News of the flabbergasting declaration reverberated around the globe, and not just in chess sites such as ChessBase. All the major media outlets picked up on the story and ran with it, discussing not only the curious contradiction of a culture that has embraced the game longer than almost any in the world, both long in the past, but well into the present.
The New York Times reported on the event. You can read the full article here.
British newspaper The Guardian also covered it, as did so many others. You can
read the full article here.
Another obvious question was what had brought about the religious leader’s attention to the game in particular, and singular ire that would warrant such a decree in the first place. In other words: why chess?
Whatever the answers, if indeed they come to light over time, the immediate concern is on what this might mean for the game in countries subject to his religious authority: notably Saudi Arabia itself, as well as other Muslim nations in the vicinity. They have been advancing the use of chess in education, showing forward thinking in how it can be used to develop abilities in their children that can translate to increased competitiveness in the modern world, and let's not forget the fantastic events they have brought to the chess calendar such as the Dubai Open, the Abu Dhabi open, the Al-Ain Open, and need we mention the recently held Qatar Masters that had us riveted to our computers during the end-of-year holidays.
In response to the growing disquiet, and as a means to assuage concern that this might mean the end to this, Yaser Al Otaibi, the General Secretary of the Saudi Chess Association, sent a letter to FIDE republished below.
Saturday, 23 January 2016 09:10
To : FIDE Executive Director Mr. Nigel P.B. FREEMAN
Greetings from Saudi,
We thank our friends all over the world who showed concern regarding chess in Saudi Arabia. It is worth mentioning here that, in general, and for us as Muslims, all sports can fall into being religiously illegal once it involves gambling, directing players away from religious practice (prayers, etc.) and of course if they lead to creating hatred between players.
The Saudi Chess Association (SCA) is officially recognized by the Saudi Olympic Committee and is a full member of FIDE, the Asian Chess Federation as well as the Arab Chess Federation. Many local events and seminars are being organized and run as scheduled in all the cities of the Kingdom with an increasing number of participants from all ages. Also, the SCA is scheduled to take part, once again, in the next World Chess Olympiad as well as other regional and international FIDE events.
Moreover, the Saudi Chess Association is currently in the last stages of implementing the Chess in Schools program aiming to widen the grass-roots in exploring local chess talents.
Many thanks and best regards,
Yaser Al Otaibi