JUNIOR CHESS champion Liel Levitan wins the gold medal. .
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Tunisian Chess Federation issued a letter Tuesday stating players from all countries are invited, “without exception,” to an international chess championship it will host next year. The letter came in light of mounting pressure to allow a seven-year-old Israeli chess champion to attend the 2019 World School Championship chess tournament in Sousse, Tunisia, despite Tunisia’s current policy of not allowing entry to Israelis.
The federation had responded to an inquiry by the World Chess Federation (FIDE), which threatened to revoke Tunisia’s hosting privileges if the country did not issue visas to Haifa native Liel Levitan and other Israelis ahead of the event.
FIDE was approached by the Israel advocacy organization StandWithUs earlier this month, seeking clarification on whether Levitan would be allowed entry to participate in the tournament.
StandWithUs started an online petition that prompted hundreds of letters from people across the world asking the country to reverse its policy. Tunisia and Israel do not have diplomatic relations, and Israelis are required to have pre-arranged visas before entry.
The letter added that “as a sports federation, we will be very proud and honored to receive participants from all over the world and we will ensure hospitality to all.”
While Levitan was referred to only as the “Israeli child,” or the “Israeli participant,” the Tunisian Chess Federation said it had not yet received notice of participation or preregistration from Levitan, as of Tuesday. Still, the organization emphasized that preregistration was open to all participants.
StandWithUs Public Affairs Director Gilad Kabilo said the organization is in touch with Levitan’s family, which is currently on vacation, and that she still has adequate time to register for the tournament.
Kabilo said this is the first example of civil action he can recall that has led to this type of response.
“You don’t get a lot of examples of that in the real world, unfortunately,” he said.
The statement from the chess federation did not specifically indicate whether Levitan or any other Israeli would be granted a visa.
Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev released a letter Tuesday to FIDE deputy president Makropoulos Georgios urging him to stop any planned boycott of Levitan.
“I believe that sports should bring people of different nationalities together,” Regev said. “Therefore, I ask you, our dear friend, to follow [International Judo Federation] president Mr. Marius Vizer’s justified and brave decision to cancel the Grand Prix and Grand Slam in Tunisia and Abu Dhabi – Arab states that do not abide by the customary Sports Charter. Mr. Vizer’s decision should set an example to all international sports organizations. Israeli sports competitors should not be banned. They should be given equal opportunity.”
Kabilo said the federation’s statement is unprecedented progress for Arab countries to welcome Israeli athletes to competitions.
“We’ve been looking at the issue of boycotting Israeli athletes for a long time,” Kabilo said. “Honestly, I don’t know of an instance where online civil action led to a world sports body to pressure an Arab country to let Israelis play and get a written commitment to that effect.”
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