FEEL THE LOVE! Yemeni Chess Team fired for playing Israel in tournament

Yemen has sacked the country’s chess team and members of the governing body after its players competed against Israel at a tournament in Belarus. The Yemeni Sports minister, Hamud Mohammed Ubad, took the unusual decision after players ignored instructions to pull out if drawn against Israel.

UK INDEPENDENT “This was an individual action contrary to the policy of Yemen, which refuses any normalisation with Israel,” said Mr Ubad, adding that the players were on their way home from Minsk.

Like several other Middle Eastern countries, Yemen does not have diplomatic relations with Israel and bars travellers from entering the country if they have Israeli stamps in their passports.

Most Arab states, with the notable exceptions of Jordan and Egypt, have long shunned relations with Israel in protest at its decades-long occupation of the Palestinian territories. Syria and Lebanon, both of which share a border with Israel, consider themselves still at war with Israel. Qatar, which tried to restore diplomatic ties with Israel last year, was rebuffed.

Political tensions have frequently spilled over into the sporting arena, despite impassioned appeals from sporting bodies to keep sport separate from politics.

The United Arab Emirates came under fire last year when it denied a visa to Shahar Peer, a leading Israeli tennis player.

Last year, Israel’s chess federation protested to the Turkish organisers of a junior chess tournament who refused to play the Israeli national anthem for the Israeli victor, breaking with years of tradition. Marcel Efroimski, a 13-year-old Israeli chess prodigy,  became the Girls’ Under-14 World Chess Champion, but when she won the Gold Medal at the World Youth Chess Championships, the Turkish hosts refused to play her country’s – the Israeli national anthem – as is customary for those taking first place.