December 27, 2017
Anna Muzychuk, the Ukraine chess champion who played for Slovenia between 2004 and 2014, has decided not to defend her two titles at the World Chess Federation’s (FIDE) “King Salman World Blitz & Rapid Chess Championship 2017,” which is taking place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia between December 26 to 30, 2017.
“Everything has its limits and headscarves in Iran was more than enough,” she said, referring to a similar event FIDES allowed to be organised in Iran, where female contestants had to follow strict dress codes of the country, including wearing a mandatory headscarf throughout the competition.
Female players find little support in FIDE, a mainly male body, if they happen to decide not to submit to the discriminatory practices of host countries that the World Chess Federation chooses for organization of its events. When Nazi Paikidze-Barnes, the former US champion, decided to boycott the tournament held in Iran in protest against the law requiring women to wear headscarves, FIDE, whose statutory rules include several non-discrimination clauses, dismissed her action as insignificant and even disrespectful in the following official statement: “There were no complaints from the players or officials (in previous events held in Iran, a. n.) and everybody respected the laws of the country, including the dress requirements. (…) It is not a FIDE regulation or requirement to wear a hijab during the event. I would kindly refer you to local laws or regulations such as wearing the hijab, if you kindly check the UK foreign office website for more information you will find there ‘You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend.’”
The fact that FIDE abandoned its statutory principles one more time by granting organization of the fast chess tournament to the Saudis not only for this year, but also for 2019 and 2020, is perhaps best understood if we look at the awards budget the country offers for the tournament: “a huge prize fund of $2m”, writes the Guardian, “split $1.5m for the two men’s events and $0.5m for the women’s, dwarfs previous contests.”
Meanwhile, the tournament has begun and Anna Muzychuk is not the only top player who has not arrived to Riyadh. As Emil Sutovsky, the president of the Association of Chess Professionals suggests in a Facebook post, the boycott now seems to be quite widespread, especially since Riyadh refused to grant visas to the Israeli players (although it was generous enough to grant them to Qataris and Iranians).
In this post he also dismisses some of the media claims that players are not attending the tournament for personal rather than political reasons: “Nearly all US players skip the event. More than half of the top Russian players did the same. Giri, Radjabov, Adams, Topalov, Wojtaszek, Navara, two dozens of 2650+ players who had a personal right to play decided not to go. Other plans? Come on, stop with this rubbish. Professionals don't skip a 2 million World Championship because they have other plans. You have an event with the best financial conditions in history of chess, and about 40% of the top players are skipping it!”
As the protest is becoming louder and increasing pressure is applied on FIDE to strip Saudi Arabia of the remaining two tournaments in 2019 and 2020, we hope to see Anna Muzychuk compete in the years that follow.