Chess Champion Won’t Defend Titles in Saudi Arabia, Citing Treatment of Women December 29, 2017

Chess Champion Won’t Defend Titles in Saudi Arabia, Citing Treatment of Women

Anna Muzychuk, a Ukrainian chess grandmaster who has been playing the game since she was just two years old, took to Facebook just before Christmas day to say she was intentionally missing the championship in Saudi Arabia because she didn’t want to be treated like a “secondary creature.”

Muzychuk announced her intentional absence would cost her two World Champion titles, “one by one,” at this week’s event in Saudi Arabia. The contest started on Tuesday, and Muzychuk isn’t the only one who skipped out due to its location.

In a few days I am going to lose two World Champion titles — one by one. Just because I decided not to go to Saudi Arabia. Not to play by someone’s rules, not to wear abaya, not to be accompanied getting outside, and altogether not to feel myself a secondary creature.

Muzychuk goes on to say she won the two titles one year ago, and it made her “about the happiest person in the chess world.” This time, however, she feels “really bad.”

I am ready to stand for my principles and skip the event, where in five days I was expected to earn more than I do in a dozen of events combined. All that is annoying, but the most upsetting thing is that almost nobody really cares. That is a really bitter feeling, still not the one to change my opinion and my principles. The same goes for my sister Mariya — and I am really happy that we share this point of view. And yes, for those few who care — we’ll be back!

I, for one, applaud Muzychuk’s efforts to protest the location of the chess championships. Events like this should bring people of different nations together without imposing sexist policies on young women who just want to play chess.

Saudi Arabia has made some minor but much-anticipated strides in the realm of equality in the last year. Among other things, the country announced it would let women drive and allow them into sporting arenas for games, but for the rest of the world, these concessions are seen as too little and too late. If these visiting, professional women are still forced to wear certain articles of clothing and have to be watched over by a male in public, they aren’t offering true gender equality.

The tournament isn’t only being criticized by Muzychuk and other female players. It is also under fire from Israeli officials, who said seven of the country’s competitors were not granted visas to attend the tournament.

Sports and competition should serve as a bridge between groups and nations,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement.

“It is an accepted principle in competitive sports — and part of FIDE [World Chess Federation] regulations — that hosts of international competitions must permit all competitors to participate. The Saudi refusal to provide visas to the Israeli team is a violation of this principle and a violation of sportsmanship.

It also goes against the spirit of the game. Rather than being judged for her gameplay, Muzychuk is being judged for her gender. Meanwhile, the Israelis can’t even be judged on their abilities because they’re banned from even coming to the event. What does it say about Saudi Arabian theocracy that even a mental game can’t be played without imposing irrational religious rules?

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