The future of transgender women’s participation in high-level women’s chess competitions seems uncertain, after the International Chess Federation introduced new regulations effectively barring many from women’s events for up to two years or more.
The sport’s international governing body, known as FIDE, approved new regulations at a council meeting this month, saying they would be in effect until “further analysis” could be done over the next two years. People who have changed their gender on their FIDE IDs will be able to compete in the “open” section of tournaments, according to the federation.
The regulations state that if the gender of a player “was changed from a male to a female” on their FIDE identification, the “player has no right to participate in official FIDE events for women” until a further decision is made.
A FIDE ID is an individual number assigned to a chess player by the federation. Official tournaments, ratings and more are linked to that number. The change appears to mostly affect chess players who changed their gender identity after signing up for a FIDE ID.
But Dana Reizniece-Ozola, the deputy chair of the organization’s management board, wrote in an email that “the new regulations do not specifically address eligibility of the transgender players to women tournaments.”
Reizniece-Ozola said the organization “received several requests” to register gender changes and saw a need for regulations.
But critics argue the changes put an undue burden on transgender players.
“We are opposed to it because it is discriminatory,” Malcolm Pein, the director of international chess at the English Chess Federation, said in a phone interview about the new policy. There is no intrinsic value to being a woman or a man when it comes to playing chess, he added.
“There’ll be no change in the English Chess Federation policy,” Pein added.
The new FIDE rules, Reizniece-Ozola said, “clearly state the procedure on how a person who has officially changed their gender may register the fact on FIDE Directory.”
Such a process had been missing from the chess federation and had caused ambiguity, Reizniece-Ozola said.
The new rules are set to go into effect on Monday, according to the council meeting’s list of decisions.
The four pages of new regulations also include what happens to the titles people won before they transitioned.
“If a player holds any of the women titles, but the gender has been changed to a man, the women titles are to be abolished,” the regulations state. “Those can be renewed if the person changes the gender back to a woman.”
On the other hand, the regulations state: “If a player has changed the gender from a man into a woman, all the previous titles remain eligible.”
Reizniece-Ozola said the regulations were needed because “transgender legislation is rapidly developing in many countries.”
“Many sport bodies are adopting their own policies,” she wrote.
She said that the organization would be “monitoring these developments and see how we can apply them to the world of chess.”
She added, “Two years is a scope of sight that seemed reasonable.”
The regulations do not mention a guarantee that transgender women would be admitted to women’s events after that two-year period.
“If you want to help women in chess, fight sexist and sexual violence, give women in chess more visibility and more money,” Yosha Iglesias, a French transgender woman and chess player, wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “Don’t use trans women players as scapegoats.”
The new regulations were also met by confusion online.
“All this raises questions for trans women fresh to the competitive chess circuit,” the writer Ana Valens said on the website The Mary Sue. “Because I don’t have any legal proof that I am a trans woman in the first place, it’s very likely I would not be allowed to play with other women. FIDE would likely treat me as a man.”
The federation’s Ethics and Disciplinary Code for 2022 states that it does not tolerate discrimination in chess on the basis of “race, gender, ethnic origin, color, culture, religion, political opinion, marital status, sexual orientation or any unfair or other irrelevant factor, except as permitted by law.”
Morgen Mills, who last year became the first transgender woman to represent Canada’s women’s chess team at an international competition, said in an interview that she was surprised by the decision, though she noted that the organization was known for changing course.
Mills, 38, represented Canada at a competition in Ecuador in December. “As far as I know, nobody even knew I was transgender, or if they knew they didn’t care,” she said. The change “really surprises me,” she said, “because nobody indicated any problem at all.”
Chang Che contributed reporting.