Israeli chess players seek compensation for Saudi tourney snub
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Israeli chess players seek compensation for Saudi tourney snub

Israel Chess Federation says team was 'professionally and financially damaged' when Gulf kingdom refused to issue visas

Chess players in action on the second day of the European Individual Chess Championship in Jerusalem, February 25, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Chess players in action on the second day of the European Individual Chess Championship in Jerusalem, February 25, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Israel Chess Federation said Tuesday it is seeking compensation from the organizers of a tournament in Saudi Arabia, after the Gulf state refused to issue visas for its players.

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.

The regulations of the organizers, the World Chess Federation (FIDE), stipulate that no player should be refused the opportunity to participate, but players from three states — Iran, Qatar, and Israel — had initially not received visas.

On Monday, FIDE announced it had “secured visas for Qatar and Iran,” though officials from the world chess body failed to reach an agreement with the Saudis to allow the Israeli players to enter the kingdom for the games.

A Saudi official said Tuesday the kingdom was “maintaining its policy” on Israel.

Riyadh “has historically not had diplomatic ties with a specific country,” spokeswoman for the Saudi embassy in the US Fatimah Baeshen wrote on Twitter, without naming Israel.

Israeli officials have boasted in recent years of warming ties with Saudi Arabia over shared concerns regarding Iranian hegemony in the region. However, the relationship has remained covert, with Riyadh officially disavowing any plans to establish ties before a peace deal with the Palestinians is reached.

The Israel Chess Federation accused Saudi Arabia of misleading FIDE to qualify for hosting the tournament, which begins on Tuesday.

“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.

FIDE did not respond to requests for comment.

Israeli athletes often face difficulties when competing in the Middle East or against Middle Eastern countries, due to hostility toward the Jewish state.

Gulf countries have allowed Israelis to compete, but without the Israeli flag or other symbols.

In October, the UAE was criticized after Israeli Tal Flicker won gold at a judo tournament but was forced to silently mouth the Israeli national anthem as the International Judo Federation’s anthem played instead.

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