In recent years, Saudi Arabia has amended certain laws and traditions (if only slightly) to accommodate progressive attitudes. In 2015, for instance, King Abdullah “let” women vote in the 2015 local elections — a first in the country.
And, during the 2017 World Chess Championship, the world chess organizing body FIDE said there would be “no need to wear a hijab or abaya.” Instead, women would be required to wear high-necked white blouses with either black or blue plants.
While some might have thought the move was progressive, it didn’t sit well with double world chess champion Anna Muzychuk. The Ukrainian chess grandmaster recently announced that because of the prevalent misogyny in the Middle Eastern nation, she would be boycotting the tournament. As a result, she would also give up her two world titles.
“In a few days I am going to lose two World Champion titles – one by one,” Muzychuk wrote on Facebook. “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.”
Muzychuk’s sister, Mariya, is also a grandmaster, and will be skipping the tournament, as well.
This isn’t the first time the chess player has spoken out about oppression against women. She wrote in a a November post: “First Iran, then Saudi Arabia.. wondering where the next Women’s World Championships will be organized. Everything has its limits and headscarves in Iran was more than enough.”
Saudi Arabia agreed to host the World Chess Championships to promote the leadership of crown prince Mohammad bin Salman. However, the PR move has backfired. Since Muzychuk publicly announced her boycotting, the country’s many restrictions have been highlighted.
As Quartz reports, the Saudis paid a huge amount of money — $1.5 million — to host the tournament. The winner of the Open is $250,000. While it is open to both genders, men dominate the tournament. The winner of the women’s competition will take home $80,000.
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Image credit: Anna Muzychuk