GENEVA -- The world's top chess federation has ruled that transgender women cannot compete in its official events for women until its officials make an assessment of gender change.
The decision by the Switzerland-based federation FIDE, published on Monday, has drawn criticism from advocacy groups and supporters of transgender rights.
FIDE said it and its member federations increasingly have received recognition requests from players who identify as transgender, and that the participation of transgender women would depend on an analysis of individual cases that could take up to two years.
“Change of gender is a change that has a significant impact on a player’s status and future eligibility to tournaments, therefore it can only be made if there is a relevant proof of the change provided,” the federation said.
“In 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,” it said.
Holders of women's titles who change their genders to male would see those titles “abolished,” the federation said, while holding out the possibility of a reinstatement “if the person changes the gender back to a woman.”
“If a player has changed the gender from a man into a woman, all the previous titles remain eligible,” the federation said.
It acknowledged that such questions regarding transgender players were an “evolving issue for chess” and that “further policy may need to be evolved in the future in line with research evidence.”
Cathy Renna, communications director for the National LGBTQ Task Force in the United States, lashed out at what she said appeared to be “a case of ‘trans panic’ with no justification, not grounded in reality and once again marginalizing trans people.”
“The new ‘guidelines’ on trans competitors in chess are infuriating, confusing, contradictory and a sign that the anti-trans movement, particularly those who are promoting exclusion in sports, is spreading into other areas of competitive sport and is a very disturbing development,” Renna said in an e-mail.
In a written response to The Associated Press, seeking an explanation about the decision, the federation's press office said: “Allow us to clarify that the new regulations are aimed at clearly defining the procedure on how a person who has officially changed their gender may register the fact on FIDE Directory."
The lack of such regulations caused “ambiguity,” it said, “and therefore an established order was needed to provide the right of the transgender players being properly represented on the official register of FIDE.”
It said any transgender player was allowed to participate in the “open” section of its chess tournaments.
“Two years is a scope of sight that seemed reasonable for the thorough analyses of such developments,” the federation said. “It is to set a certain deadline for a new reiteration of these policies, without rushing it.”
Word of the decision comes as the federation is hosting a World Cup event in Azerbaijan where top players, including No. 1-ranked Grand Master Magnus Carlsen of Norway, are attending.
The federation has open competitions that allow all players to take part, as well as specialized categories, such as for women, young players and even computers.
Many sports involving intense physical activity — which chess does not — have been grappling with how to formulate policies toward transgender athletes in recent years.
The International Cycling Union has joined the governing bodies of track and field and swimming as top-tier Olympic sports addressing the issue of transgender athletes and fairness in women’s events.
Last month, the cycling federation ruled that female transgender athletes who transitioned after male puberty will no longer be able to compete in women’s races.