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Saudis Disqualified from Hosting Chess Match After Israelis Complain

Category: Middle East,World

Saudi Arabia has been hit with an onslaught of negative news lately, punctuated by emaciated children in the Yemen war and the killing of a prominent journalist, possibly on the orders of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Now the prince is facing a public-relations setback in another arena: chess.

The international chess governing body has stripped Saudi Arabia of hosting rights to a prominent tournament, just a few weeks before it was to be held in the country for the second consecutive year. A cryptic announcement by the chess body, the Fédération Internationale des Échecs, said the event, the World Rapid and Blitz Championships, would be held in Russia instead.

The announcement, made in a Twitter posting, did not explain the reason for the sudden change. But a nonprofit legal advocacy group that represents Israeli chess players, who were banned by the Saudis from attending the tournament in 2017, said Monday that the decision came after it had pressured the association, known as FIDE, to act.

In a statement, the advocacy group, the Lawfare Project, said the chess group had failed to enforce policies that reject “discriminatory treatment for national, political, racial, social or religious reasons or on account of gender.” A host country in chess competition must grant access “to representatives of all federations,” according to association rules quoted by the Lawfare Project.

“We couldn’t just sit and wait for FIDE to do the right thing,” said Brooke Goldstein, executive director of the Lawfare Project. “We are proud to have supported this action, which ensures that no chess player will be banned from a tournament because of their nationality.”

There was no immediate comment from Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia portrayed its hosting of the 2017 tournament as an example of how Prince Mohammed has sought to modernize the country and make it more inclusive. The Saudis emphasized at the time that they would allow women to participate without the full-body covering required of women in public spaces in the kingdom.

But Saudi Arabia is one of a number of Arab countries that usually ban Israelis. Its 2017 decision to deny visas to the Israeli chess players was broadly denounced, and many contestants boycotted the tournament.

Emil Sutovsky, an Israeli chess grandmaster who became director general of FIDE this year, could not be reached for comment. But Israeli news organizations quoted him as saying in an email that “the Championships were moved from Saudi Arabia to Russia due to the policy adopted by Saudi organizers.”


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