The International Chess Federation (FIDE) has banned transgender women from participating in women’s events until the federation conducts “further analysis” and renders a final decision.
The FIDE said that a decision could take up to two years, drawing intense criticism from some players and enthusiasts.
In a meeting earlier this month, FIDE’s council approved the updated policy which will come into effect on August 21. The updated policy does say that “there are no restrictions to play in the open section for a person who has changed [their] gender”.
The vast majority of chess tournaments are open categories with a select few – including the Women’s World Chess Championship – dedicated to just women.
The new regulations also state that if a player holds a women’s title, but changes their gender to male, the federation will ‘abolish’ their women’s titles. However, if the gender change is from male to female, all previous titles will remain “eligible.”
FIDE’s new policy positions trans women as a danger to the integrity of women’s chess, as if being assigned male at birth makes an individual innately smarter than others. People on social media were quick to point out how wildly “sexist” and bigoted the FIDE policy is. The National Center for Transgender Equality, an advocacy group based in the US, are among many criticizing the decision.
This is so insulting to cis women, to trans women, and to the game itself. It assumes that cis women couldn’t be competitive against cis men – and relies on ignorant anti-trans ideas. https://t.co/vbvJp346QA
— National Center for Transgender Equality (@TransEquality) August 16, 2023
Many sports governing bodies have been working on policies towards transgender athletes – last month, the world’s cycling governing body passed a ruling preventing transgender women from competing in female events. Meanwhile on Wednesday World Aquatics said it would debut a new open category for transgender athletes at this year’s Swimming World Cup event in Berlin after it voted last year to stop transgender athletes from competing in women’s elite races. But chess does not involve comparable levels of physical activity.
While it is unclear exactly why chess tournaments have a separate category for women, some have speculated that it is due to the large difference in the number of men competing compared to the number of women. Chess has always been a fairly sexist sport – in a 1963 interview, Bobby Fischer was dismissive of female players, calling them “terrible” and saying it was because “[women] are not so smart”. In 2015, Nigel Short argued that male players performed better because men and women were “hard-wired” for different skills.
The 2020 Netflix series, The Queen’s Gambit captured the struggles of women in the game, where female grandmasters are rare – many came out later saying that the reality was even worse than what the show portrayed. This decision also comes at a time when the #MeToo movement has rocked the world of chess. Numerous women have accused elite player and coach Alejandro Ramirez of misconduct. Two bodies that run chess in the U.S. allegedly knew of accusations for several years.