Israeli chess players seek guarantees they can take part in Saudi Arabia
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Israeli chess players seek guarantees they can take part in Saudi Arabia

Grandmaster Ilya Smirin and colleague Lior Aizenberg are making their grievances known to the game's governing body, over discrimination and access to tournaments in the country

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Two of Israel’s best chess players – grandmaster Ilya Smirin and colleague Lior Aizenberg – are challenging the governing body of world chess, FIDE, over discrimination and access to chess tournaments in Saudi Arabia.

Last December the Saudis denied visas to seven Israeli chess players for participation in the World Blitz & Rapid Championships in Riyadh. Further international chess championships are due to take place in the Saudi capital in 2018 and 2019, and the Israelis are seeking assurances that they can take part.

Smirin and Aizenberg, who is the former spokesman for the Israeli Chess Federation, have engaged the New York-based Lawfare Project to help them in their action. Lawfare lawyers have written to FIDE asking for financial compensation and guarantees that the world body will not permit host countries to bar Israelis from future tournaments.

In a letter to FIDE, the Lawfare lawyers said that the veto on visas for Israelis was against the world chess body’s own policies. Smirin and Aizenberg’s inability to take part in the December 2017 tournament, they said, 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”.

Brooke Goldstein, executive director of the Lawfare Project, said: “We are making clear to international bodies such as FIDE that it is their duty to prevent such discrimination. We have every confidence that FIDE will do the right thing and ensure that chess is for all”.

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