Championship Chess in Africa! Libya affirms Commitment!
FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov in a publicity shot with Libyan President Colonel Moammar Al-Qathafi.

FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov in a publicity shot with Libyan President, Colonel Moammar Al-Qathafi. Photo from ChessBase.com.

Amidst the relentless negativity circulated in the world press about Muslims and anything Islamic, a beacon of light is now shining in the Maghreb region of Africa. Libya, a nation long considered a pariah by the Western nations has affirmed its commitment to chess excellence. The recent development has been the clearance of all 128 players seeded for the pending FIDE Knockout Championships. The tournament is to be held in Tripoli, Libya in June and July and hopes to pave a road toward the unification of the World Chess title.

Libya, a host to the 1976 Olympiad tournament, has been under pressure to issue visas to all players, including those players participating from Israel. Libya has been an outspoken opponent of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. Although there was never an official statement banning any of the 128 players, the recent speculation was Israeli players would not be honored visas because of Libya's foreign policy against Israel.  In fact, a separate tournament in Malta was scheduled to be held to accommodate the participating Israeli players GMs
Boris Gelfand and Ilya Smirin.  Emil Sutovsky is reported to be another invitee, but his name is not on the FIDE list.

Such a case is not without precedent as in the 1976 Olympiad there were two separate tournaments: one in Tripoli and the other in Haifa, Israel. This was in the aftermath of the 1974-75 Middle East war and the subsequent oil embargo by OPEC nations. While an unpopular war still rages in Iraq and unrest still grips Israel, perhaps chess will not become a  casualty this time.

However, much of the criticism in the chess press has been mere speculation about the Libyan leader
Moammar Gathafi (Gaddafi) banning the Israeli players. In fact, these claims do not appear to reference any documents which state the Libyan position on the matter. There was a lot of negativity about the FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov having accepting the seed money from Gathafi. Many chess journalists began spreading highly inaccurate information about the Libyan leader to discredit the decision. Some statements were emotionally charged. In a recent press release Gathafi wrote:

Libyan Statement on FIDE Championship

Libya's Press Release

"It gives us great pleasure, on behalf of the Great Socialist Peoples Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, to invite to Tripoli all the qualified participants and guest of the 2004 World Chess Championship.  This great event will feature the top 128 chessplayers in the world, in an epic battle for the supreme chess title.

From the part of the Great Socialist Peoples Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, we guarantee all the necessary organization and security measures for such an important and prestigious sport eventů "

This development will hope to provide some direction for chess and as one chess journalist said, "There is always something special about tournaments in Arab countries." Perhaps it is the tradition of generous hospitality and the wonderful conditions.  Libya has a dual role of being the bridge between both the Arab and African world. The country may be a catalyst not only for a chess renaissance in these two regions, but for chess unification throughout the world. Many will be watching with great interest.

ChessBase.com coverage

Posted by The Chess Drum: 29 April 2004