When Chess & Politics mix: The Israeli Boycott
When will it end?
News stories such as the above are nothing new. They have been going on since the founding of the Jewish state in Palestine. But since the onset of the anti-Israeli BDS movement (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) the number of such incidents has increased.
I am a big believer in the fundamental right of freedom of expression, and as such I also have to believe in the right to the use of boycott as a valid means of non-violent protest.
But as a chess player I have to ask if chess is the proper arena for such actions? Should we tolerate chess and politics to freely mix in our tournaments? And if we decide no, then can we trust FIDE to do the right thing?
This is the first part of a 3-part article that takes a closer look at the issue of the Israeli boycott in sports from the perspective of the IOC (International Olympic Committee), FIDE (Federation International des Echecs) and the ECU ( European Chess Union).
Time to follow the IOC’s lead?
The IOC’s position on Israeli boycotts…
…IS VERY CLEAR. It is against the IOC’s Code of Ethics for any organizer or athlete to boycott Israel, (or any other country for that matter). And should any host organizer or athlete be found to act contrary, the IOC will not hesitate to act, with sanctions and possibly even stripping the event from the host organizer:
How does FIDE deal with boycotts?
FIDE does not have what I would call a clear, black and white policy regarding a political boycott. Perhaps on account of FIDE’s motto being ‘We are one family’, the idea of sanctioning or expelling an offending player (or country) might be seen as cold and unproductive.
Historically FIDE has dealt with the subject of boycotts of a political nature in its most visible and prestigious events by one of two methods.
The first method might be called ‘diplomacy‘. That is, providing a clever way to disguise a boycotted game (or match) by referring to it instead as ‘unplayed‘ or ‘forfeited‘ (or one of the players ‘withdraws‘). Here the ‘boycotter’ would only be required to provide a ‘valid reason’ for not playing the game/match, and for the Chief Arbiter to accept it.
The second method is by deliberately manipulating the pairing system so as to try to avoid a pairing where one of the two players (or teams) would certainly boycott.
Neither of these two methods tackles the fundamental issue of boycott. And from what I have witnessed over the years observing how FIDE operates, this is intentional.
A Vague Resolution
This is the ‘official’ FIDE resolution concerning boycotts. The HandBook’s Part F. Apart from the title headers at the very top of the page, there is not a single mention of boycott in the gibberish that follows.
Boycott not a breach of the Code of Ethics
This is from the FIDE Handbook Part 09 dealing with Code of Ethics. A relevant part of FIDE’s ‘diplomatic’ solution to boycotting is 2.2.6 above.
What constitutes a ‘valid reason’? Is a state of war between two countries sufficient? I would think so.
Though this item only mentions a player deliberately withdrawing from a tournament, taken together with part #8 of FIDE’s Competition Rules
they both form the mechanism for allowing the Chief Arbiter of the tournament to disguise a boycott, if he/she so wishes.
End of Part I