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Saudi becomes first Arab country to sit on global chess body's advisory board 

Participants attend the King Salman World Rapid and Blitz Championships, the first international chess competition held in Saudi Arabia, in the capital Riyadh on December 26, 2017. The Israel Chess Federation said today it is seeking compensation from the organisers of a tournament in Saudi Arabia, after the Gulf state refused to issue visas for its players. The regulations of the organisers, the World Chess Federation (FIDE), stipulate that no player should be refused the opportunity to participate, but players from three states -- Iran, Qatar, and Israel, had initially not received visas. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images)
Participants attend the King Salman World Rapid and Blitz Championships, the first international chess competition held in Saudi Arabia, in the capital Riyadh on December 26, 2017 [STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images]

Saudi Arabia has become the first Arab country awarded a place on the advisory board of the International Chess Federation (FIDE) which is the governing body of international chess competitions based in Switzerland.

According to the Saudi Press Agency, the position will be filled by Abdullah Al-Wahshi who is the president of the Saudi Chess Federation (SCF). The Advisory Council supervises all decisions and regulations pertaining to chess federations around the word and is considered to be the highest advisory authority in the FIDE.

"The weight of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its position in all fields played a role in nominating us and joining this advisory council," Al-Wahshi said in a press release.

He added that between 2017 and 2019, his country has held the King Salman International Rapid and Blitz tournament in an unprecedented sporting event, with the participation of most countries of the world. This achievement, he said, raised the status of Saudi chess, leading to the kingdom's participation in the World Chess Olympics in India where four titles were won.

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The 2017 chess tournament was hosted in the kingdom despite the religious rulings by the country's grand mufti two years prior prohibiting playing the game as it was "a form of gambling and a waste of time". The event also drew the ire of the Israel Chess Federation over the refusal of visas being granted to seven Israeli players.

The following year FIDE announced that Saudi Arabia had been stripped of the right to host the World Chess Rapid and Blitz tournament, which was relocated to Russia instead. Although a reason was not given, an advocacy group that represents Israeli chess players, said it had pressured the association to act after failing to enforce policies  that reject "discriminatory treatment for national, political, racial, social or religious reasons or on account of gender".

According to the Bayt Al Fann website, chess is believed to have originated in northern India in the 6th century CE before spreading to Persia. After the Islamic Conquest of Persia, (which has been referred to as the most important development in the history of chess), the game became popular among Arabs, eventually reaching Al-Andalus (Muslim-ruled Iberian Peninsula) before being introduced to the rest of Europe.

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