Chess Champion won’t Compete in Saudi Arabia, Citing Treatment of Women

Chess Champion

On Saturday, one of the best women's chess players in the world, Anna Muzychuk of Ukraine, said she and her sister would skip the tournament in Saudi Arabia as a protest of the country's treatment of women as "secondary creature(s)." Also, Israeli officials criticized Saudi Arabia and the World Chess Federation, (Federation Internationale des Echecs, known as FIDE from its French acronym) on Tuesday after seven Israeli competitors were not granted visas to attend the tournament.

“Sports and competition should serve as a bridge between groups and nations,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement. “It is an accepted principle in competitive sports — and part of FIDE regulations — that hosts of international competitions must permit all competitors to participate. The Saudi refusal to provide visas to the Israeli team is a violation of this principle and a violation of sportsmanship.”

Barkai, the Chairman of The Israeli Chess Federation, called on FIDE to cancel the contract with Saudi Arabia for next year's chess tournament, to compensate Israel players who were denied visas and to declare that this will not happen again.

Lately, Saudi Arabia, one of the most conservative countries, has made a few steps to give women more rights. Saudi Arabia announced in September that it would allow women to drive, ending a longstanding policy that has become a global symbol of the oppression of women in the ultraconservative kingdom. The change will remove the ban on women’s driver licenses by June 2018. In October 2017, Saudi Arabia announced that it will allow women into sports stadiums for the first time from next year. Women were long barred from sports arenas by strict rules on segregation of the sexes in public. Obviously, those changes are important for Saudi Arabia’s women, but when compared to women’s rights in other countries, rights in Saudi Arabia are still very limited.

Muzychuk — who won the Women's World Rapid Championship and the Women's Blitz World Championship in Doha, Qatar last year — wrote on Facebook her announcement that she wouldn’t attend the competition:

In a few days I am going to lose two World Champion titles - one by one. 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. 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. All that is annoying, but the most upsetting thing is that almost nobody really cares. That is a really bitter feeling, still not the one to change my opinion and my principles. The same goes for my sister Mariya - and I am really happy that we share this point of view. And yes, for those few who care - we'll be back!

Sports competitions must not be the site of irrational religious struggles, but places where competitors are judged exclusively by their sporting successes. The problem is that some chess players don’t have a chance to show what they have been trained for because of political and religious reasons.

Photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons

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