Double Chess Champion Boycotts Saudi Arabia Tournament Over Women's Rights

27-year-old Anna Muzychuk refuses to travel to Riyadh, the capital, where she wouldn't be allowed to walk down the street unaccompanied.

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It takes skill, time and days of staring at a board - agonising over each tiny move - to become a world chess champion. It's also a title you don't throw away lightly, but that's exactly what Anna Muzychuk has done.

'In a few days I am going to lose two World Champion titles - one by one,' she said in an emotional statement.

'Just because I decided not to go to Saudi Arabia.'

The 27-year-old, from Lviv, Ukraine, is the World Number 1 in two speed disciplines - rapid and blitz - where each players gets 15 minutes (or 10, in blitz) to complete their moves.

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She has chosen not to defend her titles at a tournament held in Saudi Arabia because of the way the kingdom treats women as 'secondary creatures', despite modest signs of reform under the young prince, Mohammed bin Salman (namely, women being allowed to drive cars in June 2018 and holding its first-ever concert by a female musician).

'[I decided] 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,' said Muzychuk. '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.'

According to the Guardian, the Saudis are believed to have paid $1.5m (£750,000) to host the championship for the first time. That fee is four times what the host usually forks out and the prize money at this week's event is much higher than what players would usually receive - particularly for championship contenders like Anna.

Female competitors are, according to local reports, being allowed to wear dark blue or black formal trousers and high-necked blouses, avoiding Saudi rules of dress that require female residents and most visitors to wear full-body abayas (loose-fitting, long robes).

As Muzychuk continues in her Facebook post: '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 [also a world-class chess player] - and I am really happy that we share this point of view.'

The incident comes two years after Saudi Arabia's top cleric issued a religious edict against playing chess. In early 2016, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Sheikh said that the board game is 'forbidden' in Islam because it wastes time and can lead to rivalry among players. So the very fact that the country is hosting a world chess tournament for the first time is in itself controversial.

The country's young ruler, Mohammed, has improved conditions during his first six months as prince. On top of female drivers and pop concerts, it was announced in October that strict segregation laws were to be relaxed to allow women into sports stadiums for the first time and the public ban on cinemas is also expected to be lifted.

In September, Mohammed promised that his kingdom, long seen as an exporter of a puritanical Islam, would return to 'what we were before – a country of moderate Islam that is tolerant of all religions and to the world'.

Still, Muzychuk isn't giving up: 'And yes, for those few who care - we'll be back!'

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