The seven Israeli chess players who believed the recent open contacts between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and state of Israel would make it a no-brainer for them to travel to Riyadh to compete in the world speed chess championships being held this week (Dec. 26-30).
The World Chess Federation stated players from Qatar and Iran, which also have disputes with Saudi Arabia, had been issued visas, but did not mention the Israeli players. He also asserted that the tournament would take place as planned.
Saudi Arabia struck a $1.5 million deal with FIDE granting it hosting rights for the next three annual World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships, meaning that Israeli players could be frozen out of the next three tournaments.
Other leading chess players have previously expressed objections to the hosting of the tournament in Saudi Arabia.
Chess, or "shatranj" as it is known in Arabic, was introduced from India to Ancient Persia where it became mandatory as part of the princely upbringing.
Almost two years ago, a top Saudi cleric called chess un-Islamic, but Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been pushing for social reforms, such as lifting the ban on women drivers starting next year and allowing movies and concerts in the country.
The chess tournament, however, has also been hit by regional politics. The Qatar Chess Association was informed that their players would play under their own flag.
Any news on the Internet stating that visas for players from Iran and Qatar have been "refused" is completely wrong, it said.
"The Saudis gave visas to Qatari players, even though they are sanctioning that regime, and to Iranian players who come from a country with which the Kingdom is involved in a proxy war", Lawson added, calling the move against the Israelis "shameful".
"The fact that players from Iran and Qatar may decide not to participate, after consulting their own authorities, is clearly their own individual decision", the statement said.
This issue was resolved.
In unprepared comments addressed to sports official Turki bin Abdel Muhsin Al-Asheikh, Deputy President of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) Georgios Makropoulos said that the federation "would like to see the next event, here, as King Salman Peace & Friendship World Rapid & Blitz Chess Championships".
It includes around 240 players, both men and women, from 70 countries. It's another step forward, some say, for women's rights in Saudi Arabia, where a ban for females to drive was only lifted in September.
Women are reportedly being allowed to wear dark blue or black formal pants and high-necked blouses, avoiding Saudi rules of dress that require female residents and most visitors to wear loose-fitting, long robes known as 'abayas.' Most Saudi women also cover their hair and face with veils.
"To organize a chess tournament in a country where basic human rights aren't valued is awful", Hikaru Nakamaru, the USA number three player, said in November.