While the Cold War was raging, many folks turned onto chess and matches between the Soviets and the Americans were seen as extensions of the conflict. Even today, political struggles play out over the chessboard. At a recent tournament Iranian Grandmaster Eshan Ghaem Maghami refused to play Israeli player Ehud Shachar.
At open events such as the Corsica tournament, organizers have some leeway on the pairings, and often have quietly avoided politically tricky pairings. But the forfeits also can hurt Israeli players looking for international norms or for tiebreak points when the tournament prizes and paychecks are handed out.
Corsican tournament director Leo Battesti refused to take the easy way out, noting there were five Israeli players in the event and that avoiding all the “forbidden pairings” was practically impossible.
[…]A number of his fellow players even expressed sympathy for Ghaem Maghami, noting that players from Iran face intense pressure from authorities back home not to compete against Israelis.
Maghami, in his statement, tried to assure the Israeli players that he, himself, had no personal animosity against them.
– Filipe Salgado