Chess tournament in Saudi Arabia starts amid controversy



RIYADH, Weedah Hamzah, Amr Mostafa and Eliyahu Kamisher (dpa) - An international chess tournament started in Saudi Arabia for the first time ever on Tuesday amid a controversy after Israeli players were denied visas to the kingdom.
The three-day King Salman World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships, organized by the World Chess Federation, started with 236 players representing 70 countries, according to the organizers.



The players include both men and women. There are also some Saudi chess players participating in the tournament as well.
The first round of the tournament saw a surprise loss for the Norwegian world champion Magnus Carlsen in front of Chinese player Bu Xiangzhi, the Saudi Press agency (SPA) reported.
The tournament is being supervised by some 40 international judges, the organizers said.
The move to bring more international entertainment to the public is part of the kingdom's Vision 2030 plan, launched by ambitious Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in a bid to open the country to investments and diversify its oil-dependent economy.
Turki al-Sheikh, the chairman of the Board of Directors of the General Authority for Sport, described it as a source of "pride" for Saudis.
The chess tournament comes after the game was declared "forbidden" in Islam by Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdelaziz al-Sheikh in 2016.
Saudi Arabia usually adheres to strict Sunni Islamic ideology.
The World Chess Organization said they had reached a "historic agreement" by which female chess players would not be required to wear Islamic head or body coverings.
Politics, however, has cast a shadow on the tournament.
The Israel Chess Federation says Saudi Arabia refused to issue visas for Israeli players who wanted to participate and is demanding financial compensation.
"We want to compensate our players for the fact that they were professionally damaged, and due to the economic circumstances," Israel Chess Federation spokesman Lior Aizenberg told dpa.
Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have official diplomatic relations.
Two million dollars in prize money is on the line during the competition.
Aizenburg said his federation is demanding the World Chess Federation "immediately" cancel future competitions scheduled to take place in Saudi Arabia.
"They are organizing world tournaments without letting our players play," he said. "This is unacceptable to us."
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Wednesday, December 27th 2017
Weedah Hamzah, Amr Mostafa and Eliyahu Kamisher
           


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