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Ukrainian Master Boycotts Saudi Women's World Speed-Chess Championships

Ukrainian chess grandmaster Anna Muzychuk won two gold medals in the FIDE World Chess Rapid & Blitz Championships in 2016.
Ukrainian chess grandmaster Anna Muzychuk won two gold medals in the FIDE World Chess Rapid & Blitz Championships in 2016.

Ukraine's double women's reigning world chess champion says she will not attend the $2 million world speed-chess championships after the game's governing body awarded the tournament next month to Saudi Arabia.

Several top players are joining the 27-year-old Ukrainian grandmaster, Anna Muzychuk, in boycotting the rapid and blitz championships, considered one the most exciting competitions in chess, citing human and women's rights concerns in the Middle Eastern country.

"Despite the record prize money, I am not going to play in Riyadh [which] means losing two world champion titles," Muzychuk, who is currently ranked second in the world in rapid chess and third in blitz, said in a Facebook posting on November 11.

"To risk your life, to wear abaya all the time?? Everything has its limits and headscarves in Iran was more than enough," she added in reference to the world championships that were held in Tehran earlier this year.

All women, foreigners and locals alike, are required to wear the abaya, a body-covering garment, in Saudi Arabia.

The measure is strictly enforced by Saudi authorities, though the World Chess Federation (FIDE) has said it is still finalizing details of the championships -- which run from December 26-30 in the Saudi capital -- and whether players will have to adhere to such clothing rules.

'What's Next? North Korea?'

Saudi officials have said players will be made welcome at the tournament, but have not commented on whether participants will be made to follow local clothing and social requirements.

Nonetheless, critics such as Emil Sutovsky, the president of the Association of Chess Professionals, note that FIDE's own statutes commit the governing body to rejecting "discriminatory treatment for national, political, racial, social, or religious reasons, or on account of gender."

"[A] record budget will surely help FIDE leaders to neglect the fact that Israeli, Iranian, and Qatari players are not allowed to enter [Saudi Arabia]," he said in a Facebook post.

"Getting used to that. And we should welcome the new rich sponsors, of course. They may be even kind enough not to demand the female players to wear burka. Probably only a headscarf. They ARE changing, you see! And chess helps building bridges," he added.

Adds former European Chess Union President Silvio Danailov, a vocal critic of FIDE: "After Iran and Saudi Arabia what's next, Democratic People's Republic of Korea?"

Tumultuous Year

The boycott is yet another in a tumultuous year for women's chess.

Dorsa Derakhshani, 19, was banned by the Iranian Chess Federation after failing to wear a hijab in January at the Gibraltar Chess Festival. She then left Iran for the United States and will now compete as an official U.S. chess player, the U.S. Chess Federation said last month on its website.

Nazi Paikidze the Georgian-American reigning U.S. chess champion at the time of the February world championships, boycotted that event when FIDE supported the "morality laws" in Iran that require women to restrict their contact with males in public and cover their heads.

Muzychuk, who wore a headscarf while participating in Tehran, placed second in the competition.

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