Skip to Content
Chess

The International Chess Federation’s Argument For Banning Trans Women Gives The Game Away

11:34 AM EDT on August 23, 2023

The table with the chess board appears ready for the game between Ding Liren and Ian Nepomniachtchi on the first day of competition at the FIDE Candidates Chess Tournament on June 17, 2022 in Madrid, Spain. (Miguel Pereira/Getty Images)
Miguel Pereira/Getty Images

Of all the sports to roll out harsh anti-trans rules restricting who is allowed to play, one might expect that chess—fucking chess!—would be among the least likely to enforce harsh gender-based restrictions. But it's crucial to remember that a bunch of weird bigots hold a lot of power in international chess.

Last week, chess international governing body FIDE announced a suite of new rules regulating how trans players are allowed and mostly not allowed to participate in tournaments. Per the new regulations, trans women will be banned from FIDE women's events, at least until they can conduct two years of "further analysis" (FIDE never specifies what this means). Trans men will have to forfeit all their previous titles, while trans women will not. Trans players will also have to register as such and "confirm in writing that the player is familiar with the restrictions established by these regulations and undertakes to comply with them."

What is the logic here? What possible innate gendered advantage could anyone have over any other player in a game in which you sit and stare at rows of weird little guys? When the Washington Post asked FIDE why it felt such a need to restrict trans players from participating in tournaments, its answer made no sense. "Of course men and women are equally intellectually capable," the statement read, setting up an all-time "but" moment. "However, in chess as a sport other factors like physical endurance may play a role."

This is the ideal example to prove that this has nothing to do with fairness in sports, only exclusion. One heartening sign here is that many of the most prominent national chess federations, including the American, German, English, and French governing bodies, have announced that they will not comply with the new FIDE guidelines at their own events. It's also worth mentioning that the gender line doesn't exist for the majority of chess competitions, so enforcing it at the highest level is particularly egregious. It's an assault on the rights of trans players under the thinnest justification.

"FIDE's transgender policy is ridiculous and dangerous," grandmaster and two-time U.S. champion Jennifer Shahade said in a statement to Chess.com. "It's obvious they didn't consult with any transgender players in constructing it. It's also sinister timing that this comes out just as chess is finally reckoning with sexual assault and harassment in chess highlighting the links between misogyny and transphobia."

This past February, Shahade accused grandmaster Alejandro Ramirez of sexually assaulting several players. Eight women came forward with stories of similar abuse by Ramirez, and last week, both Chess.com and Lichess announced that they would be suspending their relationship with the powerful St. Louis Chess Club over their alleged mishandling of the claims against him. According to the Wall Street Journal, the SLCC were aware of claims that Ramirez had abused a 15-year-old in 2021, and their refusal to investigate or suspend him allowed him to coach the U.S. women’s team at the World Chess Olympiad the following year. On Aug. 8, a group of 14 of the most prominent female players from France published an open letter decrying the endemic sexism and sexual violence that have harmed generations of young women who want to break into chess.

That is the real scandal in chess. It would be contemptible for FIDE to create a distracting, petty fight with trans players at any point, but to do so at the tail end of a significant increase in participation from people outside of the usual demographic is especially boneheaded. Worse still, to pick this fight now, while a movement against sexual misconduct in the chess world grows larger, reveals an acute level of contempt for both trans players and cis women within the chess world. Why would anyone take the federation seriously when it's made its priorities so clear?

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter