JERUSALEM: The Israel Chess Federation said yesterday 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 King Salman World Rapid and Blitz Championships is the first international chess competition held in Saudi Arabia, perceived as a display of the conservative kingdom’s growing openness to the West. The regulations of the organisers, the World Chess Federation (FIDE), stipulate that no player should be refused the opportunity to participate, but players from three states – Iran, Qatar, and Israel, had initially not received visas.
On Monday, FIDE announced it had “secured visas for Qatar and Iran,” with officials from the world chess body failing to reach an agreement with the Saudis to allow the Israelis to enter the kingdom for the games. Fatimah Baeshen, a spokeswoman for the Saudi embassy in Washington, indicated on Twitter that the Israelis were refused visas because the kingdom does not have diplomatic ties with their country. “The kingdom has allowed the participation of all citizens. The exception is whereby KSA (the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) has historically not had diplomatic ties with a specific country-thus has maintained its policy,” she wrote.
The Israel Chess Federation accused Saudi Arabia of misleading FIDE to enable hosting the tournament, which began yesterday. “All their previous statements were to the contrary,” spokesman Lior Aizenberg said. 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. Israel and Saudi Arabia have no official relations. 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. Israel and Saudi Arabia share a common fear of Iran’s attempts to increase its influence in the region. Israeli athletes often face difficulties when competing around the Middle East due to hostility toward their country. – AFP