Israeli chess players denied visas for major tournament in Saudi Arabia


The World Chess Federation denied that any country's team was being purposefully excluded from the King Salman World Blitz & Rapid Championships 2017, which runs through Saturday and has attracted some of the top-ranked chess players from 55 countries.

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". But not so Israel.

Saudi Arabia is hosting a world chess tournament for the first time on Tuesday almost two years after the country's top cleric issued a religious edict against playing the board game.

Chess players compete at the King Salman Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships in Riyadh on December 26, 2017.

This tournament is also notable for its shared prize pot of $2 million - offering the champions more money than they would normally receive in a chess competition.

Saudi Arabia said the decision was due to the fact that it shares no diplomatic ties with Israel, however, players from Iran and Qatar - both nations with which Saudi Arabia has broken off ties - were granted visas to participate.

"I am certain that Saudi Arabia can send a strong message for peace and friendship around the world and we are here with my colleagues to help".

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But the effort fell short, and FIDE Vice President Israel Geller said that the players would not be allowed to participate in the tournament.

"Literally everything involving Saudi Arabia's hosting of a chess tournament is political", he wrote in an analysis of the tournament. "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".

Meanwhile, players from Qatar and Iran, which have strained ties with Saudi Arabia, have been granted visas to participate in the tournament. It made no mention of Israeli players.

Aizenberg said FIDE should ensure Israeli players could compete in global events and that the Israeli federation was considering all options, including legal action and holding an worldwide competition in Israel for players excluded from the Saudi match. However, Qatari players will not compete in the championship because Qatar's chess federation said organizers demanded that the players not display the Qatari flag during the competition.

FIDE had said in November it was undertaking a "huge effort" to ensure all players were granted visas.