ADL tells chess tourney organizers not to let Riyadh host anymore
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ADL tells chess tourney organizers not to let Riyadh host anymore

Group says it is an 'outrage' that tournament allowed to continue despite Saudi Arabia breaking contract and barring Israelis

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Participants attend the King Salman World Rapid and Blitz Championships, the first international chess competition held in Saudi Arabia, in the capital Riyadh on December 26, 2017. (AFP/STRINGER)
Participants attend the King Salman World Rapid and Blitz Championships, the first international chess competition held in Saudi Arabia, in the capital Riyadh on December 26, 2017. (AFP/STRINGER)

WASHINGTON — The Anti-Defamation League urged the World Chess Federation (FIDE) on Tuesday to punish Saudi Arabia and ban it from hosting future tournaments after Israeli players were barred from participating.

In a letter sent to FIDE’s Deputy Chair Georgios Makropoulos, the ADL’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt called upon him to “penalize Saudi Arabia for its policies this year, and to make [clear] that if Saudi Arabia continues with this policy, it will not be eligible to host future championships.”

Earlier this week, seven Israeli chess players were denied the visas necessary to participate in the international contest taking place from December 26-30 in Riyadh.

The King Salman World Rapid and Blitz Championships is the first international chess competition held in Saudi Arabia, perceived as a display of the conservative kingdom’s growing openness to the West.

Participants attend the King Salman World Rapid and Blitz Championships, the first international chess competition held in Saudi Arabia, in the capital Riyadh on December 26, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / STRINGER)

Saudi Arabia, based on a contractual agreement with FIDE, is set to host the tournament for the next three years. The World Chess Federation’s regulations stipulate that no player should be refused the opportunity to participate.

Makropoulos seemed to admonish the kingdom for its refusal to allow Israelis players into the country on Monday.

“We would like to see the next event, here, as King Salman Peace & Friendship World Rapid & Blitz Chess Championships, where everybody will be welcomed,” he said in unprepared remarks to Saudi sports official Turki bin Abdel Muhsin Al-Asheikh, according to FIDE.

“I am certain that Saudi Arabia can send a strong message for peace and friendship around the world and we are here with my colleagues to help. We are ready to meet with you or your people in the next days, to see how to proceed with the next steps,” he added.

Nevertheless, the ADL said his the organization was still “complicit” in the act of the discrimination carried out by the Saudis.

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt speaking at the organization’s Never is Now conference in New York City, November 17, 2016. (Courtesy of the ADL)

“It is … an outrage that instead of Saudi Arabia being penalized for this action, the competition will be taking place as if nothing has happened,” Greenblatt said. “FIDE, as the sponsoring body, should be making clear to the Saudi hosts that it will not be complicit with discrimination against, or the boycott of, any team, regardless of its national origin, in accordance with FIDE rules requiring the host country to allow the participation of all players in competition.”

The demands echoed those of the Israel Chess Federation, which accused Saudi Arabia of misleading FIDE to qualify for hosting the tournament.

“All their previous statements were to the contrary,” spokesman Lior Aizenberg said.

Aizenberg said the Israelis were seeking financial compensation from FIDE for the seven players who “were professionally and financially damaged” by the saga.

In addition, they wanted assurances that FIDE would never repeat such conduct, and “every country hosting an international event will commit to hosting Israeli chess players, even if it’s an Arab state.”

Finally, the Israel Chess Federation was demanding FIDE competitions set to take place in Saudi Arabia over the next two years “be immediately canceled,” Aizenberg said in a statement.

The barring of the Israeli players was not necessarily a surprise. FIDE said last month it was “making a huge effort to assure that all players get their visas,” with the express concern the kingdom would not allow athletes from certain countries to come.

Norwegian chess player Magnus Carlsen (R) attends the King Salman World Rapid and Blitz Championships, the first international chess competition held in Saudi Arabia, in the capital Riyadh on December 26, 2017. (AFP/STRINGER)

While Israel was perhaps chief among them — the two nations have no official relations but have recently developed covert ties as they both share a common concern of Iranian influence in the region– it was not the only one.

Saudi Arabia initially refused to issue visas to the chess players from Qatar and Iran, but eventually acquiesced to pressure and issued them, making Israelis the only players barred from competing.

The acting chair of the Israel Chess Federation, Moshe Shalev, told The Times of Israel on Sunday that the group was considering taking legal action: “We are thinking about suing the World Chess Federation.

Saudi Arabia defended its decision late Monday, saying the decision was based on a lack of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

Without mentioning Israel, Saudi Foreign Ministry spokesperson Fatimah Baeshen said Riyadh had barred players from countries that do not have a diplomatic relationship with the kingdom.

“Related to the purported politicization of the International Chess Tournament hosted by Riyadh: the Kingdom has allowed the participation of all citizens,” she wrote on Twitter. “The exception is whereby KSA has historically not had diplomatic ties with a specific country-thus has maintained its policy.”

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