The World Chess Foundation has ruled that transgender women cannot compete in its competitions for women. The decision by FIDE, the Switzerland-based federation, is perplexing and disturbing. FIDE is setting a two-year period for review. Frankly, I do not understand why there are male and female competitions in chess where relative strength is not an issue. Yet, even assuming that there is some reason to have separate competitions, the ban on transgender women seems entirely gratuitous and wrong.
FIDE said ”[t]wo years is a scope of sight that seemed reasonable for the thorough analyses of such developments. It is to set a certain deadline for a new reiteration of these policies, without rushing it.” In the interim, ”[i]n the event that the gender was changed from a male to a female the player has no right to participate in official FIDE events for women until further FIDE’s decision is made.”
There was recently a bizarre case involving a man who wore a burka to compete in the women’s competition in Kenya.
The common rationale for separate competitions is marketing and development:
“[S]eparate tournaments for girls and women don’t mean that girls and women are more or less capable than boys and men at chess. However, there may be less interest in chess among girls and women compared to boys and men. Based on 2019 statistics, 14.6% of US Chess members are female, and that is a new, record-high percentage. Thus logically, and in reality, a smaller base of females means fewer women than men at the top of the chess rating list, as one study found. Offering occasional female-only tournaments may make chess more attractive to girls and women, for the financial, social, and publicity reasons mentioned above.”
Yet, since chess is an intellectual contest, it is hard to see why gender should have any role in competitions. Even though there are fewer female chess players, there are still many who can compete at the highest level. There are thousands of women competing and capable of succeeding on the highest levels. Those women can be used as role models and promoted by the federation. That would seem preferable to a segregation of players by gender.
Even if one accepts the marketing and development rationale, it is hard to imagine why transgender women should be barred from women’s competitions on that basis.