Saudi Arabia bans Israeli chess players from competition

For the third time in as many months, Israeli competitors face discrimination at an international competition hosted by an Arab nation.

By: Ebin Sandler, World Israel News

According to the vice president of the World Chess Federation (Fide), Saudi Arabia denied visa applications submitted by Israeli players seeking to participate in a speed chess championship hosted in the kingdom this week. The denial arrived amid optimism that the tournament would serve as the first time Saudi Arabia would publicly host Israelis, marking a departure from the Gulf state’s longstanding policy of refusing to recognize Israel or establish official diplomatic ties.

While Israel has signaled that Saudi Arabia is open to an alliance with the Jewish state based on shared interests in combating Iranian aggression in the region, the Saudis have thus far chosen not to officially move forward in this direction.

The denial of the seven Israeli chess players’ visa requests represents yet another instance over the past three months in which Israeli competitors have faced discrimination at an international competition. At an international judo competition in October, Israeli athletes were forced to compete in uniforms barren of national insignias at a tournament in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). When an Israeli took gold in his weight class, he was denied the privilege extended to all other competitors of having his nation’s anthem played and flag flown.

In total, Israeli athletes won five medals at the Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi, highlighting attempts by the UAE hosts to obscure Israel’s presence at the games.

In November, an Iranian wrestler was accused of throwing a match in an international competition in order to avoid competing against an Israeli in the following round. A few weeks earlier, Morocco tried to refuse entry to Israel’s national judo team, which was planning to compete at the World Championships Open in Marrakesh.

Following previous announcements that visas might actually be issued for the Israeli chess players to travel to Saudi Arabia for the December tournament, Fide’s vice-president, Israel Gelfer, announced in Athens that the visas “have not been issued and will not be issued.”

A spokesman for the Israel Chess Federation, Lior Aizenberg, responded, “The event is not a world championship if they prevent chess players from several countries from taking part. Every chess player should have the right to participate in an event on the basis of professional criteria, regardless of their passports, their place of issue or the stamps they bear.”