Chess Officials Fight Back, ‘Deplore’ Iran’s Forced Hijab Rule for World Championship

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By Kieran Corcoran | 3:28 am, October 5, 2016

Chess officials are pushing back against a decision by bosses within the sport to let Iran force female grandmasters to compete in hijabs.

Members of national federations have said they “deplore” the choice by FIDE, the world chess organizing body, to let the repressive republic host the 2017 Women’s World Championship.

It follows announcements by players – including reigning US champion Nazi Paikidze – that they will boycott the contest rather than submit to Iran’s rules.

Under the laws of the Islamic Republic, the chess players – like all women – must cover their heads in public, and face fines and prosecutions for disobeying.

Leading figures from the chess federations of Denmark and the UK have both opposed the decision in recent days.

Speaking to Heat Street, the international director of the English Chess Federation said he “strongly disagrees” with FIDE, and “deplores” their decision.

Malcolm Pein said: “I strongly disagree with women being compelled to comply with a religious edict in order to compete at a sporting event as that contravenes the principle that sport should be for all.

He pointed out that Olympic sports must stick to rules banning any religious or gender discrimination.

He added: “This is a principle that also ought to be upheld in chess. I deplore the choice of Iran as a venue for the competition.”

Pein was joined by the president of the Danish chess union, who criticised Iran’s “harsh” laws and said officials should lobby for a change.

Poul Jacobsen told the Copenhagen Post: “We usually have the attitude when travelling to a championship that we should participate with respect for the places we go. This is harsh, however.”

He added: “I think we should try to influence the conditions rather than not have a tournament.”

The two have set themselves against members of FIDE, including the chair of the women’s committee, who has been trying to shut down dissent on social media.

Competitors play chess in hijabs at an official event in Iran earlier this year
Competitors play chess in hijabs at an official event in Iran earlier this year

Susan Polgar, who chairs the women’s committee of the international chess governing body, tried to shut down public discussion of the controversy.

She previously said players should respect “cultural differences” and tried to win them over by pointing out the “beautiful choices” of fabric on offer.

Heat Street has also sought comment from the United States Chess Federation. But officials seemed wary of the question and said they had yet to announce their view.