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U.S. Chess Champion Calls for Boycott of Iran Tournament Because of Hijab Requirement

United States Chess Champion Nazi Paikidze-Barnes. Photo: Flickr/ Austin Fuller, St. Louis Chess Club.

United States chess champion Nazi Paikidze-Barnes has announced she will boycott next year’s world championship in Iran because religious law would require her to wear a hijab.

In a series of posts on social media, Paikidze-Barnes, a Russian-born Georgian-American, who also holds the titles of International Master and World Grand Master, said requiring women to wear a hijab is a human rights issue.

“I think it’s unacceptable to host a Women’s World Championship in a place where women do not have basic fundamental rights and are treated as second-class citizens,” she wrote in a post on Instagram.

According to The Daily Telegraph she also organized a petition calling, the World Chess Federation, to either move the competition from Iran or persuade Iranian officials to make wearing a hijab an option instead of a requirement.

“I am not anti-Islam or any other religion,” she wrote on her Instagram page. “I stand for freedom of religion and choice. I’m protesting FIDE’s decision not because of Iran’s religion or people, but for the government’s laws that are restricting my rights as a woman.”

According to a statement from the federation’s spokeswoman, Anastasiya Karlovich, posted to Chess Daily News, the organization has defended its decision to host the championship in Iran. For one, the statement said, no other country had asked. For another, Iran held a global event in February that went off well.

“There were no complaints from the players or officials, and everybody respected the laws of the country, including the dress requirements,” Anastasiya Karlovich wrote. However, Nigel Short, a British chess grandmaster, called on the sport’s governing body, Fide, to find a different venue, telling The Times: “The hijab is a symbol of Islamic repression.”

Meanwhile, one of Iran’s most respected chess players has hit back at calls to boycott the Tehran tournament. Mitra Hejazipour, a woman grandmaster who won the 2015 Asian women’s championship, told The Guardian that a boycott would be wrong and could undermine hard-fought efforts to promote female sport in Iran.

“This is going to be the biggest sporting event women in Iran have ever seen; we haven’t been able to host any world championship in other sporting fields for women in the past,” she said. “It’s not right to call for a boycott. These games are important for women in Iran; it’s an opportunity for us to show our strength.”

Her comments were echoed by Ghoncheh Ghavami, a British-Iranian woman who spent five months in jail in Iran for campaigning to allow women to watch men’s volleyball games in stadiums.

Ghavami, said from Tehran “The world must hear the pro-reform voices of people inside Iran and not ignore these pleas by isolating the country,” she said. “I am firmly against the international community using the compulsory hijab as a means to put pressure and isolate Iran.”

This story first appeared in the blog, The Sport Intern. The editor is Karl-Heinz Huba of Lorsch, Germany. He can be reached at ISMG@aol.com. The article is reprinted here with permission of Huba.

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