"FIDE's Riyadh Gambit"
"The World Rapid Championship attracted significant international media
attention as it began on Tuesday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, but the focus
was mostly centred around the absence of Women's World Rapid and
Blitz Champion Anna Muzychuk, and all players from Israel, who were
denied visas to travel to the country."
There has been some religious disapproval of playing chess in Saudi Arabia.
Hosting this major FIDE tournament is a government effort to counter that sentiment.
Saudi Arabia's extremely weak in chess, much weaker than Iran or even Qatar.
On the FIDE list of countries, averaging the ten best players, Saudi Arabia
ranked 134th among men, with a total of 55 players counted.
The highest rated is Ahmed Al Ghamdi (2159).
A women's ranking does not exist for Saudi Arabia, as no woman in the
KSA has ever participated in a rated international chess tournament."
Ukrainian GM Anna Muzychuk (whose stature in women's chess seems to
be somewhat exaggerated by the Western non-chess media) is boycotting.
The world's highest rated (by far) woman player, Hou Yifan, also is not playing.
"Muzychuk's concerns were partially addressed when FIDE reached an
agreement with the organisers on a dress code for women which called
for "dark blue or black formal trouser suits, with high necked white blouses".
Outside of the playing hall and the hotel, women would still need to observe
local dress code laws, including wearing an abaya. That is, arguably, an
improvement over the situation at the 2017 Women's World Championship
in Tehran, where players were requred to wear a hijab while competing."
Saudi Arabia has major differences with several countries in the region
(not only Israel), including Iran and Qatar. FIDE intervention was needed
to enable Qatar's players (including GM Mohamed Al-Medaihki and his
wife GM Zhu Chen) to participate.
"From Iran, only IM Sarasadat Khademalsharieh qualified, but she decided
not to travel to Saudi Arabia, without attempting to obtain a visa.
Presumably she would have encountered a similar difficulty [as Israeli players]
though we can't know for certain."
Saudi Arabia might well have excluded players from Iran as well as from Israel.
But far fewer Westerners presumably would object to excluding Iranians than Israelis.
(President Trump might well have congratulated Saudi Arabia for excluding Iranians.)
For a FIDE World Championship tournament in Las Vegas, the USA excluded players
from Iran and Syria. (So let's not pretend that the USA's above reproach.)
"None of the above dissuaded the bulk of the world's elite from attending, with the
notable exception of Hikaru Nakamura [USA] ... But 20 out of the top 30 players are there,
and aside from Nakamura, none of those absent (Lenier Dominguez, Vladimir Kramnik,
Anish Giri, Wesley So, Fabiano Caruana, Dmitry Jakovenko, David Navara, Michael Adams
and Gata Kamsky) have publically taken any sort of stand in protest."
"Only GM Irina Krush (in the Women's tournament) and GM Varuzhan Akobian have travelled
to Riyadh from the USA. (IM Anna Zatonskih plays for the USA, but lives in Germany.)"
Irina Krush's of Jewish heritage, though she reportedly has converted to Orthodox Christianity.
Saudi Arabia has excluded players seeking to use Israeli passports, but not all Jewish players.
"Magnus Carlsen's manager, FM Espen Agdestein, was quoted saying:
"[Magnus] will play the championship, and [is as] apolitical as he is a chess player.
Norway has no sanctions against Saudi-Arabia and Norwegian politicians and corporate
business are dealing with the country".
Carlsen has even brought two of his sisters with him to Riyadh."
""For me it's not a big problem because I'm a man and I can go anywhere and I don't
have big problems, but for women of course it's a bit unpleasant, but basically I don't
see anything so complicated for them to play because it's not a [long] tournament like
the World Cup — it's just four days and you can come and play and forget about this —
and the prizes are huge for chess. Of course it's maybe not the best place which it could
have been, but it's not a big problem."
--Russian GM Sergey Karjakin
Boycotts by a few top players like Anna Muzychak and Hikaru Nakamura will make no
practical difference when more prominent players like Magnus Carlsen choose to participate.
By the way, I don't recall anyone boycotting a FIDE World Championship tournament in
Las Vegas in order to protest the USA's exclusion of players from Iran and Syria.
Politically speaking, should the US government (led by President Trump) welcome this
FIDE tournament as a sign of Saudi Arabia defying conservative religious opposition to
chess or lament it for excluding players from Israel, though presumably not from Iran?