Saudi Arabia's Chess Tournament Is Already Filled With Controversy

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Saudi Arabia's Chess Tournament Is Already Filled With Controversy

Saudi Arabia has denied seven Israeli chess players visas to take part in a competition this week in Riyadh, Reuters reported Sunday. In an earlier statement promoting the event, the federation said that it had raised concerns about visas for its competitors but that it had not been advised that "any player will not be able to participate". But not so Israel.

A reigning chess World Champion is refusing to defend her title's in this weeks world tournament because it is being held in Saudi Arabia where women are living under oppression.

Saudi Arabia's Center for International Communication said in a statement more than 180 players would participate but did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Despite the mufti's past criticism, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has pushed for greater social openings, including lifting a ban on women driving that goes into effect next year, allowing concerts and movies, and easing rules on gender segregation.

A Saudi spokeswoman said Monday the players were blocked because Israel and Saudi Arabia have no diplomatic ties.

Israel is a chess powerhouse with at least three players in the world's top fifty.

"The Saudis gave visas to Qatari players, even though they are sanctioning that regime, and to Iranian players who come from a country with which the Kingdom is involved in a proxy war", Lawson added, calling the move against the Israelis "shameful".

"The fact that players from Iran and Qatar may decide not to participate, after consulting their own authorities, is clearly their own individual decision", the statement said.

And last week, Anna Muzychuk of Ukraine, one of the top women's speed chess players, said she and her sister, Mariya, were skipping the event altogether, in protest of Saudi Arabia's treatment of women.

"The event is not a world championship if they prevent chess players from several countries from taking part", Aizenberg told Reuters. It includes around 240 players - both men and women - from 70 countries.

Women are reportedly being allowed to wear dark blue or black formal pants and high-necked blouses, avoiding Saudi rules of dress that require female residents and most visitors to wear loose-fitting, long robes known as "abayas".

Israeli chess officials said that they were considering legal action against FIDE for allowing the tournament to continue despite the Israeli players' exclusion, while Geller said that the federation could cancel the next two years of the Saudi hosting contract if Israeli players would be barred in coming years. Most Saudi women also cover their hair and face with veils.

The four-day tournament is set to begin in the kingdom on Tuesday.

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