TEL AVIV — A chess grandmaster was forced to surrender her title for refusing to wear a traditional Arab robe in a major chess tournament held in Saudi Arabia.
Ukrainian Anna Muzychuk pulled out of the the King Salman World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championship in Riyadh when the tournament’s organizers told her that she would need to wear an abaya, a full-length robe women must wear when they go out in Saudi Arabia.
Muzychuk’s surrender of the title on Tuesday is not the first controversy to strike the Saudi tournament. On Monday, a day before the championship began, the Israeli Chess Federation said it would seek financial compensation after Saudi authorities denied visas to seven Israeli competitors in the tournament.
“In a few days I am going to lose two World Champion titles — one by one,” the 27-year-old Muzychuk wrote on Facebook on Saturday. “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 was quoted by the Algemeiner as saying.
“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, where in five days I was expected to earn more than I do in a dozen events combined,” she added.
Earlier this year, other leading chess players expressed their dissatisfaction with the fact that the tournament is hosted by Saudi Arabia.
“To organize a chess tournament in a country where basic human rights aren’t valued is horrible,” the third best player from the U.S., Hikaru Nakamaru, said in November. “Chess is a game where all different sorts of people can come together, not a game in which people are divided because of their religion or country of origin.”
Before the visas were denied to the Israeli players, the spokesman for the Israeli Chess Federation hoped that the Israeli team would be allowed to enter the conservative Muslim kingdom.
Lior Aizenberg told the Washington Post that the Saudi Chess Federation was “extremely positive that we would get visas to attend.”
“There needs to be a clear separation between sports and politics,” Aizenberg said. “We want our players to play in all competitions, what is going on in the Arab world does not interest us.”