Muzychuk has again chosen not to go to Riyadh for the King Salman competition, citing the kingdom’s treatment of women in general. Muzychuk currently holds the Rapid and Blitz world championship medals.

In a Facebook post before Christmas she wrote, “In a few days I am going to lose two world champion titles – one by one. Just because I decided not to go to Saudi Arabia. Not to play by someone’s rules, not to wear abaya, not to be accompanied getting outside, and altogether not to feel myself a secondary creature.”

 “Exactly one year ago I won these two titles and was about the happiest person in the chess world but this time I feel really bad,” Muzychuk wrote. “I am ready to stand for my principles and skip the event, where in five days I was expected to earn more than I do in a dozen of events combined.”

See also:

Gulf State Censors Out Israel at Int’l Sports Event; Israeli Gold Medalist Mouths Words of His National Anthem (October 27, 2017)

US Female Chess Champ’s Iran Hijab Protest Gains Ground (October 11, 2016)

‘Unacceptable’: Female Chess Champ Objects to Iran’s Hijab Requirement (October 4, 2016)


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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow