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April 25, 2023 10:37 am

‘I Hope That There Will Be a Change in The Future’: Tunisian Chess Players Disqualified From Tournament for Repeated Boycotts of Israeli Opponents


avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Noam Sasson, one of the Israelis competing in the FIDE World School Chess Championship. Photo: Chess4All

Three Tunisian youth chess players were disqualified from the last round of the 2023 International Chess Federation (FIDE) World School Chess Championship that concluded Sunday in Greece after refusing to compete against opponents from Israel a total of 12 times throughout the tournament, The Algemeiner has learned.

The Tunisian chess players, whose identities FIDE would not reveal because they are minors, repeatedly cancelled their matches against their Israeli competitors until FIDE finally removed them from the championship, which took place on the island of Rhodes from April 13-23. Tunisia and Israel have no formal diplomatic relations.

One of the Israeli chess players discriminated against in the tournament was nine-year-old Noam Sasson, who won the European chess championship last year. He told The Algemeiner he is saddened about what happened at World School Chess Championship. “I hope that there will be a change in the future because all who came to this event came first of all  to have fun by playing chess together,” he added.

FIDE is the governing body that regulates all international chess competitions. A spokesperson for the federation told The Algemeiner that after each cancelled match, when they realized the Tunisian players were continuously not showing up for games against Israeli competitors, organizers sent “enquires and warnings” to the Tunisian delegation but got no response. Organizers also received several letters from the Israeli players and their coaches about the situation.

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“When the number of cases reached 10 in total, on April 20, the FIDE delegate in the event sent a letter to the head of the Tunisian delegation informing him that these actions were considered ‘a deliberate violation of the rules of fair play, violating the FIDE charter and the resolutions of the FIDE Council.’ He was warned that any subsequent no-show in rounds 8 and 9 would imply being eliminated from the competition,” the spokesperson added. “Unfortunately, that’s what happened, and three players were disqualified before the start of the last round.”

“For most participants, competing in this event was a unique experience, and we tried our best to minimize the impact that this unfortunate incident could have on them,” the spokesperson concluded by saying.

This the first time that a competitor in a chess competition is disqualified for boycotting a competitor, according to Lior Aizenberg, manager of the Israeli club Chess4All. He told The Algemeiner, “there is a huge difference between getting only zero in a match and being disqualified. Of course I hope that there will be more than that with personal penalties that will lead [to] an end to this boycott. Federations tell the players not to play because of their governments and these players are used as a tool to delegitimize Israel.”

The 2019 World School Chess Championship was eventually relocated from Tunisia to Turkey after the North African country made it difficult for Israeli athletes to get visas to enter the country and compete in the tournament, The Jerusalem Post reported at the time. The publication added that at the 2017 tournament, also held in Tunisia, Israelis were ultimately unable to participate in the competition also because they could not obtain visas to enter the country.

Last November, the 2022 FIDE World Team Championship was held in Jerusalem.

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