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Israelis demand compensation over Saudi chess snub

Russian world chess chief Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is a divisive and often unpopular figure in the chess world, once famously claiming to have been kidnapped by aliens wearing yellow spacesuits in 1997
Kirill Kudryavtsev (AFP/File)
World chess official appears to chide Saudi hosts over exclusion of Israeli players

The Israel Chess Federation said Tuesday it is seeking compensation from the organizers of a tournament in Saudi Arabia, after the Gulf state refused to issue visas for its players.

The regulations of the organizers, the World Chess Federation (FIDE), stipulate that no player should be refused the opportunity to participate in the King Salman World Blitz and Rapid Championships in Riyadh.

But seven Israeli chessmasters were barred from participating from the tournament after being denied visas to enter the country.

Saudi Arabia said the decision was due to the fact that it shares no diplomatic ties with Israel, however, players from Iran and Qatar -- both nations with which Saudi Arabia has broken off ties -- were eventually granted visas to participate.

The Israel Chess Federation accused Saudi Arabia of misleading FIDE to enable hosting the tournament, which begins on Tuesday.

Spokesman Lior Aizenberg said the Israelis were seeking financial compensation from FIDE for the seven players who "were professionally and financially damaged" by the saga.

In addition, they wanted assurances that FIDE would never repeat such conduct, and "every country hosting an international event will commit to hosting Israeli chess players, even if it's an Arab state."

Finally, the Israel Chess Federation was demanding FIDE competitions set to take place in Saudi over the next two years "be immediately cancelled," Aizenberg said in a statement.

FIDE did not respond to requests for comment.

Saudi Arabia struck a $1.5 million deal with FIDE granting it hosting rights for the next three annual World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships, meaning that Israeli players could be frozen out of the next three tournaments.

At the opening of the tournament on Monday, FIDE deputy president Georgios Makropoulos appeared to chide the Saudi hosts for excluding the Israeli players.

In unprepared comments addressed to sports official Turki bin Abdel Muhsin Al-Asheikh, Makropoulos said that the federation “would like to see the next event, here, as King Salman Peace & Friendship World Rapid & Blitz Chess Championships. Where everybody will be welcomed.”

“I am certain that Saudi Arabia can send a strong message for peace and friendship around the world and we are here with my colleagues to help. We are ready to meet with you or your people in the next days, to see how to proceed with the next steps,” Makropoulos added.

In November, Makropoulos said that FIDE was undertaking a “huge effort” to see that the Israeli players would be granted visas, despite Israel and Saudi Arabia having no official relations.

But the effort fell short, and FIDE Vice President Israel Geller said that the players would not be allowed to participate in the tournament.

Israeli athletes often face difficulties when competing around the Middle East due to hostility toward their country.

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

The last time Israeli chess players were barred from participating in the world blitz tournament was in 2004, when the event was staged in Libya.

The presence of Israelis in Saudi Arabia would have been highly unusual, and comes as officials from the Jewish state increasingly hint at covert ties with the Sunni-ruled kingdom.

(Staff with AFP)


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