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World chess body bars trans women from competing in women’s events

The International Chess Federation’s new guidelines also strip transgender men of previously won women’s titles.
People move pieces during the FIDE Chess World Rapid Blitz
A match during the FIDE Chess World Rapid Blitz in Warsaw, Poland, in 2021.Foto Olimpik / NurPhoto via Getty Images file

The international governing body of competitive chess is effectively banning transgender women from competing and stripping trans men of previously won women’s titles.

In its guidelines for transgender competitors released Monday, the International Chess Federation, or FIDE, said players that have transitioned from male to female have “no right” to compete in the game against cisgender women, or those who are not trans, until its officials complete “further analysis” of the issue. The governing body gave itself a timeline of no more than two years to complete its review.

The guidelines also state that women's titles currently held by trans male competitors “are to be abolished” and can be transferred to a general title of the same or lower level. The federation said if a trans male competitor “changes the gender back to a woman,” the women’s titles can be renewed.

On Thursday, a FIDE spokesperson said in a statement that the “absence of those regulations previously caused ambiguity” when registering trans players to compete. The spokesperson added that FIDE officials need time to study “rapidly developing” legislation on trans issues, “without rushing it.”

“Any further decisions related to admission of the players to official FIDE women events require a more thorough analysis that will be done and further decisions taken by the Council,” the spokesperson said. “Meanwhile, the transgender players are allowed to participate in the open section of the official FIDE chess tournaments.”

LGBTQ advocates have denounced the guidelines, and some critics said the new rules suggest that cisgender men and transgender women are smarter than cisgender women. 

“Really? Chess?” the National Center for Transgender Equality wrote Wednesday on X, formerly known as Twitter. “This is so insulting to cis women, to trans women, and to the game itself. It assumes that cis women couldn’t be competitive against cis men — and relies on ignorant anti-trans ideas.”

Yosha Iglesias, a FIDE chess master, professional chess coach and trans woman, criticized the new guidelines on Thursday.

“If you want to help women in chess, fight sexist and sexual violence, give women in chess more visibility and more money,” Iglesias said in a tweet. “Don’t use trans women players as scapegoats. We contribute to the development of women in chess. We are women in chess.”

Some celebrated the move. In response to a post on X about whether trans women have a “biological advantage” over cisgender women in chess, Jon Schweppe, the policy director of the American Principles Project, a conservative think tank, implied that they do. 

“There are more male geniuses than female geniuses,” he said. “There are also more males with low IQs than females with low IQs. This is known. It’s biology.”

There is no recent research that proves men have significantly different IQs or are smarter than women, and older studies — one from 2005 and another from 2006 — that do make that claim have been debunked

FIDE joins an increasing number of international sports groups that have restricted trans people’s participation in recent years. World Aquatics, the governing body for swimming, announced last month that it will debut a separate open category for trans athletes at its World Cup in October. Just a few weeks earlier, the governing body for world cycling said trans women who transitioned after puberty will no longer be allowed to compete in women’s races. In March, World Athletics banned trans women from competing in track and field events.

In the United States, 23 states have banned trans student athletes from competing on school sports teams that align with their gender identities as opposed to their assigned sex at birth, according to the Movement Advancement Project, an LGBTQ think tank.

Supporters of restrictions on trans athlete participation argue that trans women have an advantage over cisgender women in part due to going through puberty associated with their assigned sex, though there has been little research of trans athletes. One study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2021 found that trans women in the Air Force had an athletic advantage over their cisgender peers after a year of hormone therapy. 

Another 2021 review found that there’s a greater performance gap in certain sports between cisgender men and cisgender women that wouldn’t be entirely mitigated by testosterone suppression. The review only evaluated cisgender athletes and not trans athletes. 

A third study in 2021 suggested that trans women retain a strength advantage over cisgender women even after three years of hormone therapy, though one of the authors, Joanna Harper, noted that the review looked at nonathlete trans women. Harper has previously said that a potential advantage shouldn’t bar trans women from competing entirely, though she supports some restrictions on their participation.