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Dutch Championship Participants Protest Covid Regulations But Lose In Court
GM Lucas van Foreest, one of six players who went to court. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Dutch Championship Participants Protest Covid Regulations But Lose In Court

PeterDoggers
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74 | Chess Event Coverage

A group of six players unsuccessfully filed legal proceedings against the Dutch Chess Federation and the municipality of Hoogeveen. The players objected to a requirement at the upcoming Dutch championships to either show a corona pass or otherwise be tested daily, which they claim will disturb them too much.

The players demanded in a court hearing on Wednesday that the required corona pass would be canceled or that the tournament would be held at a different location, where daily checking on the coronavirus isn't required. Among the players was the reigning Dutch champion GM Lucas van Foreest but also his 14-year-old sister Machteld, GM Sipke Ernst, IM Miguoel Admiraal, IM Migchiel de Jong, and FM Ivo Maris.

The Dutch championships start this coming Friday in Hoogeveen, a northern city in the Netherlands that has hosted a strong chess tournament annually since 1997. The Hoogeveen town hall will this year be the location for the open and women's national championships, where eight women and 24 men will be playing, alongside an open tournament with another 130 players.

Hoogeveen Town Hall
The Hoogeveen Town Hall. Photo: Frans Peeters.

The problem started when the city council of Hoogeveen decided in late September to place the tournaments into the official (multiday) event category, which also includes e.g. concerts and festivals. Participants need to show valid proof of corona vaccination or recovery or a negative test each day, for such events.

The Dutch Chess Federation contacted the players to inquire about possible objections among them and noted that these existed. After that, attempts were made to turn around the decision by the city of Hoogeveen and remove the tournaments from the event category, but to no avail.

Hoogeveen argued that it has an exemplary function as it is responsible for enforcing the corona measures. That is why the city believes that the standards for events in its own town hall are higher than strictly necessary.

After a board meeting, the Dutch Chess Federation informed the players on October 7 that it had decided not to change the location but to keep the tournaments in Hoogeveen, thereby accepting the required corona pass. In their letter to the players, the federation argued that a last-minute move would damage its relationship with Hoogeveen as one of its long-term sponsors of a major annual chess event and a sub-sponsor of the championships in 2021.

Most chess events that were possible during the pandemic did not fall in the event category. Hoogeveen's strict Covid policy means a change from the original tournament regulations which only required a Covid test in case a player gets symptoms. These regulations were based on the national Olympic protocol for top sports.

In practice, the daily tests, to be taken in the mornings before the games, will only be necessary for unvaccinated participants because a vaccinated player can show their QR code on their phone. The group of six, some of whom are not vaccinated and some of whom went to court on principle, claimed that a morning test will disturb their preparation and are therefore "not desirable for a fair battle for the title."

Lucas van Foreest
Lucas van Foreest at the 2019 Wijk aan Zee tournament. Photo: Alina l'Ami/Tata Steel Chess.

In an interview on Monday, reigning champion Van Foreest, who is the younger brother of GM Jorden van Foreest, said he wouldn't be defending his title in case the corona pass requirement would be kept in place. He pointed out that at the recent European Championship in Reykjavik all participants were tested, once at the start and once halfway through the event.

"This is fair," said Van Foreest. "At the Duch Championship, unvaccinated players need to be tested eight times. Chess games can last up to six hours. Then it's not very comfortable if you have to worry about a test the next day. Vaccinated players have nothing to worry about. This way you create an unequal playing field."

Two players announced before today's court hearing that, regardless of the outcome, they would play anyway: Machteld van Foreest and Sipke Ernst. The other four players will cancel their participation, now that the judge has chosen the side of the federation and Hoogeveen.

In the verdict, the judge ruled that the tournament cannot be considered an amateur sports tournament and current regulations do not allow top sports competitions to be organized without the participants having a corona pass. A municipality is pre-eminently obliged to comply with these regulations because it is the competent authority that must monitor compliance with these regulations.

The judge also decided that the Dutch Chess Federation does not have to organize the tournament elsewhere at the last minute, arguing that the federation cannot be expected to put the interests of a handful of chess players above the interests of the federation and the other participants.

Migchiel de Jong chess
Migchiel de Jong was interviewed by Dutch television after the judgment. Image: NOS.

"I have stated that I won't participate in the tournament now," De Jong said in a first reaction after the judge's decision. "In my case, that's a pity, because it's the first time I qualified, aged 49. So this was a golden opportunity. I want to say that I would love to have participated but not under these conditions."

"I don't think the judge's intention was to behead the tournament but I do think the Dutch Chess Federation could have given this more thought," said Doeko Bosscher, the lawyer who represented the chess players, adding: "This is unpleasant for everyone; we only have losers here."

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