"[I decided] not to play by someone's rules, not to wear abaya, not to be accompanied getting outside, and altogether not to feel myself a secondary creature", she wrote.
Speaking to Reuters, Israeli Chess Federation's spokesperson Lior Aizenberg said, "The event is not a world championship if they prevent chess players from several countries from taking part [.] Every chess player should have the right to participate in an event on the basis of professional criteria, regardless of their passports, their place of issue or the stamps they bear". "But I took this decision and I am responsible for it".
The Independent reports that Saudi leadership has loosened restrictions on women's dress for the tournament, which began on Tuesday, and does not require that competitors wear the traditional abaya.
"It was certainly quite hard to take such a decision because I am a current world champion in these chess disciplines - rapid chess and blitz". It's certainly quite the stand for her to decline to defend her title over Saudi Arabia's rules for women, and she's missing out on both a title defense and a lot of prize money as a result. "I am ready to stand for my principles and skip the event, where in five days I was expected to earn more than I do in a dozen of events combined".
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Israelis say Saudi Arabia ignored requests by Israeli players to obtain visas to participate in the tournament, perhaps unsurprising given that Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have diplomatic relations. "The exception is whereby the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has historically not had diplomatic ties with a specific country-thus has maintained its policy".
Saudi Arabia wanted to host the World Chess Championships to show how it's opening up under crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, but the PR move has rather backfired, instead revealing how restrictive the country remains.
"Ground-breaking special arrangements have been made to issue visas upon arrival for over 200 persons, including the players of Iran and Qatar", FIDE said in a statement. It would have marked the first time Saudi Arabia had publicly hosted Israelis as the Gulf state does not recognise Israel and there are no formal ties between them.
Jenny Singer is a writer for the Forward.
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