(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
The question isn’t why does Saudi Arabia doesn’t allow the Israeli National Chess team to compete in the World Chess tournament they are hosting. That is what we have come to expect. Israelis are discriminated against by the Saudis and, it should be said, by the rest of the Arab world.
The question to be asked, then, is why does an international sporting body, in this case FIDE, the world's chess governing body, which has the strength to ‘lay down the law,' allow this to happen? They could have, in a moment, taken a firm stance and the Saudis would have had to make a choice - allow the Israelis to compete, or forfeit the right to host the tournament.
The stranger thing is that taking the assertive measure would only be in keeping with the FIDE standards themselves. Paragraph 1.2 of the FIDE statutes says:FIDE events may be hosted only by Federations where free access is generally assured to representatives of all Federations.
The Saudis played their cards well. They kept stringing the process and application along, not confirming one way or another. In the 11th hour, just before the tournament was to begin, too late to force a cancellation of the event, it became clear the Israelis were not going to be allowed in. It should be noted that the Israelis had applied and had asked for FIDE to interject a long time prior.
FIDE gave the Saudis a three-year tournament contract to host. It is imperative that they rescind this in view of the Saudis contravention of FIDE regulation and for foul play. Israeli chess players are seeking compensation for loss of income either from the Saudis or FIDE and they should be remunerated.
In protest of the Saudis hosting the tournament, speed chess expert Hikaru Nakamura and the women's rapid and blitz title holder Anna Muzychuk both declined to play due to the Saudis human rights policies and record.
Two-time world chess champion Anna Muzychuk refused to attend and to defend her title at the tournament because of the kingdom’s treatment of women. She said: “...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.”
Saudi Arabia's US embassy spokesperson Fatimah Baeshen posted on her Twitter feed: "Related to the purported politicization of the International Chess Tournament hosted by Riyadh: the Kingdom has allowed the participation of all citizens.The exception is whereby KSA has historically not had diplomatic ties with a specific country-thus has maintained its policy."
Sorry Miss Baeshen, but that just does not wash. Corroding sport with politics by marginalizing athletes because of their religious and national persuasion is discrimination of the most blatant kind and has no place within society. It undermines the whole basis upon which the modern ethos of sports is built - to establish a competitive sporting environment in an atmosphere of equality and freedom among peoples and nations. It is a tool to build bridges, not to break them down; to encourage harmony, not division.
Sports are one of the most accepted and important bastions of freedom of human expression and a medium for establishing common ground. When poisoned by immoral power plays with political agendas it takes humanity and society backwards, not forwards.
So it's like this: the most important stance sporting bodies need to take is against the political bodies that want to corrupt sport by using it to discriminate and undermine humanity; that want to bring into sports ideologies that denigrate.
The bottom line is that if Saudi Arabia wants to be a part of the world chess association it must play by the rules.
Governing bodies in sports have to know that they have a responsibility to keep the global sports village an arena of sports and not politics. Sports bodies have to ultimate subscribe to and represent values of equality, freedom to compete, performance rating but not political reckonings. The era of a Nazi controlled Olympics and an Apartheid ruled South African sports culture are part of the waste basket of history. Today Germany and South Africa offer free and open competition for all. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar and others, still need to evolve.
They should be cornered to do so more hastily.
Israel has threatened that if FIDA doesn’t make right it will go to the sport world body for justice.