FIDE's 3-Year Contract With Saudi Arabia Potentially Void
The agreement between FIDE and Saudi Arabia to host the World Rapid and Blitz Championship in Riyadh was signed not only for 2017 but also for 2018 and 2019. However, FIDE's Israel Gelfer doubts the legality of the three-year contract when players from Iran, Israel and Qatar will not obtain visas.
On November 9, FIDE announced that Saudi Arabia will be hosting the 2017 World Rapid and Blitz Championships. The General Sports Authority of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was the only bidder, but nonetheless the World Chess Federation was criticized for accepting this controversial location.
Two big favorites to win titles this year, the speed chess expert Hikaru Nakamura and the women's rapid and blitz title holder Anna Muzychuk, both decided not to play.
Hikaru Nakamura and Anna Muzychuk are objecting to the tournament's location and will not play.
What FIDE did not mention was that the contract signed with the Saudis is not for one year, but for three. The tournament is planned to be held in Riyadh in 2017, 2018 and 2019, as FIDE's Israel Gelfer confirmed to Chess.com.
However, Gelfer says the legality of the contract might be in doubt. Three days before the tournament will be opened at the Apex Convention Centre in Riyadh, players from Israel and Qatar (countries without diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia) are still waiting for their visas.
"At this stage the visas will not be coming anymore. And this is against paragraph 1.2 of the FIDE statutes," Gelfer notes. Here's the relevant part of that paragraph:
1.2. (...) a. FIDE events (competitions, congresses, meetings) may be hosted only by Federations where free access is generally assured to representatives of all Federations.
Israeli visa applications were sent on November 24 to the Saudi embassy in Athens, the same city where FIDE's main office is located. After waiting for weeks, seven Israeli players who intended to play in Riyadh, set a deadline to FIDE for December 16.
Behind the scenes FIDE's Geoffrey Borg and deputy president Georgios Makropoulos were in touch with the Saudis. At some point it was suggested that the players would play under the FIDE flag, but this construction would only have worked for Israelis with a second passport.
Four Israeli players have now given up, and decided not to go. One of them is GM Alexander Huzman, who told Chess.com: "Last Tuesday they said the chances were 50-50. Then I decided not to go. Everything is happening the last moment, and this is not something for me."
Three Israeli players are still hoping to participate, including GM Ilya Smirin. "I would say there's a five percent chance we'll still get the visa," he said. "I will just do my usual routine and wait."
Ilya Smirin is one of three Israeli players still hoping to participate. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.
Israel's top player GM Boris Gelfand never intended to play. "I would be happy to play," he said, "but I had experience and felt that it would turn to some strange game like with the FIDE Knockout World Championship in Libya in 2004 and the World Rapid and Blitz in Dubai in 2014." It was also unclear until the last moment for these tournaments whether Israelis could play or not.
IM Malcolm Pein, the organizer of the London Chess Classic, FIDE delegate for England but also member of the Appeals Committee in Riyadh, played an important role in bringing FIDE and Saudi Arabia together. "I'm disappointed in the way that this has been handled," he said. "In my opinion if the Saudi Chess Federation wanted Israeli, Iranian and Qatari players to play they could make it happen. I hope it will, but time is running out."
GM Mohamed Al-Modiahki of Qatar confirmed to Chess.com that three players from Qatar want to participate, and have been trying to obtain visas: Al-Modiahki himself, his wife GM Zhu Chen and also GM Mohamed Al-Sayed. They did not receive clear information from FIDE nor the Saudi Chess Federation.
Our players are denied to get the necessary visas to participate in the World Rapid&Blitz Championship 2017 in Riyadh. An outrageous move by @FIDE_chess to mix #sports with #politics. No wonder why #chess never became a sport of the Olympic Games! @Olympics @ANOC_Olympic— Mohamed Al-Medaihki ( @almodiahki) December 22, 2017
Players from Iran would be dealing with the same problem. Only one player qualified: IM Sarasadat Khademalsharieh, who decided not to travel to Saudi Arabia.
"It needs to be a condition for future representative events held anywhere that all players are welcome," said Pein. "I'm encouraged by comments I've heard from the Saudi side about future events. This needs to be backed up by deeds, either action on visas in the next few days or an invitation and visas issued for 2018, ideally before the next FIDE board meeting and absolutely before the next congress or the 2018 event should be cancelled."
Gelfer: "There are some common interests between Israel and Saudi Arabia now, but I never believed they would go so far and give visas. The contract should never have been signed so early."
Israel Gelfer. | Photo: FIDE.
Gelfer also said he intends to discuss the contract between FIDE and the Saudis at FIDE's General Assembly. "I will probably ask for the contract to be canceled."
That would be a blow for the FIDE administration, as the agreement with Riyadh is financially very lucrative. All combined, the World Rapid and Blitz Championships have a total prize fund of U.S. $2 million, of which 20 percent will be paid to FIDE.
The website of the event is up, but doesn't offer much information yet.
Except for Nakamura and Muzychuk, no top players have openly declined participation because of the location of the event. Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So told Chess.com they won't play because they had made other plans.
Big names such as Magnus Carlsen, Levon Aronian, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Sergey Karjakin and Vishy Anand will play, as will e.g. Alexandra Kosteniuk and Valentina Gunina in the women's tournament. Female players will be provided with abayas at arrival, but do not need to wear them during play.
A participants list still hasn't been released on neither the tournament's Facebook page nor on the official website. Grandmasters such as Carlsen, Vachier-Lagrave, Anand and the reigning World Blitz Champion Karjakin received their visas, or visa-on-arrival letters, only this week.
"I got the visa yesterday," said Karjakin. "I wasn't worried about it; I knew FIDE is doing their best for the players who can't obtain their visas through the embassy."
Sergey Karjakin will be defending his blitz title in Riyadh. | Photo: Chess.com.
Karjakin is one of the players who went for a visa-on-arrival letter, which will be good enough to receive the visa at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh. For this, they had to book their flight before December 5, and provide the details to FIDE.
FIDE intended to send the players this visa-on-arrival letter a few days after receiving the documents, but the Saudi authorities could only provide it this week. All is well that ends well—at least if you're not from Iran, Israel or Qatar.