The World Chess Federation

The World Chess Federation was founded in Paris in 1924. In 1999, the International Olympic Committee recognized the body as an International Sports Federation. For chess players all over the world FIDE plays an essential role in (1) defining the rules of chess, and (2) organizing and conducting international tournaments.

The organization—with an annual budget of US $ 2.73 million dollars—is composed of 188 dues- paying national member federations. Almost every country has a national federation, as FIDE believes all nations should be included in the international chess community.

Considering FIDE’s inclusive rhetoric, the events of the 2017 World Chess Championships in Saudi Arabia are surprising. The tournament was exclusionary, preventing the participation of players from Israel, Qatar, and Iran. A spokesman for the Saudi Government cited a lack of diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia as the reason why Israeli players were denied visas. The country is involved in an ongoing political dispute with Qatar, and the Qatar News Agency reported its country’s chess team was told that it could not display the Qatari flag during the tournament.

Meanwhile, the longtime enmity between Iran and Saudi Arabia means it is unclear whether the Iranians were refused visas or decided simply not to participate.

Women, traditionally barred from participating in mixed sporting events in Saudi Arabia, were allowed to participate, a decision we applaud. This exception did not sway Anna Muzychuk of Ukraine, the world champion in two types of speed chess, who elected to boycott the event due to “the kingdom’s broader restrictions on women’s rights.” She used her position as a leading woman’s chess champion, to make a political statement about an issue that she feels passionate about. Our global citizens’ community, which endorses the principle of gender equity, supports her decision.

The World Chess Federation must live up to its name. If the organization’s goal is to serve as a home for chess federations from across the world, it needs to abide by that commitment. Who does or does not participate in a world chess championship cannot be determined by the politics of the sponsoring country. FIDE must make it clear that each tournament sponsor need to accept the participation of delegates from all other FIDE member countries. As Lior Aizenberg, a spokesman for the Israeli Chess Federation said, “ every country hosting a world event should sign a binding pledge that all players can participate.” We at The Global Citizens’ Initiative would agree.