The governing body for international chess confirmed Monday that an upcoming tournament that was to be held for the second year in Saudi Arabia has been relocated to Russia because of the kingdom’s policies, which exclude some eligible players.
Two Israeli chess players had appealed to the FIDE chess federation over concerns they would be prevented from playing at the World Rapid and Blitz tournament, as they were last year when Saudi authorities refused to grant them visas to enter the kingdom.
“The Championships were moved from Saudi Arabia to Russia due to the policy adopted by Saudi organizers,” FIDE director general Emil Sutovsky told The Times of Israel in an email.
Although Sutovsky did not specify the block against Israeli players in particular, the decision to move the event came after Israeli chess grandmaster Ilya Smirin and chess organizer Lior Aizenberg sent a letter to FIDE in November demanding that it take action to preserve their right to participate in the federation contest.
The letter was sent with the assistance of the Lawfare Project, a nonprofit organization that says it seeks to protect the civil and human rights of Jewish people around the world.
“The new leadership of FIDE made it clear that FIDE will no longer stage its official events in the countries that deny entry visa and fair treatment to all the eligible players,” Sutovsky wrote. “However, officials in Riyadh could not guarantee an entry to representatives of all the national federations who had a right to participate in the event.
“That is why, after all the attempts have failed, we took a decision to relocate the World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships to Russia, in spite of the generous financial offer made by Saudi Arabia,” Sutovsky, himself an Israeli chess grand master, wrote. “We will stick to this policy, and make sure that chess players from any country will not be banned from participation in the official events, based on their nationality, ethnicity, race or gender.”
In their letter to FIDE, the Israelis wrote that they had missed the 2017 tournament “due to FIDE’s failure to secure entry visas to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the Israeli nationals and, correspondingly, its failure to guarantee their equal treatment and to protect them against discrimination on the basis of their nationality.”
The chess tournament will be held in Russia on December 25-31.
Last year Saudi Arabia denied seven Israeli chess players the visas necessary for them to participate in the same FIDE tournament when it was held in Riyadh, Smirin and Aizenberg among them. That tournament had a record $2 million prize pot and was the first such chess event to be held in the kingdom.
Israeli athletes often face difficulties when competing in the Middle East or against Middle Eastern countries due to hostility toward the Jewish state.
However, there have been signs that the hurdles are being removed among some moderate Gulf States.
In October, Israeli judokas won two gold medals at the International Judo Federation Grand Slam held in Abu Dhabi, after which the national anthem, Hatikva, was played for the first time in a Gulf state.
The Tunisian Chess Federation in August agreed to allow 7-year-old Israeli Liel Levitan to participate in an international tournament in the country. Under pressure from FIDE, Tunisian authorities backtracked on their refusal to grant a visa to Levitan, from Haifa, for the World School Individual Championships next year in Sousse, France’s National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA, said in a statement at the time.
Tunisia, along with the UAE, was stripped from hosting two international judo tournaments in July due to its failure to guarantee equal treatment of Israeli athletes.
The decision to suspend the tournaments came after organizers at last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Slam refused to acknowledge the nationality of the Israeli athletes — a policy directed only at Israeli participants.