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Chess Champion Anna Muzychuk Boycotts Saudi Arabian Tournament

Ukrainian world chess champion Anna Muzychuk relinquished the chance to defend her title at a Saudi Arabian tournament because the country treats women as “secondary creatures,” according to The Guardian.

Muzychuk ranks first in Europe for women and 28th nationally for all active players. She also ranks third for women worldwide and 347th for all players. Throughout her years of playing, she has earned the following titles: Grandmaster, International Master, Woman Grandmaster, Woman International Master, and Woman FIDE Master. However, she felt her values superseded accomplishments.

“Exactly one year ago I won these two titles and was about the happiest person in the chess world but this time I feel really bad. I am ready to stand for my principles and skip the event, wherein five days I was expected to earn more than I do in a dozen of events combined,”  Muzychuk wrote in a Facebook post.

In addition, FIDE offered a $2M prize – an opportunity Muzychuk passed up. In another Facebook post, Muzychuk reiterated her stance and reminded the world that although she sacrificed her titles, she’s glad she stood by her principles.

Women received some freedom at the tournament, as they did not have to wear a hijab at the championships, according to FIDE. Despite this, however, contestants still had to follow a strict dress code.

“Players are required to wear dark blue or black formal trouser suits, with high necked white blouses, for all games,” the FIDE rules state. “No players with jeans, t-shirts, sneakers, baseball caps, shorts or inappropriate dress will be allowed in the playing zone. Any requests to wear national or traditional dress must be approved by the Chief Arbiter.”

In a BBC sports interview with Caroline Barker, Muzychak described how she did not agree with the country’s women’s dress and escort laws because she feels it’s her choice. Although players did not have to wear the full-length abaya, they still adhered to cultural customs around the city.

“This is the first world championships ever held in Saudi Arabia, and I knew the organizers had an agreement that in the playing hall –  that women can wear the suits and the blouse, as you have said. But it only applies to the playing hall. Still, when going outside, girls had to wear the abaya and hijab,” she told Barker.

Saudi Arabia originally refused to host the chess tournament because its grand cleric, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Skeikh, believed the game wastes time, creates rivalry, and can lead to gambling – actions which violate Islamic principles.

In a speech directed to sports official Turki bin Abdel Muhsin Al-Asheikh, FIDE Deputy President Georgios Makropoulos explained how he believes chess can develop peace and friendship among people.

“We would like to see the next event, here, as King Salman Peace & Friendship World Rapid & Blitz Chess Championships. Where everybody will be welcomed,” Makropoulos said.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) recently wrote a letter to Saudi Arabia and FIDE on January 2nd after seven Israeli competitors could not receive visas. The letter analyzed FIDE’s principles and described how this refusal violated FIDE rules and competitive sports principles.

“The Saudi refusal to provide visas to the Israeli team is a violation of this principle and a violation of sportsmanship,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt wrote.

Although Saudi Arabia has progressed in giving women more freedoms – such as driving privileges, the ability to attend sports games, and entrepreneurship opportunities – they still uphold other traditional laws that deter foreign visitors. In addition, the country still prevents women from receiving these rights until formal legislature approvals have been made, resulting in such discrepancies as the arrests of women drivers. Consequently, Muzychuk faced this reality, took a stand, and did not set foot in Saudi Arabia.

Featured Image by Andreas Kontokanis on Flickr

Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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