Photo Credit: Alan Levine via Flickr

Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE), the international chess governing body, on Tuesday announced that the World Rapid and Blitz Championships that was going to take place in Saudi Arabia in late December would be held in Russia instead.

The FIDE tweeted: “Dear Chess Friends, FIDE World Rapid and Blitz Championships will take place in Saint Petersburg, Russia between December 25 (arrival day) and December 31 (departure day). The regulations will be published on the official FIDE website.”

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The FIDE did not explain the change of venue, but the Lawfare Project, “a global network of legal professionals that contribute our skills, time and expertise to defending the civil and human rights of the Jewish people and pro-Israel community, and fighting discrimination wherever we see it,” on Monday issued a press release saying the FIDE “has agreed to strip Saudi Arabia from the right to host a forthcoming chess tournament, after a lawyers’ letter was sent by two Israeli nationals. Saudi Arabia was due to host the World Blitz and Rapid Championship, but the tournament will now be moved after the Israelis wrote to FIDE.”

The Israelis, who were supported by The Lawfare Project, were prevented by the Saudi organizers from taking part in the same tournament in Saudi Arabia last year because of their nationality. Israeli chess grandmaster Ilya Smirin and the pro-Israeli activist, chess organizer, and former spokesperson for the Israeli Chess Federation, Lior Aizenberg, wrote the FIDE seeking assurances that it will not allow host countries to perpetrate such discrimination against Israelis again.

The letter cited official FIDE policy according to which it “rejects discriminatory treatment for national, political, racial, social or religious reasons or on account of gender” and stipulated that FIDE-sanctioned events may, according to Article 1.2 of the FIDE Statutes, “be hosted only by Federations where free access is generally assured to representatives of all Federations.”

Brooke Goldstein, Executive Director of The Lawfare Project, welcomed FIDE’s decision, saying, “We couldn’t just sit and wait for FIDE to do the right thing—we are proud to have supported this action, which ensures that no chess player will be banned from a tournament because of their nationality. It is hard to believe that, in 2018, a country could be allowed to host an international event while practicing such blatant discrimination, but I welcome FIDE’s decision to make sure that last year’s scandal will not be repeated.”

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