The Reason this World Champion Is Stepping Away From Her Titles

Anna Muzychuk is taking a stand for women’s rights at her own expense. The Chess Grandmaster won the 2016 Women’s World Rapid Chess Championship and the Women’s World Blitz Chess Championship. She’s currently ranked the number two woman by Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE), which governs international chess competitions. And she’s walking away from this year’s world championships.

She’s not retiring or concerned about her challengers. She’s taking a stand for herself and for women in general by refusing to play in Saudi Arabia. She wrote on 23 December on her Facebook page:

In a few days I am going to lose two World Champion titles – one by one. Just because I decided not to go to Saudi Arabia. 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. Exactly one year ago I won these two titles and was about the happiest person in the chess world but this time I feel really bad. 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. All that is annoying, but the most upsetting thing is that almost nobody really cares. That is a really bitter feeling, still not the one to change my opinion and my principles. The same goes for my sister Mariya – and I am really happy that we share this point of view. And yes, for those few who care – we’ll be back!

Mariya, currently ranked 6th, deserves an equal amount of credit for standing up to a country that only recently agreed to allow women to drive. 

Saudia Arabia and FIDE perhaps thought that they were being accommodating by not requiring an abaya or hijab, but requiring a strict dress code of “high-necked white blouses with black or blue trousers.” However, outside of the tournament, women would still be required to cover up.

This isn’t Muzychuk’s first complaint against FIDE. She wrote back in November:

FIDE has announced World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships to be organized in the end of this year in Saudi Arabia. First Iran, then Saudi Arabia.. wondering where the next Women’s World Championships will be organized. Despite of the record prize fund, I am not going to play in Riyadh what means losing two world champion titles. To risk your life, to wear abaya all the time?? Everything has its limits and headscarves in Iran was more than enough.

Now, why on earth would FIDE hold chess championships in countries where women are not treated or recognized as equals to men? Money. Saudi Arabia reportedly paid $ 1.5 million dollars for the privilege of hosting the competition in an attempt to show how open they are becoming. And they are supposed to host for the next three years, a move which FIDE’s Israel Gelfer says is illegal because players from Israel, Qatar, and Iran cannot obtain visas to enter Saudi Arabia. Hardly a show of openness. 

The Muzychuk sisters aren’t the only ones taking a stand. American grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, won’t be there either. Nakamura, who is male and therefore not subject to the super strict dress code (although men are not allowed to wear revealing clothing either, but that wouldn’t be proper at any chess tournament outside of a beach), voiced his complaints on Twitter.

Hopefully FIDE will realize money isn’t everything and stop holding competitions in countries where women and homosexuals are not given basic human rights. And thank goodness for the Muzychuk sisters, Nakamura and others who are willing to make sacrifices to stand up to oppression, even at great personal cost.

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