World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen criticized Saudi Arabia for issuing visas too late to the Qatari players which made it difficult for the players to participate in the tournament, adding that Saudi Arabia should not be allowed to host this year’s tournament unless every country is part of it.
Apart from Qatari players, seven Israeli players were also not allowed to compete. The Qatar team, which included grand master Mohammed al-Medaihki and his wife, the former world champion, Zhu Chen, were also told that, unlike other countries, they would not be allowed to fly their country’s flag at the tournament.
According to a lucrative deal, the World Chess body, FIDE, gets $1.5mn for allowing the Saudi authorities and Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman to gain prestige from hosting the event for three years.
This is a quarter of the record $6mn prize fund the Saudis have offered over the three-year period. However, Carlsen, who won at Riyadh, said that the kingdom should be barred from hosting the tournament for the next two years unless all the players are allowed to take part.
Speaking to Norwegian broadcaster NRK while still in Riyadh he said: “I very much hope that they will resolve the issue of visas to all countries. There were a lot of positive energies here, but if it is not solved until next year, it will be impossible to hold the competition here.”
It should be noted that the head of the English Chess Federation, Dominic Lawson, also said that Saudi Arabia should not be hosting the event in 2018.
Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record led to last week’s tournament in Riyadh being boycotted by many players from around the world. It included women’s double world champion, the Ukrainian Anna Muzychuk, the American super grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura and the British champion, Iovanka Houska.
Nakamura said: ‘To organise a chess tournament where basic human rights aren’t valued is horrible. Chess is a game where all different sorts of people can come together, not a game in which people are divided because of their religion or country of origin.”
In spite of the criticism, Saudi Arabia used the opening ceremony to attack Qatar calling it a ‘mini-state’. Angry fans took to Twitter to accuse Riyadh of continuing its petty squabble with Doha, which began with a diplomatic and transport blockade seven months ago.
@mem3598 said: ‘I want to know why Turk al-Sheikh has to bring up Qatar, we forgot about you completely. We don’t even bring you up anymore’.