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Israel Chess Federation calls for binding rules to prevent future player bans

Call for countries to not exclude players after Israeli chess players were blocked from Saudi tournament

    Women were permitted into the chess tournament hosted by Saudi Arabia, but Israelis were not granted visas
    Women were permitted into the chess tournament hosted by Saudi Arabia, but Israelis were not granted visas Photo: Getty Images

    Countries hosting international events must promise to ensure all players can participate, Israel’s chess federation said after its players were banned from a tournament in Saudi Arabia.

    Israeli players who had qualified for the tournament were unable to travel after Saudi officials did not respond to the visa applications they submitted a month ago.

    The two countries do not have formal relations and it would have been a diplomatic first had the Israelis been allowed to play in Riyadh.

    “I feel very bad as an Israeli that our players are boycotted, and the players are very sad and offended, and feel harmed professionally and economically,” said Lior Aizenberg, a spokesman for the Israel Chess Federation.

    “And I am very sad that politics is mixed up with sport because from my point of view there's a difference between chess players and the relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

    “We will do everything we can to ensure it never happens again, and every country hosting a world event should sign [a binding pledge] that all players can participate.”

    Dominic Lawson, president of the English Chess Federation, said Saudi Arabia had signed the contract for the World Rapid Chess Championship on the understanding that Israelis would be admitted.

    “The fact that this has not happened means FIDE [the governing body of world chess] should refuse to award further such events to the Kingdom, despite the generosity of the Saudi prize fund,” he said.

    “Imagine if the Saudis had bid for the FIFA World Cup and then barred an Israeli team that had qualified: that is an exact analogy.

    "The Saudis gave visas to Qatari players, even though they are sanctioning that regime, and to Iranian players who come from a country with which the Kingdom is involved in a proxy war – so they display flexibility when they want to.”

    Mr Lawson said the move made “a mockery” of FIDE’s motto Gens Una Sumus [“We are one nation”].

    FIDE awarded the event to Saudi Arabia after agreeing there would be no severe dress code restrictions for women and that visas issues would be relaxed.

    It was subsequently renamed the King Salman World Rapid and Blitz in honour of the Saudi ruler.

    The Israeli players applied for their visas on 25 November but it became clear in the last week that they would be excluded.

    Qatari players will not compete in the championship either, despite being granted visas, after they said organisers demanded that they do not display Qatar's flag during the competition.

    Participants at this year’s tournament include classical chess world champion Magnus Carlsen, the British grandmasters Nigel Short and David Howell and the world's top three chess players, who come from Norway, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

    The tournament runs until Saturday and includes both male and female players from 70 countries. Women have been allowed to compete wearing dark blue or black formal trousers and high-necked blouses.

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