"In Saudi Arabia women cannot leave the house without being veiled and robed and must always be accompanied by a man. I decided not to go"

#women #gender equality #sport

During an event held at Madrid's Círculo de Bellas Artes Fine Arts Cultural Centre Iberdrola awarded one of its 'Mujeres que brillan' prizes to Anna Muzychuk, 2016 World Rapid and Blitz Chess Champion, for standing up for gender equality in sport.

The prize winners told their stories firsthand and voiced their support for gender equality among men and women in society. Anna Muzychuk, who in December 2017 renounced both her title of double World Champion and considerable financial reward by not competing in the Women's World Chess Championship in Saudi Arabia, opened the event with an inspirational speech about her experiences. The Ukrainian refused to be made to feel like a third-class citizen in a place where her freedom would be restricted for being a woman. "It was very sad to lose my two titles, but it would have been much sadder to lose my dignity", she said during her speech.


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Question: Could you explain why you refused to defend your world chess champion titles in Saudi Arabia?

Anna Muzychuk, 2016 Women's World Rapid and Blitz Chess Champion: When I was told out that the tournament was going to be held in Saudi Arabia, I began to find out more about that country. Everybody was telling me that in Saudi Arabia women can't leave the house without wearing a veil, hijab, and a long robe, abaya, and that they must always be accompanied by a man. It didn't seem to me like a very appealing way to live, not right, and so I decided not to go to Saudi Arabia.

Question: Your post announcing your withdrawal on Facebook put chess firmly back on the map. Are you still of the opinion that the battle to defend human rights is being waged by the few?

Anna Muzychuk: Not at all. After all that happened, loads of people began to show an interest in my story and, when I put my post up on Facebook, the main newspapers, TV channels and magazines all covered the case. I must also mention that I received a huge amount of support from Spain. I'm very grateful to all those people who supported me; their favourable reaction means a lot to me.

Question: You said you received a number of negative comments and even attacks. Were you aware of the support of your fellow professionals?

Anna Muzychuk: As far as the women's tournament is concerned, it was not only my sister and I who decided not to take part. There were many other women players who took the same decision. For example, as we are here in Spain, Sabrina Vega Gutiérrez, the number one Spanish female chess player, was also planning to go. But for us women it was extremely important that many of the male chess players did not go. Almost 40% of the top male chess players pulled out of the championship.

Question: As well as losing your titles, what other impacts has your decision had?

Anna Muzychuk: Well, it was a decision that has cost me quite a lot economically speaking. If I had managed to repeat my success and win both titles, I would have won 160,000 dollars, which is a great deal of money.

Question: What, in your opinion, are your strengths when it comes to playing chess?

Anna Muzychuk: I would describe my chess playing style as active and aggressive.

Question: What is more important: genetics or learning?

Anna Muzychuk: In chess, it is effort and work that are first and foremost. No titles are won without hard work, no matter how talented you are.

Question: Your younger sister, Mariya, is also a world champion. Do you practice together? How do you use the new technologies? Who are you coached by?

Anna Muzychuk: Yes, we train together and we help each other a lot. Technical developments mean that the game has changed an awful lot over the last few years. I can't afford the luxury of having a permanent coach because it is very expensive. Therefore, every so often I opt for what I call training camps.

Question: Does physical sport help you improve your game?

Anna Muzychuk: I do a lot of physical exercise because it is very important for chess players. What I enjoy most is running and I also play table tennis.

Question: A rapid chess duel with Anatoli Kárpov is being organised. Do you usually pit yourself against other male chess players?

Anna Muzychuk: Yes, we have tournaments for women only, but we can also play in open competitions. I'm really happy that this contest is being organised because it would be a fantastic opportunity to play against such a strong opponent. I would do everything in my power to win.

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The aim of the Mujeres que brillan event was to uphold the prizewinners' work in defence of gender equality and the efforts they make on a daily basis, which is what makes them shine. The event forms part of Iberdrola's commitment to equal opportunities for men and women, which is embodied by a global campaign for non-discrimination with respect to gender, by an Equality Plan — the first of its kind in Spain — and by its contribution towards the promotion of women's sport in Spain via its Women, Health and Sport initiative.

The other prizewinners were: Amelia Valcárcel — Professor of Philosophy and State Advisor — for her professional career in the defence of feminism, Montserrat Domínguez — journalist and director of The Huffington Post — for her drive for equality in the media, Margarita Álvarez — Marketing and Communication Director of the Adecco Group Iberia and Latin America — for her support and promotion of equality and innovation in the workplace and, finally, Isaías Lafuente — journalist — for her commitment to the defence of equality.

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