The push to exclude transgender women from competitive sports has come from some expected places.
In the last week, a new ban came from an unexpected place — chess.
The International Chess Federation, commonly known by its French acronym FIDE, put forth a policy that made drastic changes in the eligibility and classification of transgender competitors.
The rule getting the most attention subjects trans women seeking participation in women’s events to a FIDE review process that amounts to a ban of up to two years pending a decision on the player’s status.
The new regulations took effect Monday. Critical responses from individual players and federations have been constant since the moves were announced by FIDE last week.
“If you want to help women in chess, fight sexist and sexual violence, give women in chess more visibility and more money,” French FIDE Master Yosha Iglesias, a transgender woman, exclaimed via X.
“Don’t use trans women players as scapegoats. We contribute to the development of women in chess. We are women in chess.”
Her nation’s federation was equally strident, saying it will ignore the FIDE regulations.
“We are not going to follow FIDE’s decision,” French Chess Federation vice president Jean-Baptiste Mullon stated to the French daily Libération.
“This sport is by nature inclusive and intergenerational. Children can face old people. Men and women play against each other. The question of trans identity has no place.”
American Grand Master and two-time national champion Jennifer Shahade blasted the move as a diversion amid other issues surrounding elite chess, including growing reports of sexual harassment of women in the game.
“They have this nightmare that they think that a man who does not identify as a woman, doesn’t identify as non-binary is going to pretend to be a woman so they can win a women’s event,” Shahade said in an interview with CNN last week.
“I have been hearing about this for a decade and it's never happened. Why are we not focusing on the real people who need our support and instead we are looking at something someone dreamed up? It’s fiction.”
The United States Chess Federation followed the declaration of its counterpart in France, along with the federations of England and Germany. Further condemnation came from a number of LGBTQ advocacy organizations worldwide.
FIDE officials defended the new regulations in line with the policy changes of organizations such as World Aquatics, World Athletics, and cycling’s world governing body Union Cycliste Internationale. Each placed total bans on trans women participating in women’s events in 2023.
According to the FIDE statement, the governing body contends that gender affirmation “has a significant impact on a player’s status and future eligibility for tournaments”, yet has not stated any studied rationale behind this contention.
Critics also contend the ruling falls in line with the beliefs of FIDE’s president Arkady Dvorkovich, a former deputy prime minister of Russia with close ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
One of the earliest public shows of support came from Chairman of the Russian State Duma Committee on Physical Culture and Sports Dmitry Svishchev, and the ruling also comes mere weeks after Russia enacted a new set of anti-LGBTQ laws including a ban on gender-affirming surgeries.
“This is an absolutely correct decision on behalf of the International Chess Federation,” Svishchev stated to the Russian news agency TASS.
“There are no reasons at all for transgender people to compete among other athletes based on common grounds. Besides a possible physical advantage there are moral and ethical aspects, which may become unbearable for an ordinary athlete.”