Posted on Dec 27, 2018
For the second year in a row Saudi Arabia has refused to allow Israeli chess players to attend the King Salman World Blitz & Rapid Championships, refusing them visas.
Israeli chess grandmaster Ilya Smirin and former Israeli Chess Federation spokesman Lior Aizenberg wrote in November to the international chess governing body, the International Federation of Chess, or FIDE, seeking assurances that it would not allow host countries to discriminate against Israelis who want to compete.
It said that the Israeli players “inability to participate in this tournament was due to FIDE’s failure to secure entry visas to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the Israeli nationals and, correspondingly, its failure to guarantee their equal treatment and to protect them against discrimination on the basis of their nationality.”
As a result, Riyadh has been stripped of the tournament, which will now take place in St Petersburg, Russia.
The swap was negotiated by Arkady Dvorkovich, a former Kremlin aide who was recently elected president of FIDE.
Dvorkovich was the mastermind behind Russia's successful but highly controversial bid to host the 2018 World Cup. The tactics allegedly used in that bid are now believed to have been employed in his campaign for leadership of the organisation, with accusations of vote-buying and significant lobbying by the Russian government, including embassies, encouraging national chess federations to back his candidacy.
His leadership campaign was based on a platform of transparency and anti-corruption. However, his involvement in Russian sport came at a time when it became increasingly politicised and mired in allegations of state collusion in scandals such as the doping of Russian athletes in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
He is quick to defend Russia's political agenda, and in September attracted controversy by suggesting that there was no evidence of the Russian state being involved in the UK Salisbury poisonings. This stance was considered objectionable and inappropriate by the English Chess Federation, however Nigel Short, the British chess grandmaster, who also stood as for the FIDE leadership on an anti-corruption platform unexpectedly withdrew his candidacy at the last minute, urging his supporters to vote for Mr Dvorkovich.
From May 2012 until May 2018 Dvorkovich served as Deputy Prime Minister under Dmitry Medvedev, having previously been an assistant to Vladimir Putin.
His predecessor as head of FIDE was the Russian millionaire Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who had been sanctioned by the United States for his “Networks providing support to the Government of Syria, including facilitating the Syrian Government oil purchase from ISIL (the Islamic State)". He was also reported to have close relations with dictators, including Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. In February 2018, Swiss bank UBS closed FIDE's accounts as a result of his position in the organisation.
In July 2018 it was reported that Dvorkovich was also included in a pre-sanctions list of the US Treasury for, among others, alleged “human rights violations, annexation of Crimea and ongoing military operations in eastern Ukraine” by Russia.
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