NEW YORK: Israel has been left out of the World Chess Championships, which kicked off Tuesday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, after its players were unable to obtain the visas they needed to attend.
In a statement posted online Tuesday, Fatimah S. Baeshen, a spokeswoman for the Saudi ambassador to the United States, blamed a lack of formal relations between the two countries for the denial.
Saudi Arabia “has historically not had diplomatic ties with a specific country — thus has maintained its policy,” she wrote. “Israel is not fielding a team at the World Chess Championships.”
The decision came as a surprise to the Israeli team, especially after a Sunday announcement that visas had been issued to players from Qatar and Iran, two countries with poor relations with Saudi Arabia.
“Not only do we want to participate in this event, we want to leave politics out of it and out of sports altogether,” Lior Aizenberg, a spokesman for the Israeli Chess Federation, said. “The relationships between countries should not be part of international events such as championships.”
Aizenberg said that Saudi Arabia’s failure to issue visas to his team was a violation of the rules of the World Chess Federation, and that the seven Israeli players who had planned to attend were now seeking financial compensation from the federation.
In a letter sent Tuesday to the federation, Zvika Barkai, the chairman of the Israeli group, repeated the demand for compensation and called on the federation to cancel a contract with Saudi Arabia to host the event next year. The global chess organisation did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
The tournament — officially known as the King Salman Rapid & Blitz World Championships 2017 — ends Saturday. More than US$2 million in prizes is set to be awarded to contestants.--NYT