Refusing to Obey Harsh Saudi Dress Code, Ukrainian Grandmaster Pulls Out of Riyadh Chess Championship That Banned Israelis
A two-time world chess champion has been forced to surrender her title after refusing to compete in a major world tournament that began in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
Ukrainian chess grandmaster Anna Muzychuk pulled out of the The King Salman World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championship in Riyadh when told she would be compelled to wear an abaya, the full-length robes women are required to adorn in public in Saudi Arabia.
It was not the only political scandal to hit the tournament this week; on Monday, the Israeli Chess Federation said it would seek financial compensation after seven Israeli competitors were denied visas by Saudi authorities.
“In a few days I am going to lose two World Champion titles — one by one,” the 27-year-old Muzychuk wrote on Facebook on Saturday. “Just because I decided not to go to Saudi Arabia. Not to play by someone’s rules, not to wear abaya, not to be accompanied getting outside, and altogether not to feel myself a secondary creature.”
She continued: “Exactly one year ago I won these two titles and was about the happiest person in the chess world but this time I feel really bad. I am ready to stand for my principles and skip the event, where in five days I was expected to earn more than I do in a dozen of events combined.”
Other leading chess players have previously expressed objections to the hosting of the tournament in Saudi Arabia. “To organize a chess tournament in a country where basic human rights aren’t valued is horrible,” Hikaru Nakamaru, the US number three player, said in November. “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.”
A spokeswoman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, DC, Fatimah Baeshen, condemned what she referred to as the “purported politicization” of the tournament, saying that visas had been denied only in the case of citizens of countries that have “historically not had diplomatic ties” with the kingdom – an oblique reference to Israel.
Lior Aizenberg, spokesman of the Israeli Chess Federation, told The Washington Post that his organization had been in touch with the Saudi Chess Federation who were, he said, “extremely positive that we would get visas to attend.”
“There need to be a clear separate between sports and politics,” Aizenberg said. “We want our players to play in all competitions, what is going on in the Arab world does not interest us.”
The prize at the Saudi tournament is $2,000,000, with individual prize funds of $750,000.
On Tuesday, the Anti-Defamation League called on the World Chess Federation, known as FIDE, to prevent Saudi Arabia from hosting further competitions unless it changes its discriminatory policies.
“While FIDE officials did refer to the boycott of Israeli athletes in the opening ceremony today, as the sponsoring body FIDE should make clear to the Saudi hosts that it will not be complicit with discrimination against or a boycott of any team regardless of its national origin,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement. “FIDE must send a message that if Saudi Arabia continues with this policy, it will not be eligible to host future championships.”
The ADL noted that Saudi Arabia “initially refused to issue entry visas to Qatar and Iranian teams too, but eventually issued them in advance of the championship. The Israeli team alone has been refused entry.”