The future of transgender women’s participation in high-level women’s chess competitions seems uncertain, after the International Chess Federation introduced new regulations that effectively bar many of the women’s events for up to two years or more.
The sport’s international governing body, known as FIDE, approved the new regulations at a council meeting this month, saying they will remain in effect until “further review” is done over the next two years. People who change their gender on their FIDE IDs can compete in the “open” section of tournaments, according to the federation.
The regulations state that if a player’s gender is “changed from a male to a female” on their FIDE identification, the “player is not entitled to participate in official FIDE events for women” until making further decision.
A FIDE ID is an individual number assigned by the federation to a chess player. The official contests, ratings and more are linked to that number. The change appears to mostly affect chess players who have 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 the eligibility of transgender players in women’s tournaments.”
Reizniece-Ozola said the organization “received several requests” to register gender changes and saw the need for regulations.
But critics say the changes put an undue burden on transgender players.
“We’re against it because it’s discriminatory,” Malcolm Pein, the director of international chess at the English Chess Federation, said in a phone interview about the new policy. Being female or male has no intrinsic value when it comes to playing chess, he added.
“There will be no change in the policy of the English Chess Federation,” Pein added.
The new FIDE rules, Reizniece-Ozola said, “clearly state the procedure how a person who has officially changed their gender can register the fact in the FIDE Directory.”
Such a process is missing from the chess federation and has caused ambiguity, Reizniece-Ozola said.
The new rules are set to go into effect Monday, according to the council meeting list of decisions.
The four pages of new regulations also include what happens to titles people win before they move.
“If a player holds any of the women’s titles, but the gender is changed to a man, the women’s titles must be removed,” the regulations state. “Those can be renewed if the person changes gender back to a female.”
On the other hand, the regulations state: “If a player changes gender from a man to a woman, all previous titles remain eligible.”
Reizniece-Ozola said the regulations are needed because “transgender legislation is evolving rapidly in many countries.”
“Many sports bodies adopt their own rules,” he wrote.
He said the organization will “monitor these developments and see how we can apply them to the world of chess.”
He added, “Two years is a range of vision that seems reasonable.”
The regulations do not mention a guarantee that transgender women will enter women’s events after those two years.
“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 have also been met with confusion online.
“All of this raises questions for trans women new to the competitive chess circuit,” says writer Ana Valens. on The Mary Sue website. “Since I don’t have legal proof that I am a trans woman in the first place, there is a high possibility that I will not be allowed to play with other women. FIDE will probably treat me as a man.”
The federation Ethics and Disciplinary Code for 2022 states that it does not permit discrimination in chess based on “race, sex, ethnic origin, color, culture, religion, political opinion, marital status, sexual orientation or any unfair or other irrelevant factor, unless permitted by law.”
Morgen Mills, who last year became the first transgender woman to represent Canada’s women’s chess team in an international competition, said in an interview that she was surprised by the decision, though she noted that the organization is known for change of course.
Mills, 38, represented Canada at a competition in Ecuador in December. “As far as I know, nobody knows I’m transgender, or if they know they don’t care,” she said. The change “really surprised me,” he said, “because no one had indicated any problems.”
Chang Che contributed reporting.