Israeli chess players barred at chess tournament in Saudi Arabia

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

On Sunday, vice-president of World Chess Federation (FIDE) Israel Gelfer told Reuters that visas for seven Israeli chess players "will not be issued" for a chess tournament in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). The 2017 King Salman Rapid and Blitz World Championships from December 26 to December 30 in Riyadh is to go ahead without any changes, the vice-president said.

Spokesperson of the Saudi Arabian embassy in the US Fatimah Baeshen tweeted, "Related to the purported politicization of the International Chess Tournament hosted by Riyadh: the Kingdom has allowed the participation of all citizens.The exception is whereby KSA has historically not had diplomatic ties with a specific country-thus has maintained its policy."

Saudi Arabia does not recognise Israel. Despite their diplomatic tensions with Iran, Israel, and Qatar, FIDE tweeted they had "secured" visas for Qatari and Iranian chess players on Monday. In November, FIDE's deputy president Georgios Makropoulos told Reuters they were "making a huge effort to ensure that all players get their visas".

Speaking to Reuters, Israeli Chess Federation's spokesperson Lior Aizenberg said, "The event is not a world championship if they prevent chess players from several countries from taking part [...] Every chess player should have the right to participate in an event on the basis of professional criteria, regardless of their passports, their place of issue or the stamps they bear."

Moshe Shalev of the Israel Chess Federation said they were "thinking about suing the World Chess Federation".

About 180 chess players were to participate in the event. The total prize money of the tournament is US$2 million, with largest individual prize money about US$750 thousand.

In November, chess Grand Master Hikaru Nakamura tweeted, "To organize a chess tournament in a country where basic human rights aren't valued is horrible. Chess is a game where all different sorts of people can come together, not a game in which people are divided because of their religion or country of origin."

This is not the first time Israeli players have faced problems while playing in the Middle East nations. In October, Israeli judokas were not permitted to wear the Israeli flag or symbols, or bear the country's name on their judo uniform for a judo grand slam in the United Arab Emirates. Israeli judokas had to compete without their national flag and the anthem of the International Judo Federation was played at the medal ceremony when Israeli athlete Tal Flicker won a gold medal.