Some national federations and grandmasters have threatened to boycott next year’s Women’s World Chess Championships in Iran because players will have to wear hijabs while competing.
The rule is not set by the global governing body of the sport, World Chess Federation (FIDE), but by the country that will be hosting the 2017 competition.
Iran enforces a strict dress code for women in their country. To maintain modesty, women are expected to wear hijabs, long skirts or trousers, and no low-cut tops.
Failure to adhere to those laws could result in imprisonment.
FIDE has urged players and nation federations to respect “cultural differences” and accept Iran’s hijab policy.
However, US women’s champion and to-be-competitor at next year’s championships, Nazi Paikidze, is one of a handful of players who have threatened to boycott the competition in Iran by not attending.
“I understand and respect cultural differences. But, failing to comply can lead to imprisonment and women’s rights are being severely restricted in general. It does not feel safe for women from around the world to play here. I am honoured and proud to have qualified to represent the United States in the Women’s World Championship. But, if the situation remains unchanged, I will most certainly not participate in this event,” she tells the Telegraph.
She also shared the following tweet, which included a screenshot of US travel advice for those visiting Iran.
SBS spoke to Gary Wastell, President of the Australian Chess Foundation (ACF), who believes Iran was the only country whose name was in the bid to host the 2017 Women’s Chess Championship.
He doesn’t “recall the issue of the headscarf being raised at that point”.
“The boycott is likely to be a serious concern,” says Wastell, ”But it’s a hard decision for FIDE. It comes down to a choice between accepting these rules and abandoning the entire competition.”
Though Wastell says “it’s too early for [ACF] to have a policy on it”, he ultimately agrees, “Australia will go with the World Chess Federation’s” stance on the matter.
There has always been some level of political tension within sports, explains Wastell. During last year’s World Chess Olympiad in Azerbaijan, neighbouring Armenia did not participate for political reasons.
Personally, Wastells believes the championship is a chance for the world to come together in the name of sport, and is disappointed people are letting politics get in the way.
"Boycotting a sporting competition has got to be a last resort,” he says.