World Chess Federation Bans Trans Women from Women’s Chess
How exactly do trans women have an unfair advantage in a sport involving smarts?
The International Chess Federation (FIDE) – the world’s top chess federation based in Switzerland – has ruled that transgender players cannot compete in women’s events until individual cases are reviewed by officials, reported Associated Press. As per the report, FIDE acknowledged that its member federations have received an increasing number of recognition requests from transgender players and that the participation of trans women would hinge on an assessment of gender change, which could take up to two years. “Change of gender is a change that has a significant impact on a player’s status and future eligibility to tournaments, therefore it can only be made if there is a relevant proof of the change provided,” reads FIDE’s ruling.
The move comes at a time when many sports governing authorities have been deliberating over policies around the participation of transgender athletes in sports that involve physical activity. Just last month, world cycling governing body, UCI, banned the participation of trans women in female events – a move which was reportedly meant “to protect the female class,” fromsupposed physical advantages of trans people, reported The BBC. However, chess does not involve such levels of physical exertion. FIDE’s recent decision, which also coincides with the federation hosting a World Cup event in Azerbaijan, has been criticized by advocacy groups, trans rights supporters and some players. The question everyone seems to be asking is: How exactly do trans women have an unfair advantage in chess?
“There is no physical advantage in chess unless you believe men are inherently more able to play than women — I spent my chess career being told women’s brains were smaller than men’s and we shouldn’t even be playing,” UK MP Angela Eagle, a joint winner of the 1976 British Girls’ Under-18 chess championship, told The BBC. Following the publication of the latest rules, the National Center for Transgender Equality also highlighted that the regulation “assumes that cis women couldn’t be competitive against cis men – and relies on ignorant anti-trans ideas.”
Ana Valens, a trans reporter, pointed out that FIDE’s rules are “especially punitive for transgender women.” According to the rules, players who change their gender on their FIDE ID – an identification card issued when a player registers with FIDE – will face restrictions.
“In the event that the gender was changed from a male to a female, the player has no right to participate in official FIDE events for women until further FIDE’s decision is made,” state the rules, adding that a person who has changed their gender can still play in the “open” section.
Further, players who are trans men – who have officially changed their gender to male – will lose any women’s titles they held as these will be “abolished.” These titles can be reinstated if they change their gender back to female. As Valens notes, “A trans man won that title fair and square; just because their gender changed doesn’t erase their accomplishments.”
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Trans chess player and coach Yosha Iglesias called out FIDE’s ruling as “anti-trans regulations,” highlighting the harm it poses to trans people. “The new regulations will make trans chess players all over the world face a horrible dilemma: transition or quit chess. This appalling situation will leader to depression and suicide attempts,” she wrote. According to The Hindustan Times, Iglesias further claimed that the recent regulations are against the International Olympic Committee (IOC) guidelines that outline principles of fairness, inclusion, and non-discrimination.
Jennifer Shahade, who holds the FIDE title of Woman Grandmaster and is a two-time US Women’s Champion, has also voiced her criticism of the “dangerous” rules, adding that “It’s obvious they didn’t consult with any transgender players in constructing it…”
FIDE clarified to AP that the regulations are aimed at “clearly defining the procedure” on how a person who has transitioned can register on FIDE Directory. This process requires submitting sufficient proof of gender change to the National Rating Officer. The rules further add that while FIDE will not publicly discuss someone’s gender change, it holds the right to “mark” a player’s database or use other measures “to inform organizers on a player being a transgender, so that to prevent them from possible illegitimate enrollments in tournaments.”
Some have even pointed out how sexism remains entrenched in the sport of chess. Earlier this year, 14 of France’s top women chess players released an open letter, highlighting their experiences of sexism and sexual violence from other players, coaches, and managers. FIDE’s ruling, then, is being seen as unjustified “trans panic” that will only serve to further marginalize an already marginalized population, as Cathy Renna of the National LGBTQ Task Force in the US said.
“The new ‘guidelines’ on trans competitors in chess are infuriating, confusing, contradictory and a sign that the anti-trans movement, particularly those who are promoting exclusion in sports, is spreading into other areas of competitive sport and is a very disturbing development,” said Renna.
Ananya Singh is a Senior Staff Writer at TheSwaddle. She has previously worked as a journalist, researcher and copy editor. Her work explores the intersection of environment, gender and health, with a focus on social and climate justice.