The world's largest chess federation, Fide, has ruled that transgender women will not be allowed to participate in its official women's events until Fide officials have completed a gender reassignment assessment.
The new rules, approved by Fide Council this month, come into force on August 21 and require transgender players to provide "sufficient proof of gender reassignment consistent with their national laws and regulations", as the news agencies Associated Press (AP) and Reuters report.
The decision comes at a time when the federation is organizing a World Cup in Azerbaijan that will feature top players, including Norwegian grandmaster Magnus Carlsen, world No. 1.
Fide explained its decision by saying that it and its affiliates are receiving increasing requests for recognition from players who identify as transgender, and that the participation of transgender women is subject to a case-by-case analysis, which can take up to two years.
The new rules aim to "clarify the process by which a person who has officially changed their gender can register it in the Fide register," the association told the AP. According to the association, the lack of such a regulation has led to "ambiguities".
"The gender change is a change that has a significant impact on a player's status and future tournament eligibility and can therefore only be made if appropriate proof of the change is presented," the association said.
"If the gender has been changed from male to female, the player has no right to participate in official Fide events for women until Fide decides otherwise," AP quoted the federation as saying.
Holders of female titles who change their gender to male would have those titles revoked, the association said, but said the possibility of a reinstatement "if the person changes their gender back to female" would be revoked.
"If a player changes his gender from male to female, all previous titles remain valid," the federation said.
At the same time, the chess federation is aware "that this is an evolving issue for the sport of chess and that in addition to the technical rules for transgender rules, further guidelines may need to be developed in the future in line with the research results," quoted Reuters.
In a statement emailed to Reuters on Thursday, a Fide spokesman said the decision was made to better define the processes when a player changes gender. "Transgender legislation is evolving rapidly in many countries and many sports federations are introducing their own policies. Fide will monitor these developments and see how we can apply them to the chess world," the statement said.
"Two years is a reasonable period for an in-depth analysis of these developments". The point is to set a deadline for the review of this policy without rushing it.
However, transgender players could still compete in the "open" categories of tournaments. Most chess competitions are open to all players, with the exception of a few tournaments such as the Women's World Championship.
Fide's decision has been heavily criticized. Cathy Renna, communications director of the National LGBTQ Task Force in the US, spoke of "unfounded 'trans panic' that is not grounded in reality and once again marginalizes trans people".
"The new 'guidelines' for trans participants in chess are annoying, confusing, contradictory and a sign that the anti-trans movement, particularly those promoting exclusion in sports, is spreading to other areas of competitive sport and a very worrying development," Renna told the Associated Press.
Many sports that require intense physical activity - which chess does not - have grappled with how to deal with transgender athletes in recent years. Often there is a question of fairness in women's competitions when trans women participate.
For example, the International Cycling Federation ruled last month that transgender athletes who underwent sex reassignment surgery after male puberty can no longer compete in women's races. The British Rowing Federation recently ruled that trans women are not allowed to compete in its women's competitions.
Most recently, the World Chess Federation also had to deal with allegations of sexism. In an open letter published last week by 14 French chess players and signed by more than 100 women, sexist behavior by male colleagues is denounced.
"At Fide we are deeply moved by the letter signed by over 100 female chess players denouncing sexist and sexual violence in chess. Fide firmly rejects any behavior and action based on sexism, including any form of abuse. Self if only one woman experiences abuse, it's one too many," it said in a statement on Friday. Fide takes all reports of sexism and abuse "very seriously" and will work to "improve the chess world".
Sources: Associated Press, Reuters and DPA news agencies