Checkmating the Saudis on women's rights

A young chess grandmaster from Ukraine has thrown shade on Saudi Arabia's big plans to make itself a venue for international competitions, citing its record on women's rights.

According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:

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.

She gives up a chance to win $250,000 in prize money if she wins and will lose two reigning world championship titles.

It's a powerful statement, given that she's putting her money where her mouth is, quite unlike many other sports protestors.

"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.

This move follows that of another young female chess champion, Dorsa Derakhshani, who left competition for Iran and was welcomed in the U.S. to take citizenship and compete for the American team. Writing in the New York Times yesterday, she explained:

Chess — a game that I have loved since I first sat down at a board — is pure. It doesn’t care about gender, ethnicity, nationality, status or politics. But too often the countries, organizations and people who enforce the rules in the world of chess are anything but.

This is a subject I know something about.

Now, chess is a very big deal in the Russian, Ukrainian, Belorussian, Caucasian, Iranian and Arab worlds. Chess players are rational, scientific-oriented brainy types who don't take to stupid rules for whatever reason. Some of them become activists - such as Garry Kasparov of Russia who is of Georgian descent. Muzychuk's move is certain to add pressure onto the Saudi Arabians whose crown prince is attempting to reform the place as oil prices fall and fracking cuts into profits. He's done a lot for women's rights already as he now permits women to drive. But Muzychuk's bold move amounts to hot pursuit of a retreating opponent. It's very likely this will have an impact - emboldening Saudi women to demand even more freedoms in its wake.

If Muzychuk's lone protest doesn't work on its own, the fact that Saudi denied visas to top-seeded Israeli, Qatari, and Iranian players - at what is a non-political sports competition, will surely ensure that its viability as an international venue for competitions is questioned. The Saudis would need to attract top talent for these events and this refusal by the Ukrainian chess champ is going to cut into those prospects, pretty badly.

For that, the young chess champ's lone boycott should earn her some decent praise.



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