Qatar’s husband and wife team of Grand Masters have decided to miss a lucrative chess tournament in Saudi Arabia starting tomorrow because of a ludicrous demand by the organisers that they don’t display the Qatari flag at any stage during the competition.
Top names in chess such as Grand Masters Magnus Larsen of Norway, Nigel Short of Great Britain and Vishy Anand of India, among others, will be seen in action in the international chess federation (FIDE) sanctioned world rapid (half-hour games) and blitz (five-minute) championships offering a total prize fund of $2mn.
However, Qatar’s own Grand Master Mohamed al-Modiahki, his Chinese-born Grand Master wife Zhu Chen and a couple of other players have outrightly rejected Saudi Arabia’s demand, thereby missing out on the opportunity of earning hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Following their refusal to accede to the Saudi demand, visas were denied to them.
“What can I say except that it’s a clear case of mixing politics and sports,” al-Modiahki, who was voted “Arab chess player of the century,” told Gulf Times yesterday.
“We are not going because the pride and prestige of Qatar comes first before anything else,” al-Modiahki added.
Qatari chess players had registered for the tournament several weeks ago but when there was no word on their visas they began to suspect that Saudi Arabia was deliberately trying to prevent them from playing, in violation of international norms that prevent the mixing of politics with sports.
World chess body FIDE is reeling under a cash crunch and reports suggest it has no option but to bow to Saudi Arabia’s whims and let the tournament go ahead.
Al-Modiahki, who is also the Secretary-General of the Qatar Chess Federation, added that the matter would be raised with FIDE and even legal action was being considered.
“The Qatar Chess Federation can take up the issue with FIDE and we are considering other options. All I can say is that dragging sports into politics is not the right thing to do.”
He later told the Qatar News Agency that the Saudi attitude “is a blatant injustice against our players and a violation of all international laws and sports.”
Al-Modiahki added that the siege countries are doing their best to prevent Qatari sportsmen from playing international events but are “failing miserably” in their efforts.
Meanwhile, reports said even Iranian and Israeli players have been also denied visas by Saudi Arabia.
Israel Gelfer, vice president of FIDE, whose Secretariat is based in Athens, told Reuters that visas for the Israeli players “have not been issued and will not be issued”.
Israel Chess Federation spokesman Lior Aizenberg said efforts were still being made “by various parties” to ensure the Israeli players took part.
“The event is not a world championship if they prevent chess players from several countries from taking part,” Aizenberg said.
“Every chess player should have the right to participate in an event on the basis of professional criteria, regardless of their passports, their place of issue or the stamps they bear,” he said.
Qatar Grand Master Mohamed al-Modiahki and his wife Grand Master Zhu Chen.