TORONTO (Sep. 22)
Two Jewish members of the Canadian chess team scheduled to play at the international Chess Olympiad in Dubai November 13-December 3 will not attend because Israel has been excluded from competition, and for security concerns.
Roman Pelts, 49, of Toronto, ranked as a chessmaster by FIDE (the world governing chess body, the Federation Internationale des Echecs), and eight-time Canadian champion Abe Yanofsky of Winnipeg, chosen as team captain, say they will not participate in the tournament.
The Chess Federation of Canada had earlier protested Israel’s exclusion, but has found two replacements and will still compete, says Stephen Ball, its executive director. Ray Stone of Toronto will replace Pelts, and Denis Allan of Hamilton will replace Yanofsky, Ball said.
The refusal of Pelts and Yanofsky to play in the Olympiad will not affect their position with the Chess Federation of Canada, Ball added, and both players said they would enter other competitions.
Pelts, who came to Canada from Odessa in 1978 and now operates a chess school in Toronto, wrote a letter to Ball explaining that he will not participate because the Israeli team has been refused permission to play.
He said it was the right of all nations to participate in the chess Olympiad and that the situation was unacceptable and contradicts games regulations. “People have to know the truth. They have to know why I will not go,” Pelts said in an interview.
He said that he had never taken such political action before, and added that he did not feel his chess career in the Soviet Union was adversely affected by his being a Jew.
CONCERNS ABOUT SECURITY
Yanofsky, speaking by phone from Winnipeg, cited the case of Leon Klinghoffer, the American Jew who was killed by terrorists on the Achille Lauro cruise ship, to explain his concerns about security in Dubai. As a Jew, even his Canadian citizenship might not protect him from being a target of terrorists, Yanofsky said.
“And since Israel is being prohibited from play, it just wouldn’t be right for me to play,” he said, adding that he was disappointed the Canadian team was participating.
Ball commented that he thought it “inappropriate” that political issues are interfering in a non-political activity, but the federation had already decided that boycotting the Olympiad would probably not help.
WILL TRY TO CHANGE DUBAI’S POSITION
However, Federation president Peter Stockhausen earlier said that Canada’s representative to FIDE, J.G. Prentice, would make a last-minute attempt to persuade Dubai to allow Israel’s entry. Thus far, only the Scandinavian and Dutch chess federations have said they will not participate if Israel is excluded.
FIDE regulations allow a country to exclude another with which it is at war, said Yanofsky, a lawyer, former Mayor of the Winnipeg suburb of West Kildonan and retiring Councilman. But under these circumstances, that is simply a technicality, said Yanofsky, who received the grandmaster title for his performance for Canada in 1964 at the Olympiad in Tel Aviv.
The American team (many of whose members are not now competing because of the embargo placed on Israel) plans to introduce an amendment to the regulations to prevent this from happening again, he said. If that amendment is not passed, Yanofsky said, the American team plans to withdraw from competition.
The chess Olympiad is held every two years with every other competition in Greece. When Israel hosted the games in 1972, much of the Eastern bloc stayed away.
Ball said the Canadian chess federation receives no governmental assistance of any kind and raises all funds privately through donations, memberships, and selling chess related materials. He added that because tournaments are so expensive to host, FIDE often has only one nation bidding for the position.