By Anthony Harwood London
World chess champion Magnus Carlsen has said Saudi Arabia should not be allowed to host this year’s tournament unless every country can take part. The Norwegian grandmaster was speaking at end of the World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships which he had just won in Riyadh.
The tournament was over-shadowed when the Saudi authorities issued visas to the Qatari players too late for them take part in the start, as well as refusing to let seven Israeli players compete. The Qatar team, which included grand master Mohammed al-Medaihki and his wife, the former world champion, Zhu Chen, were also told that, unlike other countries, they would not be allowed to fly their country’s flag at the tournament.
Under a lucrative agreement, the World Chess body, FIDE, gets $1.5mn for allowing the Saudi authorities and Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman to gain prestige from hosting the event for three years.
This is a quarter of the record $6mn prize fund the Saudis have offered over the three-year period. But, fresh from his victory in Riyadh, Carlsen, 27, said that Saudi Arabia should not be allowed to play host for the next two years unless it allowed players from all countries to take part. Speaking to Norwegian broadcaster NRK while still in Riyadh he said: “I very much hope that they will resolve the issue of visas to all countries. There were a lot of positive energies here, but if it is not solved until next year, it will be impossible to hold the competition here.”
Earlier the head of the English Chess Federation, Dominic Lawson, also said Saudi Arabia should be stripped of its right to host the 2018 championships over its exclusion of some players.
Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record led to last week’s tournament in Riyadh being boycotted by many players from around the world.
These included women’s double world champion, the Ukrainian Anna Muzychuk, the American super grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura and the British champion, Iovanka Houska.
Nakamura said: ‘To organise a chess tournament where basic human rights aren’t valued is horrible. Chess is a game where all different sorts of people can come together, not a game in which people are divided because of their religion or country of origin.”
Despite the worldwide hostility, the Saudi authorities still chose to use the opening ceremony to launch an outspoken attack on Qatar calling it a ‘mini-state’. Angry fans took to Twitter to accuse Riyadh of continuing its petty squabble with Doha, which began with a diplomatic and transport blockade seven months ago.
@mem3598 said: ‘I want to know why Turk al-Sheikh has to bring up Qatar, we forgot about you completely. We don’t even bring you up anymore’.
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