When Chess & Politics mix: The Israeli Boycott
Part II: FIDE hypocrisy?
When the young Iranian star grandmaster, Alireza Firouzja, refused to play against an Israeli player at the Grenke Open in Germany earlier this month, the tournament organizers simply considered the game ‘forfeited‘ and allowed the Iranian to continue to participate in the rest of the tournament as though nothing had happened.
Had this been an IOC sanctioned event, then Firouzja would have been expelled from the event and sanctioned for an indeterminate period of time, prevented from participating in other events. Possibly for life.
But because FIDE’s own boycott guidelines are so wishy-washy and left to the individual organizers’ discretion, Firouzja’s Israeli boycott no doubt will be used as propaganda for the pro-BDS movement and be seen as a heroic act.
Firouzja might even be ceremoniously praised by the Ayatollah, as was Aryan Gholami when he also refused to play against an israeli opponent at the Rilton Cup in Sweden earlier this year.
Sadly, in the west much of the mainstream chess social-media frequently reports on the Israeli boycotts as mere curiosities and more often than not sympathizes. For example, in the cases mentioned above, social-media has argued that had the boycott not taken place then the Iranian players would have been severely punished when they returned home. (Which is, unfortunately, known to have happened in the past.)
In any case, the responsibility for this embarrassing situation lies squarely on the shoulders of FIDE, whose years of neglect and laissez-faire attitude towards political boycotts has given way to excessive tolerance, a culture of virtual impunity, lack of any serious consequences, and, at times, even a heroic dimension.
Boycotts have become fashionable!
The Visa Embarrassments
The other dimension to the Israeli boycott has to do with FIDE’s dubious track record for awarding bids for its world championship events to countries that FIDE is fully aware do NOT issue visas to Israeli citizens.
Just some of the better known examples of this: the 1986 Dubai Olympiad; the 2004 Libya World Championship; the 2017 World Blitz & Rapid Championship in Saudi Arabia.
Unlike the situation involving individual boycotts against Israeli players in chess tournaments, FIDE does have very CLEAR regulations against discrimination and against awarding bids to countries that openly practice discrimination.
Despite this, successive FIDE leaderships have ignored its own regulations regarding discrimination. Normally financial issues take priority. The money is always too good to turn down.
In 2017 FIDE, under Makropoulos, awarded an unprecedented 3-year contract to Saudi Arabia for organizing the World Blitz & Rapid Championships, fully aware that Saudi Arabia would not issue visas to Israeli players.
FIDE apologists at the time argued that they were pressuring Saudi Arabia and were fully confident that Israeli participants would be given visas.
But, of course, this was just a well worn deception from the Saudi Arabia play book. No Israeli player participated in Saudi Arabia. The pro-Arab international media was overjoyed and could barely contain themselves.
In 2018, when Dvorkovich was first elected president of FIDE, a genuine attempt was made to remedy the situation, but Saudi Arabia would not budge on the visa issue.
In the end, the tournament was moved to St. Petersburg, but was given the name King Salman at the very last moment…and fully funded by the Saudi’s.
Political intrigue, hypocrisy, lack of transparency and flagrant violation of FIDE’s own anti-discrimination regulations marred every step of the process. (But at least the Israeli players could participate.)
It is anybody’s guess what FIDE will do later this year when Saudi Arabia tries to exercise its right to organize the 2019 edition of the championship.
What is clear from this brief exposition of how FIDE treats boycotts, and especially the Israeli boycott, is that FIDE just does not care enough to change its behaviour.
Having your cake and eating it too?
FIDE has nurtured a culture of indifference and fickleness with regards to the boycott issue. Of shameless opportunism. FIDE pays lips service to its obligations; it says one thing and does another.
FIDE regularly ignores its own regulations, and that of the IOC, of which it is a member and is supposed to respect its regulations and guidelines vis a vis discrimination.
If there is a black sheep in the IOC family, then it is definitely FIDE.
Part III: A ray of hope? A ECU resolution
To be continued…