The international chess governing body — the Fédération lnternationale des Échecs (FIDE) — has agreed to strip Saudi Arabia from the right to host a forthcoming chess tournament, after a lawyers’ letter was sent by two Israeli nationals. Saudi Arabia was due to host the World Blitz and Rapid Championship, but the tournament will be moved.

The Israelis, who were being supported in their action by The Lawfare Project, were prevented along with Israeli teammates from taking part in the same tournament in Saudi Arabia last year because of their nationality. 

Israeli chess grandmaster Ilya Smirin and the pro-Israeli activist, chess organiser and former spokesperson for the Israeli Chess Federation, Lior Aizenberg, wrote to FIDE seeking assurances that it will not allow host countries to perpetrate such discrimination against Israelis again. 

Saudi Arabia denied visas to seven Israeli chess players in December 2017, preventing them from competing in the World Blitz & Rapid Championships in Riyadh. Lawyers wrote to FIDE on behalf of the Israeli players on October 1. The letter made clear that their “inability to participate in this Tournament was due to FIDE’s failure to secure entry visas to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the Israeli nationals and, correspondingly, its failure to guarantee their equal treatment and to protect them against discrimination on the basis of their nationality.”

The letter cited official FIDE policies that it “rejects discriminatory treatment for national, political, racial, social or religious reasons or on account of gender” and stipulate that FIDE-sanctioned events may, according to Article 1.2 of the FIDE Statutes, “be hosted only by Federations where free access is generally assured to representatives of all Federations.”

Brooke Goldstein, the executive director of The Lawfare Project welcomed FIDE’s decision. 

“We couldn’t just sit and wait for FIDE to do the right thing – we are proud to have supported this action which ensures that no chess player will be banned from a tournament because of their nationality. It is hard to believe that in 2018, a country could be allowed to host an international event while practicing such blatant discrimination, but I welcome FIDE’s decision to make sure that last year’s scandal will not be repeated.”