Saudi Arabia Checkmates Israel

In principle, international sporting competitions should be open to all nations with absolutely no exceptions. Countries that refuse to abide by this golden rule should be forbidden to host such events and banned from competing in them, period.

Which brings us to the speed chess championship in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which is due to take place from December 26-30.

The World Chess Federation (FIDE), the sponsor of this tournament, said last month it was making “a huge effort” to ensure that all competitors, including Israelis, would receive Saudi visas.

This would have been good news. No Israeli has ever been allowed to compete in a sports event in Saudi Arabia, which does not recognize Israel. The Israeli government had reason to believe the Saudis might grant the visas because Israel and Saudi Arabia have reportedly formed a covert relationship to check Iran’s baneful influence in the Middle East. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spoken of  this arrangement obliquely.

But much to Israel’s disappointment, the Saudi government did not come through with the visas for the seven Israeli players who had hoped to travel to Riyadh. Israel Gelfer, the vice-president of the Israel Chess Federation, said the visas had not been issued, nor would they be issued.

So much for Israel’s budding rapprochement with Saudi Arabia.

What now?

Moshe Shalev, the interim president of the Israel Chess Federation, has said his organization is considering suing the World Chess Federation. This would be a course well worth pursuing.

Fairness and decency demand that the World Chess Federation should not be a party to discriminatory practices. If Saudi Arabia is incapable or unwilling to abide by such standards, it should be expelled from the federation. In practice, the federation should categorically reject the policies of nations which engage in boycotts and ostracize countries like Israel.

Saudi Arabia, of course, is hardly a paragon of virtue. It’s a corrupt absolute monarchy which promotes a reactionary form of Islam, quashes human rights, denigrates Christianity and Judaism and bombs civilians in Yemen.

Given its dismal domestic and international record, the Saudi regime has no right whatsoever to foist its regressive values on the federation.

Lamentably, Saudi Arabia is not the only offender in this respect. A succession of Arab countries have already excluded Israeli athletes from a host of international sports competitions.

Iran, which calls for Israel’s destruction, recently played the same despicable game, albeit in a far different form.

At a world wrestling competition in Poland last month, Ali Reza Karimi-Machiani, an Iranian wrestler, conceded a match to a Russian competitor after his coaches learned he would face an Israeli in the next round.

“I was told that the Israeli wrestler had defeated his American rival, and that I must lose to avoid facing an Israeli opponent,” Karimi-Machiani told the Iranian Students News Agency. Karimi-Machiani had every intention of defeating his Russian adversary, but his coaches clearly ordered him to lose. He had no option but to comply with their outrageous demand.

If decency had prevailed, the entire Iranian team would have been disqualified and ejected from the championship after the Karimi-Machiani fiasco. Unfortunately, it was treated as an isolated incident.

In the future, machinations of this sort should be dealt with harshly by sporting federations. Nor should the hosts of international competitions have the authority to pick and choose participants. This is elementary.

About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal,